In order to prevent a stroke or heart attack and to reduce damage to your internal organs, it is important to make a goal of managing your blood pressure. To make this goal a reality, you will need the involvement of others, likely including doctors, pharmacists, family, and friends.

Hypertension treatment always includes changes to lifestyle and the foods you eat. If your blood pressure does not lower through lifestyle and diet changes alone or if it is very high to start with, your doctor may add medication to the treatment. Even if medication is added to the mix, lifestyle and diet remain an integral part of treating this condition.

Being on medication

Taking medication to treat your hypertension helps you reach your goal of reduced blood pressure and greatly lowers your risk of complications.

While taking antihypertensive medication, you will not necessarily feel any different. At the beginning, as your blood pressure starts to fall into a normal range, you may experience mild side effects, but these generally go away. Your antihypertensive medication should not make you feel any better or any worse, and if you do have long-lasting side effects, you should discuss them with your doctor or pharmacist.

To ensure that the medication works effectively, it is extremely important to:

  • remember to take your medication
  • take the medication even if you feel well
  • take the medication as prescribed by the doctor, in most cases for the rest of your life
  • get refills
  • be aware of possible interactions with other medications and other substances (e.g., alcohol in some cases, grapefruit juice for calcium channel blockers)

If you have any questions about your blood pressure medication, speak to your pharmacist or doctor.

Healthy eating recommendations

It's always wise to make healthy food choices. It becomes even more important when treating hypertension.

Changing the foods you eat is a great way to help lower blood pressure. Eating healthier foods at home and outside of the home is an important part of reaching a goal of lower blood pressure. Here are some tips on eating to help lower blood pressure:

  • Limit your alcohol intake to:
    • no more than 2 drinks per day, up to a maximum of 9 drinks per week for women
    • no more than 3 drinks per day, up to a maximum of 14 drinks per week for men
  • Eat a well-balanced diet (e.g., increase the amount of fruits and vegetables, grains, and cereals).
  • Check with your doctor or pharmacist first before adding foods or supplements that are rich in potassium.
  • Read food labels to get more information about the nutrients in the foods you are eating.
  • Reduce your saturated fat and cholesterol intake wherever possible (e.g., choose lean cuts of meat and avoid foods containing saturated fats).
  • Reduce the amount of salt in your food.
  • Get plenty of fibre.
  • Eat more whole grains and get more of your dietary protein from plant sources.

One diet that is designed for people with hypertension is called Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH). This diet involves an increase in the consumption of grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products and a reduction in salt intake. Before considering this eating plan, it's important to talk to your doctor.

Visit Health Canada's website to get a copy of Canada's Food Guide for more information on healthy eating.

Get active

According to the Canadian Hypertension Education Program (CHEP) guideline, you should get 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity 4-7 days each week. Try different activities like brisk walking, dancing, jogging, bike riding, water aerobics, tennis, or cross-country skiing. You get more benefits when you are active for at least 10 minutes at a time.

Being physically active helps you:

  • burn calories
  • improve your mood and emotions
  • lower your blood pressure
  • maintain a healthy heart
  • reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes
  • relieve stress

Including physical activity into your lifestyle is not as difficult as many people think. Even activities that are light to moderate in intensity, such as housework and walking, can help. The more physically active you are, the more benefits you'll see. Talk to your doctor about ways to become more physically active, and find out if they have recommendations based on your medical history.

Test at home

Checking your blood pressure at home is one way to monitor blood pressure on a regular basis between visits to the doctor. This method of monitoring helps people with hypertension take an active role in their treatment. If you're going to buy a personal blood pressure monitor, you will need to determine what type of monitor is best for you. There are many types of home monitoring devices to choose from. Ask your pharmacist or doctor for their advice.

Testing between doctor visits can be very useful to monitor your progress, but regular visits with a doctor are essential to make sure that all parts of the treatment are working appropriately to reach the goal of reduced blood pressure.

Written and reviewed by the MediResource Clinical Team