Blood pressure is written as two numbers. The first (systolic) number represents the pressure in blood vessels when the heart contracts or beats. The second (diastolic) number represents the pressure in the vessels when the heart rests between beats

If your blood pressure is too high, it puts extra strain on your heart and blood vessels. This is called high blood pressure, or hypertension. Over time it can lead to several health problems including heart attacks, stroke, kidney disease and some forms of dementia. The good news is there are lots of things you can do to lower it.

Lifestyle treatment to lower high blood pressure

Eating a healthy diet

  • At least five portions, of a variety of fruit and vegetables per day.
  • Include 2-3 portions of fish per week. At least one of which should be ‘oily’ such as herring, mackerel, sardines, kippers, pilchards, salmon, or fresh (not tinned) tuna.
  • If you eat meat it is best to eat lean meat or eat poultry such as chicken.
  • If you do fry, choose a vegetable oil such as sunflower, rapeseed or olive.
  • Limit salt in your diet.

Benefits of a healthy diet

A healthy diet provides benefits in different ways. For example, it can lower cholesterol, help control your weight, and has plenty of vitamins, fibre, and other nutrients which help to prevent certain diseases. Some aspects of a healthy diet also directly affect blood pressure. For example, if you have a poor diet and change to a diet which is low-fat, low-salt, and high in fruit and vegetables, it can lower systolic blood pressure by up to 11 mm Hg.

Top foods to help control your blood pressure

  • One medium banana is high in potassium providing 9% of the recommended daily intake (RDI)
  • Salmon is a good source of potassium. Its also an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids which have anti-inflammatory effect.
  • Yogurt is very high in potassium. Some yogurts contain probiotics (live bacteria) that also have health benefits.
  • Potatoes, sweet potatoes, asparagus, spinach, cabbage and sprouts are particularly high in potassium.
  • Tomato and orange juice

Low salt intake

Adults should eat less than 6g of salt a day. Most of the salt we eat is hidden in the foods we buy ready-made, like bread, biscuits, breakfast cereals, sauces and condiments, as well as ready meals and takeaways.

Tips on how to reduce your salt intake

  • Use herbs and spices rather than salt to flavour food.
  • Limit the amount of salt used in cooking, and do not add salt to food at the table.
  • Choose foods labelled ‘no added salt’ and avoid processed foods as much as possible.

Caffeine drinks

Caffeine is thought to have a modest effect on blood pressure. It is advised that you restrict your coffee consumption (and other caffeine-rich drinks) to fewer than five cups per day.

Alcoholic drinks

Too much alcohol can be harmful and can lead to an increase in blood pressure.
We should not drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, no more than four units in any one day, and have at least two alcohol-free days a week.

One unit is in about half a pint of normal strength beer, or two thirds of a small glass of wine, or one small pub measure of spirits. Cutting back on heavy drinking improves health in various ways. It can also affect blood pressure.

For example, if you are drinking heavily, cutting back to the recommended limits can lower a high systolic blood pressure by up to 10 mm Hg.

Tips on how to reduce your alcohol intake

  • Try low-alcohol options.
  • Choose bottles instead of pints.
  • Make your drink last longer by adding a mixer.
  • If you drink at home, use a measure so that you know how much you are drinking.
  • Watch out for large wine glasses or tumblers.
  • Alternate with soft drinks or a glass of water.

Physical activity

Being active lowers your blood pressure by keeping your heart and blood vessels in good shape, lowering your risk of heart disease and stroke.

It has countless other benefits too. Exercise strengthens the bones and improves balance. It keeps your muscles and joints moving which can help keep you active and independent in later life.

It can give you more energy and lift your mood, and even improve your cognitive function.

Activities that are good for your blood pressure

  • Cycling
  • Brisk walking
  • Swimming
  • Dancing
  • Gardening
  • Tennis
  • Jogging

NHS help for getting more active

Couch to 5K – A running programme for absolute beginners. Couch to 5k has helped many people start running.

Active 10 – This app records every minute of walking you do. Pop your phone in your pocket and away you go.