June: Up With Walking

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Heart disease and stroke are the first and fourth leading causes of death in the United States. Hypertension (high blood pressure) contributes to 50-60% of those deaths.

Hypertension is blood pressure of 140/90 mm Hg or greater.  Blood pressure between 120/80 and 140/90 mm Hg is considered prehypertension. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood (NHLB) Institute, a healthy lifestyle is most important in preventing and managing high blood pressure1. The top modifications include: weight reduction/healthy weight maintenance, a healthy eating plan, aerobic physical activity, dietary sodium reduction, limiting alcohol consumption and quitting smoking.

Lifestyle Modifications
  • Walk for heart health. Walking briskly is a sustainable and enjoyable activity that strengthens the heart and helps keep arteries elastic. Regular moderate physical activity such as walking briskly for 30 minutes on most days of the week can lower systolic blood pressure 4-9 mm Hg2. Moderate-intensity walking is shown to reduce risk for first-time hypertension by 7.2 percent, according to a NHLB Institute study3.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Walking may help with maintaining a healthy body weight (body mass index of 18.5–24.9), which decreases the risk of hypertension. In excess fat tissue the increased blood vessels put a burden on the heart. Even a small weight loss of ten pounds can reduce blood pressure or prevent hypertension in many overweight people. If one is overweight reducing weight by 22 pounds can lower systolic blood pressure by 5-20 mm Hg2.
  • Follow a healthy eating plan. Blood pressure can be lowered 8-14 mm Hg by following the eating plan, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH). Following the DASH diet increases intake of the nutrients potassium, magnesium, fiber, and calcium, all of which have been linked to lowering blood pressure. The DASH diet includes eating more fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy, and less saturated fat and total fats. The DASH diet combined with regular moderate exercise and a healthy weight provides the best reduction of blood pressure.  Limiting sodium and alcohol intake can also lower blood pressure 2-8 mm Hg2.

Help lower your blood pressure by getting up and walking!

  1. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Your Guide to Lowering High Blood Pressure,  downloaded May 16, 2014.
  2. Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure, National High Blood Pressure Education Program. Bethesda (MD): National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (US); 2004 Aug. Report No.: 04-5230
  3. American Heart Association. Walking can lower risk of heart-related conditions as much as running, April 4, 2013.
For more information, contact the author: Jamie Goffena, MS, Extension Educator. This publication has been peer reviewed.