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Do I need to make lifestyle changes?

        Health | Heart

To help manage your high blood pressure and keep you as healthy as possible, it's essential that you make some changes to your lifestyle. If you are overweight, you will need to lose weight. If you smoke, you will need to quit. If you drink alcohol, you'll need to limit the amount. You will also need to increase your level of activity and eat healthy foods. Eating right and exercising can also help you lose weight.

It's likely that your treatment for high blood pressure will involve several parts. Read the following pages to better understand the issues that your doctor advised you to take action on:

  • maintaining an appropriate weight (If you're not sure whether or not you are overweight, see How do I know whether I'm overweight?)
  • eating a diet low in saturated fat and total fat
  • reducing the amount of salt you eat
  • following the DASH diet
  • limiting the amount of alcohol you drink
  • getting enough potassium, magnesium, and calcium
  • increasing the amount of daily activity you get
  • quitting smoking, if you smoke
  • taking medicines if necessary

Are intensive lifestyle changes for me?

Some studies have shown that more intensive lifestyle changes can begin to reverse even severe heart disease. You may have heard of several doctors - especially Dr. Dean Ornish - who have programs for this. Dr. Ornish and others have been working with patients who are willing to make radical changes in order to reverse heart disease.

If you do not have heart disease, but do have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, you may also want to consider making more intensive changes to your lifestyle. Doing so may help prevent heart disease. People who had high blood pressure showed benefits from following these programs. Those in the study had lower blood pressure levels when they were resting, as well as when they were under stress. Those who had high cholesterol lowered their levels. They also showed improvement with the amount of atherosclerosis they had.

Dr. Ornish's program includes the following components:

  • very-low-fat vegetarian diet
  • daily exercise
  • stress management
  • smoking cessation
  • group support

Making changes like these is not an easy adjustment for most people. The very low fat diet, in particular, is hard for many to stick with. Plus, in Ornish's program, you need to do all five parts at the same time to reap the benefits. For those who are willing to try hard, these changes may present a new way to think about heart health. To get lasting results, you'll need to make these changes forever as part of a new and lasting way of living. Learning new ways to enjoy food and taking the time and energy to develop new habits is the key.

To learn more about how you might gain from following an intensive program see What are the benefits of making intensive lifestyle changes?

If you and your doctor decide that intensive lifestyle changes are appropriate for you, follow these links to learn about each part of the intensive lifestyle program.