High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a blood pressure reading above 140/90 mmHg (millimeters of mercury). A high reading puts you at risk for a number of serious health conditions.
Long-term high blood pressure has been shown to increase the likelihood of an individual developing cardiovascular disease. Other complications of high blood pressure include:
Many cases of high blood pressure cannot be traced to a direct cause. However, the longer the blood pressure is high, the more dangerous the side effects of the diagnosis can become.
There are proactive measures beyond simply taking medication that you can take to lower your blood pressure. Making the right lifestyle choices also helps control blood pressure. However, there’s no quick way to reduce your blood pressure. If your blood pressure is consistently high or abnormally high, you need to see your doctor.
Try these tips to reduce your blood pressure — and maybe even lower your chance of developing heart disease.
According to the Mayo Clinic, maintaining a healthy weight for your body type helps keep your blood pressure in check. If you carry excess weight, losing it is especially important for lowering blood pressure.
Hypertension, when coupled with obesity, is dangerous to long-term health. Obesity can cause poor circulation, stress on the joints and bone structure, and stress to the heart. This can make high blood pressure symptoms worse. That’s why, if you’re one of the 36.5 percent of Americans that deal with obesity, it’s important to prioritize weight loss when treating your high blood pressure.
Weight loss can also make your blood pressure medication more effective. Losing weight can be particularly effective if your weight is outside of a healthy range, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
Talk to your doctor about a target weight and a safe weight loss plan.
If you’re unsure if you need to lose weight, ask your doctor to measure your body mass index (BMI) and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR). These two readings help determine if your weight is related to your high blood pressure.
BMI is a measurement of your body’s height in proportion to your weight. While knowing your BMI can help predict your level of body fat, it may not be enough. A WHR measurement can indicate risk for developing high blood pressure.
A great way to improve your BMI and decrease your blood pressure is to get regular exercise.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) says that simple aerobic activity, such as walking or doing chores around the house, can lower blood pressure. ACSM recommends a half hour minimum of moderate physical activity five days a week.
By incorporating cardiovascular exercise into your routine, you will improve circulation, increase your lung capacity, and improve your heart efficiency. The combination of these benefits will reduce your blood pressure. It’s even better if you’re able to exercise outside. The exposure to vitamin D in sunshine has been proven to increase happiness and reduce stress — just make sure to wear sunscreen!
If you’re not ready for cardiovascular exercise, start with a simple routine of stretching your muscles. Gentle yoga or Pilates programs are a good place to start. By stretching your muscles regularly, you will improve your circulation, alleviate pain in your muscles, improve your posture, and ultimately be able to take steps toward reducing hypertension.
A healthy diet is another key to improving and maintaining healthy blood pressure. The Mayo Clinic recommends the DASH diet, otherwise known as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet.
This diet focuses on balanced nutrition and eating foods that are low in cholesterol and saturated fat. Here are the key elements to a DASH diet:
- DASH-approved foods include fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat or nonfat dairy products.
- A typical day involves three full meals and two to three snacks.
- The center of each meal should be colorful, fiber-rich vegetables, with a small portion of lean protein to finish out the meal.
- Nuts, seeds, and fresh fruits are the recommended snacks.
- The DASH diet doesn’t focus on food deprivation, but instead encourages eating enough to keep you full while cutting out sodium and artificial sugars.
DASH is effective and may cause your blood pressure to plummet as much as 14 mmHg.
Salt and high blood pressure don’t mix. According to the Mayo Clinic, if you cut even a little bit of salt from your diet, you can lower your blood pressure by as much as 8 mmHg. The majority of salt in the American diet comes from restaurant food and prepared foods.
The AHA recommends that you keep your sodium intake to no more than 1,500 milligrams (mg) a day.
Increasing your potassium intake can also offset the effects of sodium. You can get more of this mineral by incorporating foods such as apricots, greens, and mushrooms into your diet. Potassium-rich foods such as tuna are an important part of the DASH diet, too. You’re well on your way to improving your potassium levels if you adopt it.
The AHA recommends that you limit your potassium intake to no more than 4,700 mg a day.
A variety of herbs, from garlic to cinnamon, have been shown to help lower blood pressure. Incorporating them into your diet can be a simple step toward tastier meals and a healthier heart.
Flavorful garlic has multiple health benefits. It increases the production of nitric oxide, which may result in dilated blood vessels. Relaxed blood vessels help to reduce blood pressure. Garlic can be enjoyed fresh, of course, but it’s also available as a supplement.
You might also decrease your blood pressure with vitamin-rich beets or beetroot juice. A 2010 study in Hypertension found that only 250 milliliters of juice was needed to produce a positive effect on blood pressure. Many study participants saw their blood pressure lowered within 24 hours. A 2012 study in Nutrition Journal also showed that drinking beetroot juice resulted in lower systolic blood pressure.
Vitamins C and D
Large doses of vitamin C may lead to reduced blood pressure, so drink your orange juice. Vitamin C’s diuretic properties help to remove sodium in your body and to relax the walls of your blood vessels.
A deficiency of vitamin D may put you at risk for hypertension, so look for it in fortified food sources such as milk and cereal.
Lowering blood pressure is one of the many benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Mackerel, salmon, trout, and other fatty fish are good sources. Vegetarians can get their omega-3 in fortified eggs.
Stress can increase blood pressure, at least temporarily. You’ll want to pay particular attention to lowering your stress if you’re at risk for high blood pressure due to being overweight.
Many activities can help you stay calm while dealing with daily stresses. Many of the same healthy actions that are good for your blood pressure, such as eating right and exercising, can also counteract stress.
In addition to exercise, other forms of relaxation such as meditation or deep breathing are also beneficial. A morning routine that focuses more on calming rituals — such as a cup of chamomile tea and 10 minutes of thoughtful meditation — will decrease stress levels more than reaching for that double espresso.
Limiting the amount of alcohol in your diet, or eliminating it altogether, can also decrease your blood pressure. Even red wine, commonly touted for its health benefits, has a negative effect on your blood pressure.
Practice moderate drinking if you choose to include alcohol in your diet. Generally speaking, this means no more than one drink a day if you’re a woman and no more than two drinks a day if you’re a man.
It’s currently unknown what effect smoking has on your long-term blood pressure. However, it’s well-established that smoking harms your overall heart health, which makes quitting a smart choice.
Although quitting is difficult, there are a variety of methods out there that may work for you, from nicotine gums to smoking cessation medications to acupuncture.
Maintaining a diet that is low in sodium, engaging in cardiovascular exercise for over half an hour three or four times per week, and being proactive about your stress levels are the most significant ways you can prevent hypertension.
Looking into your family history to find out if heart disease and hypertension are part of your genetic makeup is a way to find out if you’re at high risk for developing high blood pressure. It’s also good information for you and your doctor to have.
When you’re living a healthy lifestyle, you’re also making the right choices for your blood pressure. Watching your weight, exercising, and eating right can win the battle against hypertension.
Taming your vices also makes a difference in some cases. If you smoke, drink lots of alcohol, or have caffeine daily, talk to your doctor to see if cutting back should be a part of your blood pressure reduction plan.