To help reduce your risk of developing hypertension, follow these guidelines:

If You Are Overweight, Lose Weight

Losing as little as 10 pounds can help decrease your heart’s workload and lower your blood pressure. Follow the dietary and exercise plans recommended by your doctor. To lose weight, consume fewer calories than you expend. To maintain a healthful weight, balance the number of calories you consume with the number you expend.

Avoid Heavy Alcohol Use

Drinking too much alcohol increases blood pressure and can lead to other heart problems. Moderate alcohol intake, however, is not associated with high blood pressure. Moderate alcohol intake is two drinks or fewer per day for men and one drink or fewer per day for women. Talk to your healthcare provider if you need help reducing your alcohol intake, or quitting drinking entirely.

If You Smoke, Quit

Smoking can increase the amount of fatty material that collects in your arteries and may contribute to elevated blood pressure readings.

Eat a Heart Healthy Diet

A diet low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol, while rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables will help lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and body weight—all of which leads to a healthier heart. Follow the meal plan recommended by your doctor, or ask for a referral to a registered dietitian.

One ongoing clinical study, called Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, has found that certain healthful eating patterns can reduce blood pressure. This is called the DASH diet. Findings from the second phase of the DASH study completed in 2000—called DASH-Sodium—indicate that cutting salt intake is another effective way to lower blood pressure.

Exercise Regularly

Choose exercises you enjoy and will make a regular part of your day. Strive to maintain an exercise program that keeps you fit and at a healthful weight. For many people, this includes walking or participating in another aerobic activity for 30 minutes per day. Exercise also can help you manage stress. Check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Manage Stress

Although stress does not cause hypertension, hormones released by your body when you are under stress can increase your blood pressure. Take time out to relax, exercise, and practice relaxation techniques.