The term “blood pressure” has gotten a bad reputation. You need some pressure to move blood from the heart to the brain and the toes and back again. But too much pressure is harmful. It damages artery walls, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. High blood pressure can weaken the heart muscle over time and damage other organs, like the kidneys and the eyes. About 90 percent of Americans develop high blood pressure during their lifetimes. Most people can keep their blood pressure in the healthy range by staying lean and physically active, consuming five or ¬diagnosed with high blood pressure (also known as hypertension), there are several things you can do to keep your blood pressure in check without the need for medication. And even if you do need medication, these strategies can help minimize the number of drugs needed to keep blood pressure under control, which in turn will reduce both the side affects you feel and the cost of your treatment. If you have high blood pressure and are overweight, losing just 5 to 10 percent of your starting weight can help lower your blood pressure and do much, much more for your health. Eating more fruits and vegetables delivers extra potassium, which helps control blood pressure. Aim for a minimum of five servings a day and remember: potatoes and corn don’t count as vegetables. Cutting back on sodium (a main part of table salt) will also help you control your blood pressure. Try to keep your sodium intake under 1,500 milligrams, the amount in three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt. You don’t need to count milligrams of salt on a meal-by-meal basis, but it is helpful to know where most of your salt comes from, particularly because so much of it is hidden in processed and prepared foods. Suddenly decreasing the amount of salt (sodium) may make your diet seem bland. But if you cut back slowly, you won’t notice that you are taking in less salt. Most natural foods are low in sodium, so if you limit your intake of processed foods and don’t load up on salt when cooking, your sodium intake will be low without your thinking about it. Keeping your blood pressure in check, whether by diet or drugs, is an important way to protect yourself from having a heart attack or stroke.