Overview of Ways to Lower Your Blood Pressure
An unhealthy lifestyle will raise your blood pressure over time. And the higher your BP becomes, the higher your risk of having a stroke or heart attack in the future.
But the good news is that if you have HBP, healthy changes will help to bring it down. And you don’t have to wait until you have high pressure to make healthy lifestyle changes. The more you can reduce your BP, the lower your risk of a heart attack or stroke will be.
First, why is your Bp high?
Many things can cause this to happen, including eating too much salt, being overweight, or even taking certain medications that can cause high blood pressure as a side effect.
You might know that a HBP reading has two numbers (for example, 120/80). The American Heart Association describes normal blood pressure as a first number of 120 or less and a second number of 80 or less.
Why is it dangerous to lower my BP too quickly?
What can I do if my Bp goes up right before doctors’ visits?
White coat syndrome isn’t uncommon. In fact, one study suggests that 15% to 30% of people who have high pressure readings might suffer from white coat syndrome. In cases like these, some patients wonder whether it’s possible to quickly lower their pressure before a reading. If you’re in this situation, the safest and most effective thing you can do is try your best to relax.
Here are a few relaxation methods you can try:
- Bring a friend or family member who can help you stay calm. If you can bring a trusted friend or relative with you to your doctor’s visit, their presence might help you feel more at ease. Even having a conversation to distract you from the clinical atmosphere around you can keep you from dwelling on or stressing about your visit.
- Meditate. Meditation and deep breathing are excellent ways to put your body into a state of relaxation. Pop in some earphones and turn on one of your favorite meditation apps to calm your mind before your visit. If you don’t have any apps, close your eyes and take slow breaths in and out while you try to clear your mind.
- Find a quiet room where you can wait. Sometimes receptionists and fellow patients in the waiting room can add to your anxiety. Finding a quiet space where you can wait to be called back and focus on taking deep breaths can help prepare you for your blood pressure reading.
What can I do if I find out my blood pressure is dangerously high?
Normally, high blood pressure, sometimes called “the silent killer,” has few symptoms. But sometimes, a patient may be prompted to check their blood pressure because of troubling symptoms like headache, chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, and loss of balance. These may be signs of dangerously high blood pressure, also known as a hypertensive crisis—when your first blood pressure number is greater than 180 or your second number is greater than 120.
In this scenario, do NOT try to lower your blood pressure on your own. A hypertensive crisis is an emergency situation that can end in death, so someone nearby should call 9-1-1 immediately. Emergency personnel will begin the process of lowering your blood pressure in the ambulance while on the way to the hospital. Even then, they will follow guidelines on how quickly they can safely lower your blood pressure and will monitor your blood pressure closely.
How can I lower blood pressure naturally over time?
Now that we’ve discussed why there’s no fail-proof, safe, and fast way to lower blood pressure, remember, there are still many ways to reduce BP over time. Here are some simple recommendations:
- Exercise most days of the week. Exercise is the most effective way to lower your blood pressure. Being physically active at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week goes a long way toward keeping or getting your pressure under control.
- Consume a low-sodium diet. Too much sodium (or salt) causes blood pressure to rise. The AHA recommends keeping your daily sodium intake to less than 2 grams, but keeping it less than 1.5 grams is even better! The DASH diet provides a low-sodium eating plan for you to use as an example.
- Limit alcohol intake to no more than 1 to 2 drinks per day. Drinking more than average—1 drink for women and 2 drinks for men—can cause blood pressure to rise. Plus, alcohol can cause you to pack on the pounds, which can also lead to an increase in blood pressure.
- Make stress reduction a priority. Stressful situations can cause the pressure to go up temporarily. But if you continue to be stressed, the BP can remain high. Find calming activities you can do every day to help you relieve stress. Coloring, walking outside, listening to relaxing music, and even taking a warm bath can help you keep you lower your stress levels.
Increase activity and exercise more
How much activity should you strive for?
If finding 40 minutes at a time is a challenge, there may still be benefits when the time is divided into three or four 10- to 15-minute segments throughout the day.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) makes similar recommendations.
But you don’t have to run marathons. Increasing your activity level can be as simple as:
- using the stairs
- walking instead of driving
- doing household chores
- going for a bike ride
- playing a team sport
One example of moderate activity that can have big results is tai chi. A 2017 review on the effects of tai chi and high blood pressure shows an overall average of a 15.6 mm Hg drop in systolic blood pressure and a 10.7 mm Hg drop in diastolic blood pressure, compared to people who didn’t exercise at all.
A 2014 review on exercise and lowering blood pressure found that there are many combinations of exercise that can lower blood pressure. Aerobic exercise, resistance training, high-intensity interval training, short bouts of exercise throughout the day, or walking 10,000 steps a day may all lower blood pressure.
Ongoing studies continue to suggest that there are still benefits to even light physical activity, especially in older adults.
Lose weight if you’re overweight
If you’re overweight, losing even 5 to 10 pounds can reduce your blood pressure. Plus, you’ll lower your risk for other medical problems.
Cut back on sugar and refined carbohydrates
A 2010 study compared a low-carb diet to a low-fat diet. The low-fat diet included a diet drug. Both diets produced weight loss, but the low-carb diet was much more effective in lowering BP.
The low-carb diet lowered blood pressure by 4.5 mm Hg diastolic and 5.9 mm Hg systolic. The diet of low-fat plus the diet drug lowered it by only 0.4 mm Hg diastolic and 1.5 mm Hg systolic.
A 2012 analysis of low-carb diets and heart disease risk found that these diets lowered BP by an average of 3.10 mm Hg diastolic and 4.81 mm Hg systolic.
Eat more potassium and less sodium
It’s easy to eat more potassium — so many foods are naturally high in potassium. Here are a few:
- low-fat dairy foods, such as milk and yogurt
- fruits, such as bananas, apricots, avocados, and oranges
- vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, potatoes, tomatoes, greens, and spinach
Note that individuals respond to salt differently. Some people are salt-sensitive, meaning that a higher salt intake increases their blood pressure. Others are salt-insensitive. They can have a high salt intake and excrete it in their urine without raising their blood pressure.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends reducing salt intake using the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. The DASH diet emphasizes:
- low-sodium foods
- fruits and vegetables
- low-fat dairy
- whole grains
- fewer sweets and red meats
Eat less processed food
Most of the extra salt in your diet comes from processed foods and foods from restaurants, not your salt shaker at home. Popular high-salt items include deli meats, canned soup, pizza, chips, and other processed snacks.
Foods labeled “low-fat” are usually high in salt and sugar to compensate for the loss of fat. Fat is what gives food taste and makes you feel full.
Cutting down on — or even better, cutting out — processed food will help you eat less salt, less sugar, and fewer refined carbohydrates.
Make it a practice to check labels. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a sodium listing of 5 percent or less on a food label is considered low, while 20 percent or more is considered high..
Stopping smoking is good for your all-around health. Smoking causes an immediate but temporary increase in your blood pressure and an increase in your heart rate.
In the long term, the chemicals in tobacco can increase your blood pressure by damaging your blood vessel walls, causing inflammation, and narrowing your arteries.
The chemicals in tobacco can affect your blood vessels even if you’re around secondhand smoke. A study showed that children around secondhand smoke in the home had higher blood pressure than those from non-smoking homes.
Reduce excess stress
We live in stressful times. Workplace and family demands, national and international politics — they all contribute to stress.
There are lots of different ways to successfully relieve stress, so find what works for you. Practice deep breathing, take a walk, read a book, or watch a comedy.
Listening to music daily has also been shown to reduce systolic blood pressure. A recent 20-year study showed that regular sauna use reduced death from heart-related events. And one small study has shown that acupuncture can lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
Try meditation or yoga
Mindfulness and meditation, including transcendental meditation, have long been used — and studied — as methods to reduce stress. A 2012 study notes that one university program in Massachusetts has had more than 19,000 people participate in a meditation and mindfulness program to reduce stress.