High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a common health issue that can increase the risk of heart disease. Although medication can be effective in reducing blood pressure, adopting lifestyle changes can also have a significant impact. If you have elevated blood pressure or stage 1 hypertension, the first order of business is to get serious about modifying your lifestyle. In this article, we'll take a look at the six natural ways to lower blood pressure.
The Importance of Lifestyle Changes
Unless a person's blood pressure is very high, medication most often does not start immediately. For people with elevated blood pressure or stage 1 hypertension, the first order of business is to get serious about modifying their lifestyle.Dr. Howard LeWine, editor in chief of Harvard Men's Health Watch
Healthy lifestyle habits are the cornerstone of managing blood pressure, whether or not you require medication. A lifestyle approach to management also helps people feel more in control of their health. Understandably, sometimes people are reluctant to start taking medication because they don't want to be dependent on it. This resistance can provide extra motivation for making the necessary changes.
However, don't be discouraged if your doctor wants you to begin taking a low dose of medication. Once you reach your blood pressure goals, maintaining a healthy lifestyle may mean you can take a drug holiday (with your doctor's approval).
And even if you still need medication, your healthy lifestyle changes can help prevent dose increases or additional blood pressure drugs.Dr. LeWine
The Big Six: Natural Ways to Lower Blood Pressure
Six lifestyle changes have the most significant influence on blood pressure. They include the foundation for healthy living — diet, exercise, and weight control — as well as limiting sodium and alcohol and managing stress.
While most experts advocate plant-based diets to help lower blood pressure numbers, a recent study found that the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet may have the most significant impact. The researchers found that adopting the DASH diet could prevent an estimated 15,000 annual heart attacks and strokes among men with high blood pressure.
The DASH diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, nuts, seeds, and grains and limits consumption of red meat, sodium, and sugar-sweetened foods and drinks. In addition to the DASH diet, reducing the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in your diet can also help lower blood pressure.
Guidelines call for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. A reasonable starting goal is 20 to 30 minutes every other day. Any kind of exercise is always better than nothing. But if you need motivation, join a walking club or sports league (like golf, bowling, basketball, or pickleball), hire a personal trainer, or sign up for fitness classes at a gym or community center. You can also increase your daily movements, like walking for five minutes every hour, doing two sets of five to 10 push-ups on the floor or against the kitchen counter, or 20 minutes of yoga or stretching.
While it's natural for weight to increase somewhat with age, even five to 10 pounds over your ideal number can raise blood pressure. "In fact, for overweight men, every pound lost could lower systolic blood pressure by up to 1 mm Hg," says Dr. LeWine. Your doctor can determine your target weight for your age and body type. Investing in a healthy diet and increasing exercise can help reduce weight.
"People with high blood pressure sometimes have a significant improvement by avoiding sodium," says Dr. LeWine. Processed foods account for much of the sodium that people consume. These include foods like canned vegetables and soups, frozen dinners, lunch meats, instant and ready-to-eat cereals, salty chips, and other packaged snacks. Cut back on these items, or select low-sodium options. In addition, avoiding or minimizing the use of table salt and seasoning with herbs and spices can help lower sodium intake.
Drinking more than moderate amounts of alcohol can raise blood pressure. Guidelines say men should consume no more than two standard drinks per day, with a single drink defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits. However, cutting back on alcohol as much as possible is ideal.
Reducing stress is also a priority. Stress can lead to chronic inflammation that damages artery walls, making them less elastic. In addition, ongoing stress can trigger the adrenal glands to release hormones that raise blood pressure.
Uncontrolled stress often manifests as poor sleep, overeating, and physical inactivity.Dr. LeWine.
To manage stress, practice relaxation breathing and meditation, or perhaps just set aside time every day to do whatever you wish, even if it's nothing at all. Additionally, getting enough sleep and engaging in regular physical activity can help reduce stress.
Monitoring Your Blood Pressure
It's important to regularly monitor your blood pressure to ensure it remains within a healthy range. Your doctor can measure your blood pressure in the office, but it's also important to monitor it at home. This can be done with a blood pressure cuff, which can be purchased at most drugstores.
When monitoring your blood pressure at home, take measurements at the same time each day and while you are relaxed and sitting. Record your readings and share them with your doctor to track your progress.
Lowering your blood pressure naturally through lifestyle changes can be just as effective as medication in reducing the risk of heart disease. Adopting the big six lifestyle changes — diet, exercise, weight control, sodium reduction, alcohol moderation, and stress management — can have a significant impact on your blood pressure readings. By making these changes, you can take control of your health and reduce your risk of heart disease.