Before deciding to lose weight as a treatment for hypertension, you should first determine if you are overweight and, if so, by how much. Doctors typically use a person's body mass index (BMI) to determine if someone is overweight. BMI and determine what weight category you fall into: normal, overweight or obese.

If you need to lose weight, disregard the deluge of fad diets and over-the-counter supplements that purport to melt the pounds away magically. The most successful (and safest) strategy for weight loss is deceptively straightforward: Expend more calories than you take in. This primarily involves dietary calorie restriction, but increased physical activity can help too. (Prescription appetite-suppressing medication and surgery are also options, but only for a limited number of patients and only after diet and exercise have failed.)

Instead of attempting to lose a specific number of pounds, make it your goal to adopt healthier eating and exercise habits. For example, replace soda with water or eat fruit instead of pastry for dessert. If you feel compelled to set a weight-loss goal, set realistic short-term goals; for example, two pounds per month. Record both your goal and your progress toward that goal.

The good news is that a weight loss of as little as 5 percent of body weight can significantly improve risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, high blood glucose and triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol levels. The safest rate of weight loss is a half-pound to two pounds a week. If you lose weight at this rate, you are more likely to keep it off.

Cutting caloric intake alone is one way to achieve this goal, but severe calorie reductions aren't recommended because they can result in dangerous fluid, electrolyte and weight shifts. Unless medically advised, daily intake should not drop below 1,200 calories in women and 1,500 calories in men.

Combining exercise with reduced calorie consumption is more successful than dieting alone for losing weight and keeping it off. Exercising by itself is a difficult approach to losing weight, however. If you're able to exercise, there's no need to hit the ground running. Chances are that inactivity has contributed to your weight problem and overdoing exercise will only discourage you. Ease into it. Try walking, cycling or swimming at a comfortable pace.

Exercise need not take place in one contiguous spurt, either: Three 10-minute sessions will suffice. Your long-term goal should be to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week. However, more exercise likely will be needed to keep the weight off once you have shed some pounds.

Another type of exercise—strength training—lowers overall body fat and maintains muscle mass. This improved muscle mass boosts metabolism because more energy (calories) are required to maintain muscle than fat. Include weight training or resistance-machine workouts in your exercise plan.

Publication Review By: Lawrence Appel, M.D., and Rafael H. Llinas, M.D.

Published: 15 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 29 Aug 2013