5 Lifestyle Changes Proven to Reduce High Blood Pressure
Checking your blood pressure at the doctor’s office may seem routine, but knowing if you have high blood pressure can be a matter of life and death. High blood pressure or hypertension, affects 108 million people in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control—that’s nearly one-third of the population.
Hypertension causes structural alterations of the blood vessels throughout your body that lead to narrowing and scarring of the blood vessels, which, in turn, results in poor blood flow to major organs. Having high blood pressure can put you at risk for stroke, heart attack, heart disease, kidney disease, and death; and, most of the time, there are no obvious symptoms until it’s too late.
If you suspect you may have high blood pressure, or have already been diagnosed, doctors say there are some lifestyle changes you can make right now to reduce your chances of succumbing to this “silent killer.” In fact, the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure; the American Diabetes Association; and, the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association all recommend lifestyle modification as the first step in managing hypertension. Here are lifestyle changes proven to reduce high blood pressure.
Adopt a Heart-Healthy Diet
A 2013 study found that dietary modification can be a major factor to help bring down high blood pressure‚ with the DASH and Mediterranean diets standing out as the most effective choices.
“The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet promotes eating whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, and limiting saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar, red meat, and salt,” explains Leonard Pianko, M.D., a board-certified cardiologist in Miami, Florida. It includes consuming foods that are rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium, which are known to help lower blood pressure, he says.
The Mediterranean diet is a similar approach to eating but with fewer exact guidelines for daily and weekly servings of each food group. Both of these diets are considered overall healthy ways to eat, and they may also lead to weight loss, which has also been shown to help lower blood pressure in many patients. The Framingham Heart Study estimated that excess body weight may be responsible for 26 percent of cases of hypertension in men and 28 percent of cases in women.
Whether you adopt one of these diets, it’s very important to watch your sodium intake, which will mean carefully reviewing food labels. Estimated average sodium intake of adults in the U.S. is high—approximately 3,600 mg per day, which far exceeds the recommended limit of 2,300 mg per day set by the United States Dietary Guidelines, and the more strict limit of 1,500 mg per day recommended by the American Heart Association.
Any time you change your diet, it may help to focus on what to add, instead of dwelling on what to cut out.
“If someone increases their intake of potassium, this can, in fact, help to lower their blood pressure,” says Elizabeth DeRobertis, R.D., a registered dietician in Scarsdale, New York. “And if they do not have enough potassium in their day, it can lead to higher blood pressure.” High-potassium foods include leafy green vegetables, fish, white beans, avocados, potatoes, acorn squash, milk, mushrooms, bananas, and cooked tomatoes. Some experts suggest people with hypertension should eat at least 4.7 grams of dietary potassium per day to lower blood pressure.
Another potential addition to your diet to lower blood pressure is turmeric, a spice that’s in the ginger family and often used in cooking. There have been several clinical studies showing turmeric to be effective in regulating blood pressure in the body, when taken long-term. Always consult with a doctor before making any dietary changes.
Smoking is the single greatest preventable cause of disease and death in the U.S., a recent study has shown. “Nicotine is a stimulant, which damages the blood vessels, thereby decreasing the amount of oxygen the heart receives and increasing your blood pressure,” explains Pianko. “Often, your blood pressure will drop within a short period of time after you quit smoking.”
Increase Your Activity
When you exercise, you increase your heart and breathing rates, which doctors say strengthens your heart and reduces the pressure on the arteries. In fact, getting that blood pumping for just 30 minutes, two or three times a week, can reduce your chance of dying from heart disease by 37 percent, says Patrick Fratellone, M.D., a cardiologist in New York City.
Know that not all exercise is created equal. Fratellone suggests a brisk walk or bike ride for people with high blood pressure. DeRobertis agrees, cautioning that it’s important to stick to aerobic exercise and stay away from weight lifting, unless you’re highly skilled at it or working with a professional trainer.
“Improper form and breathing while lifting heavy weights can put stress on the body that has actually been shown to increase blood pressure,” explains DeRobertis.
Drink More Water
To stay well hydrated, drink more water, and avoid soda—both regular and diet.
“The amount of water you should drink is a tricky balance,” says Pianko. “Drink too much and you will overwork your kidneys. Don’t drink enough water, and your body will try to stay hydrated by retaining sodium. The result is increased pressure on your arteries and an increase in your blood pressure.”
So, talk to your doctor for a personalized recommendation. “We usually recommend drinking six to eight cups of water per day, depending on your BMI, lifestyle, and other factors,” says Pianko. “This will help keep your blood pressure normal and aid with digestion.”
Get a Stress-Relieving Hobby
Fratellone suggests taking a look at any unhealthy addictions in your life that might include what he calls “energy thieves.” These include family or relationship drama, video games, smartphone addiction, and stress-inducing work habits—all which can lead to anxiety and, subsequently, high blood pressure.
Once you start to become aware of these unhealthy habits, and phase them out, find something you enjoy doing that’ll help relieve some stress.
“By starting a hobby that brings you calm, serenity, and relaxation, such as yoga or meditation or even knitting, you’ll combat your chances of high blood pressure,” says Fratellone, adding that you may also want to your emotions in check.
“By looking at how often you are exhibiting signs of anger and resentment, and working through those emotions with a psychologist or therapist, you can keep your blood pressure from skyrocketing.”
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