More often than not, taking care of ourselves means understanding how different aspects of our health relate to one another, and how our actions influence those connections. For instance, consider weight and blood pressure: As your body weight increases, so, too, can your blood pressure. But how can weight loss affect blood pressure? Does losing weight always lead to lower blood pressure, or does it depend on your approach?
Before we answer these questions, a quick reminder of what we mean when we talk about healthy blood pressure levels: First, blood pressure generally refers to how hard your heart is working with each heartbeat. Blood pressure readings are given in two numbers: systolic blood pressure (the top number) and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number). Systolic blood pressure tells you how much pressure is exerted against your artery walls with each heartbeat, while diastolic blood pressure measures the force against your artery walls between each heartbeat. For most adults, an ideal blood pressure reading is <120/<80 mm Hg, meaning systolic blood pressure is less than 120 mm Hg, and diastolic is less than 80 mm Hg.
So, how can weight loss affect blood pressure, and what are the healthiest ways to approach weight management? Here’s what you need to know.
The Pressure of Increased Weight On Your Heart
Simply put, when you’re carrying extra weight, your heart has to work harder to pump blood throughout your body.
Why? With excess weight, there typically comes extra fat and cholesterol in the bloodstream, says One Drop coach and registered nurse, Lisa Goldoor. “These can cause obstacles that make pumping blood throughout the body more difficult, thus raising your blood pressure,” she explains. Extra weight can also increase blood volume, adds Goldoor, putting even more stress on your heart.
But excess weight can impact blood pressure in more indirect ways as well. For example, insulin resistance—which happens when your muscles, fat, and liver don’t respond well to insulin and struggle to use glucose from your blood—is common in people living with obesity. Insulin resistance means increased glucose in the bloodstream, which can raise blood pressure, explains Goldoor.
How Weight Loss Can Improve Blood Pressure
Everyone is different, of course, but according to Saria Saccocio, MD, a family practice physician in South Carolina, on average, losing approximately 20 pounds when living with obesity can reduce blood pressure by 5-20 mmHg.
That said, it’s important to go at a steady pace with weight loss. For most people, losing about 1-2 pounds per week is considered safe, says Dr. Mubashar Rehman, PhD, PharmD, an assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences at Quaid-i-Azam University in Pakistan. Exceeding this range can actually have a detrimental effect on your heart health, he explains, especially if you already live with a heart condition and approach weight loss with extreme dieting tactics.
For instance, approaching weight loss with a tunnel-vision focus on calorie consumption might lead you to over-restrict foods with key nutrients needed for healthy blood pressure levels (think: magnesium, potassium, calcium, and fiber), says Michelle Routhenstein, a certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES) and registered dietitian/nutritionist (RDN).
“Slow and steady weight loss of about 1-2 pounds, at most, per week can have a positive effect on lowering blood pressure in the long-term—about 1mmHg for every 2.2 pounds lost,” she explains. “However, weight loss may not always lower blood pressure, especially if the method of weight loss isn’t concentrated on improving blood vessel health, blood flow, and improving heart function” with both the aforementioned nutrients, as well as a balanced exercise regimen.
Healthy Eating Tips for Blood Pressure and Weight Loss
If you want to manage your weight and get the right nutrients for your heart, you can’t go wrong following the DASH diet (a.k.a. Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which is specifically designed to help treat or prevent high blood pressure. With the DASH diet, you’re encouraged to limit foods that are high in saturated fat and replace them with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (found in nuts, avocados, vegetable oils, etc.). This approach also calls for fewer foods with a lot of sodium and added sugars, focusing instead on those that are rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium (such as leafy green vegetables, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains), which can all help relax blood vessel walls and, as a result, lower blood pressure.
Another key nutrient in the DASH diet is fiber—particularly soluble fiber (found in foods such as oats, flaxseed, and beans), which can help lower cholesterol and reduce inflammation to keep blood pressure levels, as well as weight, in a healthy range. What’s more, eating a high-fiber diet often means you’re eating a lot of fruits and veggies, which is associated with both weight loss and a higher intake of potassium and magnesium—two important nutrients for healthy blood pressure levels, explains One Drop coach, Danica Crouse, RDN, certified nutrition support clinician (CNSC). (For additional advice on foods that can help lower blood pressure, check out our beginner’s guide to heart-healthy eating, or learn more about the DASH diet with One Drop coach, Sandra.)
How Exercise Can Benefit Blood Pressure and Weight Loss
Exercise can not only help with weight loss by increasing the number of calories your body uses for energy, but it can also strengthen your heart and help it pump more effectively, thus lowering blood pressure, says Goldoor.
According to the Mayo Clinic, engaging in both aerobic exercise and strength training tends to provide the most benefits for heart health, and it’s recommended to aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (brisk walking, mowing the lawn, bicycling) per week, 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (hiking, jogging, sports like basketball or soccer) per week, or a combination of the two—that is, as long as your primary care doctor doesn’t see any reason not to do these kinds of activities.
However, even with the go-ahead from your doctor, Goldoor notes that it might still take time to build up to these recommendations, so it’s important to pace yourself. (Need help getting started? Become a One Drop Premium member to explore our beginner exercise plans.)
Bottom Line: Stay Aware of Your Weight and Heart Health
Even if you’re not currently focused on weight management or improving your blood pressure, don’t discount the value of simply tracking these different metrics so you know what’s going on with your health at any given time.
“Data is power,” says Goldoor. If your blood pressure or weight, or even both, does turn out to be high, you might as well know about it sooner than later so you can start to plan on ways to lower it.
“These issues don’t have to change your entire life,” continues Goldoor. “There are small steps you can take over time that will really help. And starting small can increase success by building confidence and momentum.”
Ready to start building that momentum? Take the first step by signing up for One Drop’s Complete Weight for Heart Health package.
This article has been clinically reviewed by Alexa Stelzer, RDN, CDCES, clinical health coach at One Drop, and Jamillah Hoy-Rosas, MPH, RDN, CDCES, and VP of clinical operations at One Drop.