The best way of preventing high blood pressure and the associated risks of cardiovascular disease, is to eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, drink alcohol in moderation and avoid smoking.
See the Health A-Z topic about Quitting smoking for more information about the risks of smoking and the available support and treatment to help you give up.
A low-fat, high-fibre diet is recommended, including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (five portions a day) and whole grains. Limit the amount of salt that you eat to no more than 6g (0.2oz) a day. Too much salt will increase your blood pressure (6g of salt is about one teaspoonful).
Avoid foods that are high in saturated fat as this will increase your cholesterol level, which is another risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Foods that are high in saturated fat include:
- meat pies
- sausages and fatty cuts of meat
- ghee (a type of butter that is often used in Indian cooking)
- hard cheese
- cakes and biscuits
- foods that contain coconut or palm oil
However, eating some foods that are high in unsaturated fat can actually decrease your cholesterol level.
Foods that are high in unsaturated fat include:
- oily fish
- nuts and seeds
- sunflower oil, rapeseed oil and olive oil
See the Health A-Z topic about Diet for more information and advice about eating healthily.
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol will increase your blood pressure and raise the cholesterol levels in your blood. Sticking to the recommended amounts of alcohol consumption is the best way to reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure.
The recommended daily limits of alcohol consumption are:
- 3-4 units of alcohol for men
- 2-3 units for women
A unit of alcohol is equal to about half a pint of normal-strength lager, a small glass of wine or a pub measure (25ml) or spirits. For more information, see Live Well: alcohol.
It is important to reduce your daily intake of coffee or drinks that contain caffeine, such as soft drinks and cola. Your blood pressure may increase if you drink more than four cups of coffee a day.
Being overweight is a risk factor for having high blood pressure, and your risk increases further if you are obese.
The most scientific way to measure your weight is to calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI). This is your weight in kilograms divided by your height in metres squared. In the UK, people with a BMI of between 25 to 30 are overweight, and those with an index above 30 are classed as obese. People with a BMI of 40 or more are morbidly obese.
The best way to tackle obesity is by reducing the amount of calories that you eat, and taking regular exercise. Your GP can provide you with further information and advice on how you can do this.
See the Health A-Z topic about Obesity - introduction for more information on measuring your BMI, as well as dietary and exercise advice.
Regular exercise will make your heart and blood circulatory system more efficient. It also lowers your cholesterol level and keeps your blood pressure at a healthy level.
For most people, 30 minutes of vigorous exercise a day, at least five times a week, is recommended. The exercise should be strenuous enough to make your heart beat faster, and you should feel slightly out of breath. Examples of vigorous exercise include going for a brisk walk, or walking up a hill.
Relaxation therapies, such as muscle relaxation, stress management and meditation may also help you to reduce your blood pressure.
Many support groups, such as The Blood Pressure Association and High Blood Pressure Foundation, offer self-care information and advice for people with high blood pressure.