Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)


The combination of weight loss, exercise, reduced salt intake, and a healthy diet can dramatically lower blood pressure. Below are diet and exercise recommendations to help achieve this goal.

By following a particular eating plan, called the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), and reducing the amount of sodium consumed, blood pressure may be lowered. While each step alone lowers blood pressure, the combination of the eating plan and a reduced sodium intake gives the greatest benefit and may help prevent the development of hypertension. It is important to know that the DASH eating plan was not designed to promote weight loss, but is rich in lower calorie foods.

Here are dietary guidelines based on the DASH eating plan (based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet):

7-8 daily servings of grain and grain products
Significance: Major source of energy and fiber.

4-5 daily servings of vegetables
Significance: Important sources of potassium, magnesium, and fiber.

4-5 daily servings of fruits
Significance: Important sources of potassium, magnesium, and fiber.

2-3 daily servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy foods
Significance: Major source of calcium and protein.

2 or less daily servings of meats, poultry, and fish
Significance: Rich sources of protein and magnesium.

4-5 daily servings of nuts, seeds, and dry beans
Significance: Rich sources of energy, magnesium, potassium, protein, and fiber.

2-3 daily servings of fats and oils
Significance: DASH has 27% of calories as fat, including fat in or added to foods.

5 servings per week of sweets
Significance: Sweets should be low in fat.

*The number of daily servings in a food group may vary from these listed, depending on your caloric needs.

Tips to Reduce Salt and Sodium
Buy whole grain breads and cereals and eat fewer fried and high-fat starches such as potato chips, french fries, or pastries, and instead try pretzels, fat-free popcorn, baked potatoes, or baked tortilla chips. Eat cereal with fat-free or low-fat milk and use low-fat or fat-free substitutes (i.e., low-fat mayonnaise, light margarine).

  • Start by cutting sodium intake in half.
  • Use reduced sodium or no-salt-added products.
  • Buy fresh, frozen, or canned with no-salt-added vegetables.
  • Choose ready-to-eat breakfast cereals that are lower in sodium.
  • Rinse canned foods to remove excess sodium.
  • Use spices instead of salt when cooking to flavor foods.

*For more information on the DASH eating plan, please visit http://dashdiet.org

Physical Activity

Exercise Guidelines
Ideally, hypertensive individuals should exercise five to six times per week. However, improvement can be achieved with three sessions per week. The total exercise time should range from 30 to 60 minutes each session. People with lower levels of fitness should start with shorter durations (10 to 15 minutes) and gradually increase (5 minute increments every 2 to 3 weeks) to the 30 to 60 minute goal. Current research suggests that moderate-intensity activity may be most effective in lowering blood pressure. Endurance activities such as walking, swimming, cycling and low-impact aerobics should be the core of the exercise program. As fitness levels improve, add low resistance, high repetition weight training.

How Exercise Lowers Blood Pressure
Nearly 50 million Americans have a resting blood pressure that is high enough to endanger their health. Evidence shows that moderate exercise can reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 7 mmHg. Exercise can lower blood pressure through several mechanisms. One possibility is that after exercise, cardiac output and peripheral vascular resistance, which are the primary determinants of hypertension at rest and during exercise, are lowered. Exercise may also decrease central fat deposition, a factor linked to hypertension.

What should be avoided during exercise?
Exercises that include an intense isometric (muscle contraction without joint movement) component that can cause extreme and adverse fluctuations in blood pressure should be avoided. In addition, holding one’s breath should be avoided because it can result in large fluctuations of blood pressure.

*Prior to starting a new exercise program, individuals with hypertension should obtain clearance from their doctor.


  • Woodward, K. (2007). Exercise reduces chronic disease risks. Center News Weekly.
  • Matthews, D.D., & Bellenir, K (Ed.) (2008). Hypertension Sourcebook. (1st ed.). Detroit: Omnigraphics, Inc. 261-312.