High blood pressure is a common condition that affects one in three people in the U.S. and as many as 1 billion people worldwide. Also known as “hypertension,” high blood pressure is referred to as the “silent killer,” because there are often no obvious symptoms, leading to many patients going undiagnosed until they experience signs of a heart attack, arrhythmia, or heart failure.
Left uncontrolled, high blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Although many patients manage their high blood pressure with medication, lifestyle and diet play important roles in treatment. By adopting a healthy lifestyle, you can protect your heart health and may be able to avoid, delay, or reduce the need to take medication.
Here are 10 lifestyle changes you can start today to help lower your blood pressure and keep it down:
1. Lose Weight and Keep an Eye on Your Waistline
Weight loss is one of the most effective things you can do to control your blood pressure, especially because excess weight can contribute to other issues that can increase blood pressure, like sleep apnea. Even losing a small amount of weight can be beneficial if you’re currently overweight or obese; one study conducted in 2016 found that losing only 5% of your body mass can significantly lower blood pressure.
By losing weight, there’s less stress on your heart. Your blood vessels can expand and contract more easily, which makes it easier for the left ventricle of the heart to pump blood throughout the body. While all-over weight loss is important, you should also keep a close eye on your waistline, as higher waist circumference has been shown to increase the risk of high blood pressure. In general, men are at greater risk if their waists measure more than 40 inches, while women are at greater risk if their waists measure greater than 35 inches.
2. Exercise Regularly
Regular exercise not only aids weight loss but also helps to make your heart stronger and more efficient at pumping blood, which in turn lowers the pressure in your arteries. As little as 150 minutes a week (about 30 minutes a day) of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week can help lower blood pressure by 5 to 8 mm Hg. Exercising for even longer than the recommended time can reduce your blood pressure even further.
However, it’s important to be consistent because your blood pressure can start to rise again once you stop exercising. Finding exercise you enjoy will help you develop a healthy routine you can stick with. Some examples of exercise you can try are walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, dancing, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and strength training.
3. Eat a Healthy Diet
Adopting the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Diet) has been shown to reduce blood pressure by up to 11mm Hg. Unlike some diets, the DASH diet isn’t very restrictive; it focuses on increasing your intake of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products while avoiding sodium, saturated fats, and cholesterol. Focus on increasing the following foods:
will help your body get rid of sodium and ease the pressure in your
blood vessels. Foods that contain a high level of potassium include:
- Vegetables, especially leafy greens, tomatoes, potatoes, and sweet potatoes
- Fruits like melons, bananas, avocados, oranges, and apricots
- Dairy products, like milk and yogurt
- Tuna and salmon
- Nuts and seeds
have been shown to have a positive correlation with lower blood
pressure. Most adults should strive to get 1,000 mg of calcium a day
(and 1,200 mg per day for women over 50 and men over 70). Some
examples of calcium-rich foods include:
- Collards and other leafy greens
- Dairy products
to regulate healthy blood pressure levels by allowing the blood
vessels to relax. Although magnesium deficiencies are rare, many
people don’t get enough of the mineral in their diet. Some
examples of magnesium-rich foods include:
- Dairy products
- Whole grains
- Berries have high levels of polyphenols, which can reduce high blood pressure as well as the risk of stroke, diabetes, insulin resistance, systemic inflammation, and heart conditions.
- Dark chocolate and cocoa are rich in flavonoids, plant compounds that cause the blood vessels to dilate, reducing blood pressure. Moderate chocolate and cocoa consumption has been shown to have a positive effect on lowering blood pressure. To take advantage of the benefits, make sure you’re using non-alkalized cocoa powder, which has a high flavonoid content and no added sugar.
have a high antioxidant and polyphenol content have been shown to
have a positive effect on cardiovascular disease while reducing
inflammation systemically. Some examples of anti-inflammatory foods
- Leafy greens
- Orange-colored vegetables
4. Reduce Your Salt Intake
Many studies have linked a high-sodium diet to high blood pressure and heart events like stroke, although the relationship between salt and high blood pressure isn’t well understood. It’s thought that genetic factors could play a role, as approximately half of patients with high blood pressure have also been found to have a sensitivity to salt. However, even a slight reduction of salt in your diet can reduce blood pressure by 5 to 6 mm Hg. Ideally, you should limit your sodium intake to 1,500 mg (about 1 teaspoon) or less per day.
Whenever possible, make sure to read food labels and choose low-sodium alternatives. Limiting processed foods can help greatly, as most natural whole foods contain little to no sodium. When cooking, try not to add salt; instead, use herbs and spices to give your food more flavor. If you’re not sure you can make a drastic change, cut back on your salt intake gradually to allow your palate time to adjust.
5. Limit Alcohol
Moderate alcohol intake (one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men) has been thought to improve blood pressure slightly, but those effects are lost with higher alcohol consumption. Alcohol has been linked directly to approximately 16% of high blood pressure cases worldwide. In addition, alcohol can also reduce the effectiveness of blood pressure medication. Cut back if you drink more than moderately or avoid alcohol entirely.
6. Cut Back on Caffeine
There’s still some debate on the role of caffeine in blood pressure. In patients who don’t drink coffee very often, caffeine can temporarily raise blood pressure by up to 10 mm Hg; in contrast, people who drink it regularly may have little to no effect on their blood pressure. You can check to see how your body reacts by checking your blood pressure within 30 minutes of drinking a caffeinated beverage. If your blood pressure increased by 5 to 10 mm Hg, you may be sensitive and want to consider cutting back.
7. Quit Smoking
There are many reasons to quit smoking, including lowering blood pressure and the risk of heart disease. Each puff you take off a cigarette causes a temporary increase in blood pressure that can last for several minutes afterward. The chemicals in tobacco have also been shown to damage blood vessels. Although there’s conflicting research about the long-term effects of smoking on blood pressure, quitting smoking is one of the best steps you can take for long-term heart health.
8. Reduce Stress
Chronic stress puts your body in constant fight-or-flight mode, causing a faster heart rate and constricted blood vessels. It can also make you more likely to make less than healthy choices, like drinking alcohol, eating junk food, or smoking—all of which also contribute to higher blood pressure.
If you often feel stressed, take some time to think about what’s triggering you to feel that way. For many people, work, finances, family, and illness are major factors, but even not getting enough sleep at night can contribute to feeling stressed throughout the day. Once you’ve pinpointed the factors causing stress in your life, you can take some steps to eliminate or reduce them. Some other things you can try are:
- Listen to soothing music, which has a calming effect on the nervous system.
- Reduce your work hours.
- Loosen your expectations by planning out your day and focusing on tasks that are a priority. If you’re not able to get to a task, don’t beat yourself up! Tomorrow is a new day to tackle it.
- Things that are outside of our control can cause a lot of stress. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have control over, focus on the things you can control and make plans on how to resolve them.
- Avoid situations that make you feel stressed. For example, if you feel stressed out by rush-hour traffic on your daily commute, leave for work earlier or take public transportation.
- Take time to relax and do enjoyable activities, like hobbies, going for a walk, cooking, or visiting with friends. Meditation is a great way to take a few minutes out of your day to sit quietly, breathe deeply, and decompress.
- Express gratitude to others or take some time to make a daily or weekly gratitude list.
9. Discuss Supplements with Your Doctor
Research has shown that several supplements may also help to lower blood pressure:
- Aged garlic extract
- Whey protein
- Fish oil
Before starting on any supplements, however, make sure to check with your doctor.
10. Monitor Your Blood Pressure at Home and See Your Doctor Regularly
Monitoring your blood pressure at home can help you keep a closer eye on it and may even help you identify triggers that cause your blood pressure to spike. Blood pressure monitors are widely available in most drug stores and can be purchased over the counter, without a prescription. Regular visits with your doctor are also very important for controlling your blood pressure, especially if you’re taking medication for it. Doctor visits can help you determine if the dosage is correct, as well as how often you should be checking your blood pressure at home.
Get Started On Lowering Your Blood Pressure with Dr. Hubert
Although high blood pressure is often treated with medication, it can be controlled naturally by focusing on a healthy diet, weight loss, and exercise. Dr. Hubert has helped numerous patients with high blood pressure lower their numbers with her personalized medical weight loss program. Get the support and expertise you need to lose weight, lower your blood pressure, strengthen your heart, and lead a happier, healthier life! Contact Dr. Hubert today to schedule your consultation.