While blood pressure rises and falls throughout the day, high blood pressure becomes a problem when it stays elevated over an extended period of time.
Unfortunately, more than 3 million cases of hypertension, the medical term for high blood pressure, are diagnosed each year. What’s even more alarming is the fact that only about half of people with high blood pressure recognize they have a problem.
High blood pressure costs more than $46 billion in the cost of health care services, medications and missed days of work in the United States alone.
And even those on the brink of hypertension, diagnosed with prehypertension, are at a 28 percent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and a 41 percent higher risk of dying from a stroke than those with healthy blood pressure levels according to research and reviews of studies conducted on more than a million people. (Washington Post)
But there is good news when it comes to lower blood pressure.
You Can Control Your Blood Pressure
Your blood pressure is one aspect of your health you can control. While there are several risk factors completely out of your control, some simple factors can lead to lower blood pressure if you’re facing the health concerns related to high blood pressure.
Putting yourself in control is the simplest, and at times, most effective way to lower your blood pressure. Consider the factors below and be mindful of changes you can make in your daily routine related to the factors you can control.
High Blood Pressure Risk Factors You Can Control
- Physical Activity
- Tobacco Use
- Alcohol Use
High Blood Pressure Risk Factors Out of Your Control
Ways to Lower Blood Pressure
You can significantly contribute to your own blood pressure levels simply by taking action. And in most cases making simple changes to your diet and how much and how often you exercise can go a long way in lowering your blood pressure.
If you do have high blood pressure, it’s important to get regular assessments and recommendations from your health care provider. Together, you can agree on a blood pressure goal with a plan and timetable for reaching that goal.
If your blood pressure is normal or you’re at prehypertension, the information in this guide can help prevent high blood pressure.
Lower Blood Pressure by Changing Your Diet
Foods you eat directly relate to your blood pressure. A diet full of sodium, sugar and fat will lead to higher blood pressure while a healthy diet can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure.
A specific eating plan, known as the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, has been developed to help individuals with high blood pressure.
On the DASH plan, individuals lower blood pressure levels by eating foods low in saturated fat, total fat and cholesterol and high in fruits, vegetables and low-fat diary foods. The DASH plan includes whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts with low amounts of fats, red meats, sweets and sugared beverages.
On the plan, individuals also get higher amounts of potassium, calcium and magnesium along with protein and fiber.
With this plan, you’ll be eating more daily servings of fruits and vegetables and more grains than you’re probably used to eating. They are recommended in higher amounts because they’re high in fiber. However, if you’re not used to eating this many fruits and vegetables, you may want to gradually increase your servings of fruits, vegetables and grains.
While the DASH diet isn’t the only plan to lower blood pressure it’s a proven plan worth trying if you’re looking to lower your blood pressure or prevent high blood pressure.
If you’re not planning to adopt the DASH diet, it’s still important to educate yourself and begin practicing better overall eating habits and working toward improving your nutrition.
Whichever approach works for you, follow these guides to eating for lower blood pressure:
Aim for a diet rich in . . .
- fruits and vegetables
- whole grains and high-fiber foods
- Low-fat dairy products
- Skinless poultry and lean meat
- Fish containing omega 3 fatty acids
And aim to limit . . .
- saturated trans fats
- added sugar
If you’re not primarily responsible for cooking in your home, work with the individuals who are and request the changes you need to lower blood pressure. When dining out, select healthier options.
Foods shown to help lower blood pressure
Low-fat milk – The calcium and vitamin D in low-fat milk work together to help reduce blood pressure by 3 to 10 percent. That’s enough to reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease by 15 percent.
Spinach – This green, leafy wonder is packed with some of the healthiest nutrients for your heart including potassium, folate and magnesium. Spinach is also high in fiber and comes with tons of health benefits.
Sunflower Seeds – Of course, we’re talking unsalted sunflower seeds here. You get a crunchy snack and a great source of magnesium.
Beans – Beans are another source of soluble fiber, magnesium and potassium, key nutrients that can help you lower you blood pressure and improve the health of your heart.
Baked Potato – Rich in magnesium and potassium, baked white potatoes help the body eliminate excess sodium more easily thanks to these nutrients. Maintaining healthy levels of magnesium and potassium help prevent your blood pressure from getting too high.
Bananas – As one of the most popular sources of potassium, bananas are great for your blood pressure.
Soybeans – As with the other foods on this list, soybeans are another excellent source of potassium and magnesium. You can easily add soybeans in the pod, or edamame, to your diet by buying a frozen bag and then boiling a cup or two before seasoning with herbs and spices. Avoid adding salt to get the biggest benefits without adding more sodium to your diet.
Dark Chocolate – According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), eating about 30 calories of dark chocolate a day was shown to lower blood pressure without increasing weight. Dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa powder is recommended.
Reducing Sodium to Lower Blood Pressure
Limiting sodium doesn’t come without its challenges with diets today. Fast food, prepared foods and salty snacks offer convenience when it comes to eating, but packed in the sodium. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends individuals consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day, and individuals with high blood pressure and prehypertension limit their sodium to just 1,500 milligrams a day.
Yet, most Americans get more than twice as much sodium as recommended, and many Americans eat much more than that.
Sodium is such a detriment to your health and blood pressure levels, the American Heart Association is asking individuals to take a Pledge to Reduce their sodium intake. (You can take the pledge here).
Sodium increases blood pressure by holding excess fluid in the body that creates a burden on the heart. And while most people try to limit their sodium intake by avoiding the saltshaker, it’s not enough.
It’s been estimated 75 percent of sodium intake is found in the processed foods and restaurant foods many of us choose to eat too often.
When it comes to reducing your sodium, be sure to check the labels on the foods you’re eating. These terms can help you understand sodium-related labels a little better:
- Sodium-Free means there is less than 5 milligrams of sodium in the food and zero sodium choloride.
- Very Low Sodium means less than 35 milligrams of sodium per serving.
- Low-Sodium means less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving.
- Reduced Sodium means less you’re getting at least 25 perecent less sodium than usual sodium levels.
- Light (when it relates to sodium-reduce products) means there is 50 percent less sodium per serving if the food is low calorie and low fat.
- Light in Sodium is added to the label if sodium has been reduce by at least 50 percent per serving.
If a food item has more than 480 milligrams of sodium per labeled serving (individual foods) or more than 600 milligrams per labeled serving for meals/main dishes, the food cannot claim to be healthy according to the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
It’s also important to look for foods labeled with soda, which means sodium bicarbonate or baking soda is in the product.
Taking the time to read labels can help you avoid much of the unnecessary sodium in your diet and can help lower your blood pressure.
Increasing Potassium to Lower Blood Pressure
Increasing your potassium through natural food sources is an important part of lowering and controlling your blood pressure. Potassium is important because it helps lessen the effects sodium has on your health and blood pressure.
Adults should be consuming an average of 4,700 milligrams of potassium a day.
In a study of individuals with high blood pressure, potassium supplementation helped lower systolic blood pressure by about eight points.
It’s important to get enough potassium through your diet by eating foods rich in potassium such as bananas, baked potatoes, spinach, beans and many other natural sources. Before taking a potassium supplement, be sure to consult with your health care provider.
Exercise Your Way to Lower Blood Pressure
Getting adequate physical activity is another aspect of lowering blood pressure that simply can’t be ignored.
Unfortunately, too many people avoid getting started for no other reason than they think it takes a lot of effort to make a difference. In most cases, just 30 minutes of moderate-level physical activity at least four days a week is enough to help lower your blood pressure.
Examples of moderate physical activities include brisk walking, cycling, raking leaves and gardening. But the list of activities is endless.
To make getting exercise even easier, some break down the 30 minutes into 10-minute periods. If that’s your best option, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking from the farthest car spot away can help you reach your goal of increasing your activity level.
If you feel like you can get more than 30 minutes, you’ll get added benefits of doing more. Participate in moderate-level activities for longer periods of time or participate in more vigorous activities to increase the benefits you’re getting by exercising.
For most, it’s just a matter of getting started. If you have had heart trouble, suffered a heart attack, or you’re over the age of 50 and not used to exercising, consult with your health care provider before getting started.
A study published in the April, 2002 Annals of Internal Medicine reported aerobic exercise reduced blood pressure in individuals with high blood pressure. While researcher Seamus P. Whelton of Princeton University and his colleagues found an “an increase in physical activity should be considered an important component of lifestyle modification for prevention and treatment of high blood pressure.”
By following current guidelines on exercise—30 minutes a day, most days a week—you can bring down your blood pressure significantly, says Gerald Fletcher, MD, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic, in Jacksonville, Fla., and a spokesman for the American Heart Association.
Additional Ways to Lower Blood Pressure
Lose Weight – Dropping just a few pounds has been shown to have a substantial impact on your blood pressure. Excess weight forces the heart to work harder with extra strain leading to hypertension. Losing just a few pounds can reduce the rate your heart is working at.
Of course, if you’re changing your diet and beginning to exercise more frequently, this may come as a results of other changes. If not, plan to exercise more and make better diet choices.
Reduce Alcohol Consumption – Consuming more than two drinks a day has been shown to increase the risk of hypertension in both men and women. Limiting your consumption may help lower your risk. If you are drinking alcohol, avoid drinking on an empty stomach as food can help to blood alcohol’s effects on blood pressure.
Stress Relief – With stress as one of the highest risk factors for high blood pressure and heart disease, taking the time to mediate may offer some help when it comes to lowering blood pressure. “Meditation not medication,” is what Robert Schneider, MD, advises when it comes to lowering blood pressure.
As dean of College of Maharishi Vedic Medicine at the Maharishi University in Fairfield, Iowa and director of the university’s government-sponsored Center for Natural Medicine and Prevention, Schneider has been researching transcendental meditation (TM) for more than 15 years.
“TM is a simple mind-body technique that allows you to gain a unique state of restful awareness or alertness,” said Schneider.
According to studies, TM effectively helps to reduce stress. Schneider also suggests anyone interested in learning TM should do so by a qualified instructor. More information can be found here http://www.tm.org/learn-tm.
Meditation is one aspect of reducing stress but there are many other ways to reduce your stress levels. Take the time to learn what works for you.
Supplementation – Diet and exercise are almost always going to be the most effective approach to lowering blood pressure. And anyone with high blood pressure should discuss options and their health with their doctor. In some cases, supplements may be added to support the health of your heart.
While research continues on the benefits of many supplements, there are benefits to taking the following in addition other steps you’re taking to reduce your blood pressure.
Supplements shown to support the health of your heart include:
- Fiber – Getting fiber through whole grain, fruits and vegetables is the best way to boost your fiber intake. In some cases, a fiber supplement may also provide support for maintaining healthy blood pressure levels.
- Mineral supplements – Potassium, calcium and magnesium have been shown to help support healthy blood pressure levels. Potassium can help to combat the effects of sodium. Calcium offers support by aiding blood vessel contraction and expansion. With low calcium levels, artery walls can tighten. Magnesium supports both calcium and potassium pass through cell walls to do their work. Magnesium also helps improve the effect of nitric oxide on relaxing the artery walls.
- Nitric oxide boosters – Nitric oxide is a key to healthy blood pressure levels. With healthy levels of nitric oxide, blood vessels expand enough to allow blood pressure to remain at a healthy level. There are several ingredients that help boost nitric oxide production with the most common being L-arginine and L-citrulline. When combined, these two amino acids have been shown to boost nitric oxide production within the body.
- Omega-3 fatty acids – Research has shown Omega-3 fatty acids help to decrease triglyceride levels and provide support to help lower blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week. For those who would rather avoid fish, Omega-3 fatty acid supplements are available.
- Probiotics – Clinical trials have been shown that probiotic consumption may improve blood pressure control. Analysis of nine clinical trials showed reduced blood pressure in subjects when compared to those on a placebo when probiotics were taken for more than eight weeks.
If you are considering supplements to help provide the support your heart needs, it’s always important to consult with your health care provider.
3 Big Myths about Blood Pressure
Myth: There’s nothing you can do about your blood pressure because it runs in your family.
Fact: While high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease may run in your family, you can take steps to reduce your own risk. You can’t control your genetics, but you can control your activity level, diet and several other factors related to blood pressure.
Myth: I’m in control of my sodium because I don’t use table salt.
Fact: Not using table salt will help you avoid some excess sodium, but passing on packaged foods and foods with added salt will help even more.
Myth: I feel completely fine, so I’m not worried about my blood pressure.
Fact: Hypertension is often called the “silent killer” because most people with high blood pressure don’t even realize until it’s too late. Generally, there are no symptoms of high blood pressure so it’s important to get routine checks and make wise choices about what you’re eating and how often you’re exercising.
Take Action to Lower Your Blood Pressure
1 – Maintain a healthy weight
- Visit your health care provider to discuss your weight
- Create a plan to lose weight through diet and exercise
2 – Be physically active
- Get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day
- Find an activity you enjoy
3 – Follow a healthy eating plan
- Eat a variety of foods low in saturated fat, total fat and cholesterol including a variety of fruits, vegetables and low-fat diary foods.
- Track you eating
- If trying to lose weight, eat a lower calorie diet
4 – Reduce sodium
- Choose low-sodium foods
- Replace table salt as a seasoning with spices, garlic, onions and others to add flavor without adding sodium.
5 – Control you alcohol consumption
- Excessive alcohol can raise blood pressure and added unwanted calories.
- Limit your alcohol consumption to one drink a day if you’re a woman and two a day if you’re a man.
6 – Take your prescriptions as directed but make improvements in other areas as well.
- If you’re taking blood pressure medications, be sure you’re not ignoring the changes you need to make in you diet and physical activity level.
Remember to take your medication, whether you need to set up reminders or have someone remind you, your medication won’t help if you’re not taking it consistently.
Questions to ask your doctor about high blood pressure
- What is my blood pressure?
- What should my goal be for my blood pressure?
- What’s a healthy weight for me?
- Can you recommend an eating plan to help me maintain or lower my blood pressure?
- How much exercise should I be getting to help lower my blood pressure?
- What alternatives to taking a prescription are available?
- If you recommend a blood pressure medication, what are the possible side effects?
- What can I do to reduce my chances of suffering any side effects while taking a blood pressure medication?
- What do I need to know about taking my blood pressure medication? What time of day should I take it? Should I take it with food? Are there any foods, beverages or supplements I should avoid while taking this medication?
- What should I do if I forget to take my blood pressure? Should I take it as soon as possible or wait until the next dosage is due?
- What else would you recommend I do to lower my blood pressure?
- How often should I get my blood pressure checked to see if it’s going down?