Hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure, affects one-third of all adults in the United States—and less than half of those with high blood pressure have it under control. High blood pressure can cause serious health problems without showing any warning signs.
“When your blood pressure is too high for too long, you put yourself at risk for heart disease, stroke, kidney damage, or aneurysm formation,” explains Colin A. Craft, MD, a physician at Penn Heart and Vascular Center Washington Square.
The good news is that lifestyle changes can help you lower your blood pressure naturally.
How to lower blood pressure naturally
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Regular physical activity helps improve health
It’s no secret that regular physical activity helps you maintain good health. Exercise not only helps control high blood pressure, but also helps you manage your weight, strengthen your heart, and reduce your stress levels.”Try to aim for at least 150 minutes of exercise per week of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking,” says Dr. Craft.
While any type of aerobic activity (walking, jogging, dancing) has a positive effect on heart health, try to find something you enjoy. This will make it easier to commit to a routine and motivate you to get up and move.
Eat less salt
Most people eat too much salt without realizing it. The American Heart Association estimates that the average American eats about 3,400 mg of sodium per day. However, the recommended daily intake is 2,300 mg, and the ideal limit is less than 1,500 mg per day, especially for people with high blood pressure.Dr. Craft adds, “Even a small reduction in sodium in your diet can help improve your heart health and can lower your blood pressure if you have hypertension.”
To reduce sodium in your diet, try these tips:
- Read food labels. Look for low-salt or low-sodium versions of the foods and drinks you normally buy.
- Eat less processed foods. Only small amounts of sodium occur naturally in foods. Nearly 70 percent of the sodium we eat comes from processed, packaged, and restaurant foods.
- Do not add salt. Just 1 teaspoon of salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium. Use salt substitutes such as spices, garlic, herbs, and other seasonings in place of some or all of the salt to add flavor to your favorite dishes.
Add more potassium to your diet to reduce high blood pressure
Not only does potassium help regulate heart rate, but it can also reduce the effects of sodium in the body.
“Potassium helps your body get rid of sodium and also eases the tension in your blood vessel walls, both of which help lower blood pressure further,” says Dr. Craft. The most effective way to increase potassium intake is through dietary modification, as opposed to taking supplements. Foods rich in potassium include:
- Fruits like bananas, melons, oranges, apricots, avocados, and tomatoes
- Milk, yogurt, and cream cheese
- Green leafy vegetables, potatoes, and sweet potatoes
- Tuna and salmon
- Nuts and seeds
While incorporating these foods into your diet can improve heart health, it’s important to talk to your doctor about what potassium levels are right for you. Also, if you have severe kidney disease, you should avoid consuming too much potassium, as your kidneys may not be able to excrete it.
Limit your alcohol consumption
Some research shows that drinking alcohol in moderation can be good for your heart. However, too much alcohol consumed at once can cause a sudden spike in your blood pressure.
“Monitoring alcohol intake is very important. Alcoholic beverages can contain significant amounts of calories and sugar, which can contribute to increased body fat and weight gain—both factors that can lead to higher blood pressure over time,” says Dr. Craft.
If you drink, the American Heart Association recommends that men limit alcohol consumption to two drinks per day and women limit alcohol intake to one drink per day. A drink is considered one 12 oz. beer, 4 oz. of wine, and 1.5 oz. 80-proof spirits or 1 oz. 100-proof spirits.
If you are currently taking medication to treat high blood pressure, you should be especially careful with your alcohol intake.
“In addition to affecting your blood pressure, alcohol can also reduce the effectiveness of blood pressure medications,” explains Dr. Craft.
Reduce your stress to lower your blood pressure
We all have stress in our daily lives—a flat tire in the middle of rush hour, a looming deadline at work—that can cause a temporary increase in blood pressure. In most cases, after the stressful situation is resolved, your heart rate and blood pressure will return to normal.
However, chronic stress can put you at risk for several long-term health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. Stress can also raise your blood pressure if your coping mechanisms include eating junk food, drinking alcohol, or smoking.
While it’s impossible to eliminate all stressors from your life, learning to deal with them more healthily can have a positive impact on your health and well-being – which can in turn lower your blood pressure.
Some methods to help relieve or deal with stress include:
- Reframing your thinking. Focus on the things you can control instead of worrying about situations that are out of your hands. Our anxieties often stem from “what ifs”—cases that may never happen. Putting these thoughts into perspective and reminding yourself to stay in the present can help calm these fears.
- Avoid stress triggers. Try to avoid getting into unnecessary stressful situations. For example, try leaving for work a few minutes early to beat rush hour traffic.
- Practice gratitude. Acknowledging all the positives in our lives often helps shift our focus away from what we want or lack. In addition, outwardly expressing gratitude to others can also help reduce feelings of stress.
- Take time to relax and enjoy. Make time for things that bring you joy. Whether it’s a good meal, spending time with loved ones, or listening to an interesting podcast on your commute, make time to incorporate small moments of fun into your day.
- It’s important to remember that if you have long-term hypertension, your treatment may require healthy lifestyle changes like these, along with care and medications prescribed by your doctor. Ask your doctor for specific advice on how to lower your blood pressure.