Five steps to lower blood pressure

Before menopause, women generally have lower blood pressures than men, but that often changes when women reach menopause. The August issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource offers insights how women can help avoid high blood pressure: 1. Get regular exercise. Being physically active for 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week will strengthen the heart and can lower blood pressure by 4 to 9 mm Hg. 2. Eat well. Focus on getting lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Limit your intake of red meat, processed foods and sweets. Several studies have shown that those who follow a similar diet (the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan) may reduce blood pressure by up to 14 mm Hg. 3. Reduce your salt intake. Salt (sodium) increases blood pressure in most people with high blood pressure and in about 25% of people with normal blood pressure. The recommended daily sodium intake is 1,500 to 2,400 milligrams; lower is even better. 4. Limit alcohol. In small amounts, alcohol can help prevent heart attacks and coronary artery disease. But that protective effect is lost when women regularly drink more than one drink a day. Above that amount, alcohol can raise blood pressure by several points and can interfere with blood pressure medications. 5. Achieve a healthy weight. Being thin isn't essential. But for those who are overweight, losing as little as 5 to 10 percent of body weight can lower blood pressure by several points. With less body mass to nourish, the heart doesn't have to pump as hard and the pressure on the arteries decreases. For healthy adults, blood pressure less than 120/80 mm Hg is desirable. Untreated high blood pressure can cause the heart to work too hard. As a result, the walls of arteries can harden and impede blood flow. Restricted blood flow can lead to stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure and dementia. When blood pressure rises above normal, it's essential to work with a doctor on a treatment plan to control the condition. The plan might include medications as well as these basic steps. Even one can make a significant difference in blood pressure.

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