Why Watching Your Blood Pressure Matters

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a common condition that can lead to serious complications such as heart attack or stroke if untreated. Many people may not even realize that they have high blood pressure, which is why the American Heart Association refers to the condition as “a silent killer.” The association recommends that people, particularly as they age, have their blood pressure checked by a health care professional.

Nearly one-third of American adults have high blood pressure, and it is even more common among African -Americans than whites. Among African -Americans, nearly 44 percent of men and 48 percent of women have high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Laurie McWilliams, neurologist with Novant Health Neurology Specialists, said “hypertension has many long-term effects on the brain, including cognitive problems and the potential for a stroke.” In fact, 50 to 60 percent of the patients she sees for stroke treatment have uncontrolled high blood pressure. But she said simple lifestyle changes can lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk for stroke.

Diet and exercise

“The best thing you can do to reduce your risk for hypertension is to watch your diet, especially your salt and sugar intake,” McWilliams said. “Avoid prepared foods with a lot of preservatives and aim to eat fruits and vegetables on a regular basis – especially brain ‘super foods’ like blueberries, avocados, kale, broccoli and sweet potatoes. These amazing foods provide nutrients for the brain and lower your blood pressure.”

She also said once you receive clearance from your provider, you should incorporate exercise into your daily routine.

“Any type of exercise is important,” McWilliams said. “Even if it’s just walking for 30 minutes a day, regular exercise can lower your blood pressure.”

Know your numbers

It’s important for people with hypertension to monitor their blood pressure between provider visits, McWilliams said.

“I recommend patients always comply with their medications and keep a journal with their blood pressure numbers,” McWilliams said. “A person’s blood pressure levels can vary throughout the day. The more variable the blood pressure readings are, the higher the risk for a person to have a stroke. Being aware of those numbers will help you recognize if something is wrong and assist your provider with managing your hypertension.”

Additional tips

  • Reduce your alcohol intake. People who have more than two drinks per day have an increased risk of high blood pressure compared with nondrinkers. The risk is greatest when you drink more than five drinks per day.
  • Reduce your caffeine intake. Caffeine may cause a small rise in blood pressure, although this effect is usually temporary. Drinking a moderate amount of caffeine (less than two cups of coffee per day) does not increase the risk of high blood pressure in most people.
  • Lose weight. Being overweight increases your risk of having high blood pressure, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. If your BMI, body mass index, is greater than 25, eating right and staying active will help you lose weight and lower your blood pressure


Broccoli Coleslaw

Number of servings: 8

1 red onion

¼ cup light mayonnaise

¼ cup plain nonfat yogurt

¼ cup fat-free sour cream

¼ cup reduced-fat Parmesan cheese, grated

2 tbsp Splenda ®

1 tsp celery seeds

1/3 tsp paprika

4 cups broccoli slaw

5 cups cabbage slaw


In a large salad bowl, combine the cabbage and broccoli slaws and onion. In a small mixing bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Toss to coat, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Nutritional information per serving (serving size: ½ cup): calories, 40; fat, 1.5 grams (saturated fat, 0 grams); protein, 2 grams; carbohydrates, 6 grams; fiber, 2 grams; cholesterol, 5 milligrams; sodium, 80 milligrams