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4 lifestyle changes to help manage hypertension

Remember that a good diet, exercise, losing weight, and quitting smoking can lower blood pressure! Rishi is a pediatric infectious disease physician and works at Khan Academy. Created by Rishi Desai.

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Video transcript

So let's say that you have hypertension, and you'd like to figure out what to do about it. There actually is a lot of good news here. So there are about four different major things I can think of that you can do to help reduce hypertension-- fairly easy things you can do in your own home. The first is your diet. So there's something called the Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension, which basically means that you can actually use your diet to help reduce your blood pressure. And a few different groups have actually come together and endorsed this set of guidelines, like the American Heart Association and the Mayo Clinic. And I actually went through and tried to figure out exactly what this DASH diet would recommend for me. So I'm going to draw for you a plate. This is kind of a plate of food, if you can imagine-- all my meals in one day on one plate of food. This is what the DASH diet would recommend. This is one day. And I take about 2,000 calories in a day. So the DASH diet suggests that for me, I should have about five fruits in a day. And I should have five vegetables in a day. So a total of 10 fruits and vegetables. And then on top of that, about seven grains, of which three are whole grains. So three whole grains. And for the remainder of my plate, it suggests two dairy products. So that would be something like non-fat milk or low-fat milk products, like yogurt, cheese. And two meat products. So it's not required that you eat meat. In fact, it's not necessary at all. But if you do, the recommendation is to have no more than two meat servings in a day. And if you are going to have meat, definitely like a lean meat. So these are the servings in one day that it recommends. And on top of that, in a week, it says I should probably have about four servings of nuts and seeds. And it also went on to say that I should probably try to limit how many sweets I take in. This would be like candy or any sort of dessert-- donuts. And any sort of fatty food or oil. So fats and oils. And this would be like potato chips or fries, things like that. So really try to limit those things. And if you do this for a couple weeks, you're actually shown in studies to have lower blood pressure at the end of it. So within two weeks, this starts to make a difference, which is pretty phenomenal. So you can tell based on the way I've drawn this out that the DASH diet is really stressing fruits-- I'm writing as an "F," and "V" for vegetables. And also stressing lots of grains, "G." So lots of fruits, vegetables, and grains. It's also mentioned in the DASH diet that you should be on a low-sodium diet. So low sodium, which is a limit of 1,500 milligrams of sodium in a day. And finally, the DASH diet says that if you drink alcohol-- let's say you drink alcohol-- that you should really try to limit your alcohol to less than two servings of alcohol in a day. So less than, or equal to, two servings of alcohol in a day. Now, in addition to diet, there are a few other things you can do as well. So you could exercise. And exercise is actually very important in trying to reduce your blood pressure. And there are a few different types of exercise. There's resistance training with weights. There's stretching, as folks that do yoga can tell you. But the type of exercise that's probably most helpful for hypertension is aerobic exercise. So you want to try to stress aerobic exercise. Now, when I say aerobic exercise, I mean things like going for a swim or going for a jog. And maybe even a brisk walk, if that suits what you enjoy. Or a bike ride. So something like this that really gets your heart pumping, and getting blood to flow all the way throughout your body, instead of just one muscle group. So aerobic exercise is really important. And in terms of how much aerobic exercise, a rough rule of thumb that I use is suggesting about 30 minutes per day for about five days a week. And I find that that's a very reasonable thing that a lot of people can do, and find enjoyable. OK, so diet and exercise. If you're doing these two things, you're likely to be losing weight. And I'm going to talk about weight in terms of a BMI, a Body Mass Index. So if you're hypertensive, it's a really good idea to try to get your BMI in a healthy range. And for adults, that would be between 18.5 and 25. It's a very healthy range of BMI. And it's actually really important that you get there, especially if you're on the high side. So let's say you're obese and your BMI's over 30, or you're slightly overweight, over 25. Getting that BMI down below 25 is really, really critical. And finally, for smokers, it's really important to try to quit smoking. So this is a fantastic time to kind of take your health into your hands and finally quit smoking or using tobacco products. And nowadays, we actually have so many medications that really help with this, as well as counseling, that it makes it much, much easier to try to quit smoking. It's never an easy thing to do, but it's certainly a lot easier when you have medications and counseling to help you, and you have a good reason to do it, like you have hypertension. So these are the four kind of things to keep in mind in terms of things you can do at home.