Ways to Lower Blood Pressure

High blood pressure raises your chances of having both heart attack and stroke. It’s important to know your numbers, because if you have high blood pressure you’ll want to bring those numbers down. Talk to your doctor about the best ways for you to lower your blood pressure. Here are some things they may suggest.

Lose Weight

You’ll lower your systolic blood pressure (the first number in your blood pressure results) by 5 to 20 points for every 20 pounds you lose. In fact, if you're overweight, losing as little as 10 pounds can help lower blood pressure. The weight loss goal is to get your body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9.

Weight loss will also help with sleep apnea -- when your breathing briefly stops multiple times while you sleep. (It can raise your blood pressure and make your heart beat irregularly.) Shed pounds slowly with a steady mix of healthy eating and exercise.

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Keeping tabs on the scale will help your blood pressure take care of itself. Check your readings regularly at home, and try to stay in your target range.

Eat Healthy

A program called DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is considered by many to be the best diet when it comes to managing and lowering blood pressure. Stick to it and watch your systolic blood pressure drop 8 to 14 points.

Its basic rules are to stay away from or cut back on:

  • Foods high in total and saturated fat
  • Processed foods
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Carbohydrates
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol (no more than one drink a day if you’re a woman; two or less if you’re a man)

The diet also suggests you load up instead on:

  • Fruits and vegetables, especially berries, which are high in antioxidants
  • Whole grains
  • High-protein foods, like unsalted nuts
  • Foods high in potassium and magnesium, like leafy greens or beans
  • Calcium-rich foods, like low-sugar yogurt

Get Regular Exercise

Exercise is the soulmate to eating right. You’re more likely to lose weight if you exercise and follow a healthy diet. Official recommendations call for at least half an hour of exercise most days of the week. The effects can be dramatic: blood pressure drops of 4 to 9 points. Remember that exercise isn’t just going to the gym. It can be gardening, washing your car, or housework. But things that get your heart rate up -- aerobic activities -- like walking, dancing, jogging, riding your bike, and swimming are best for your heart.

Reduce Your Sodium Intake

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It’s a prime offender in raising blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends that people with hypertension keep it under 1,500 milligrams a day. Check your food labels to see how much you’re getting. If you cut back gradually, you’re less likely to notice the difference. Limiting sodium to just 2,400 milligrams per day can lower your number 2 to 8 points.

One way to cut back is to prepare your food at home. Seventy-five percent of your sodium intake comes from eating out and packaged foods. Use more spices for flavor instead of salt. Eating more potassium (found in foods like bananas, raisins, tuna, and milk) helps move sodium out of your body. A small effort can bring blood pressure down as much as two to eight points.

Ways to cut out sneaky salt and add healthy flavor:

  • Read labels. Look for "salt," "sodium," "sea salt," and "kosher salt."
  • Rinse salty canned food such as beans or tuna before using it.
  • Substitute herbs and spices for sodium and salt when cooking.
  • Avoid instant or flavored side dishes, which usually have a lot of added sodium. Instead, try cooking plain rice, pasta, or grains without adding salt. You can add other flavorings or a bit of salt when you serve them.
  • Look for "low sodium" on food labels.

Reduce Your Stress

Lowering your stress helps keep your blood pressure normal. Try mind-body exercises like yoga and tai chi. Meditation can also help with stress, as can listening to calming music, or making music. One study found that playing music had benefits that were similar to physical activity.

Sitting in the sun can boost feel-good chemicals called endorphins and lower your blood pressure.

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And don’t forget about your support network. Rely on friends and family to lighten your mood.

Other things you might try to get a handle on stress include:

  • Setting realistic daily goals: Determine your priorities and don’t put pressure on yourself to try to do too much.
  • Controlling what you can: See if you can do something about the things that cause you the most stress. It can sometimes help to bounce ideas off a co-worker or with a family member to find a solution.
  • Staying clear of stressors: If you know that something or someone causes you stress, do your best to avoid them.
  • Finding some “me” time: Take a break during the day to do something you like. Maybe take a walk or find a quiet place to meditate or do some deep breathing.
  • Appreciating the little things: Being grateful and expressing that gratitude can make you feel better -- and give the people around you a pick-me-up, too.

Drink Less Alcohol

You can bring down your systolic blood pressure 2 to 4 points when you limit yourself to one alcoholic drink a day (for women) or two drinks (for men). One drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.

Quit Smoking

Swearing off cigarettes is probably the single best thing you can do for your heart. It’s good for your health in general, too. Not only does smoking hurt you over the long term, but your blood pressure goes up every time you have a cigarette. Lower your blood pressure and prolong your life by quitting. If you need help getting started, talk to your doctor.

Take Prescription Medications

For some people, lifestyle changes are enough to get and keep blood pressure under control. But many people need medication too. It’s important to take it exactly as your doctor prescribes. That means not cutting doses or skipping days. If you have trouble remembering, get help with electronic reminders or daily pillboxes.

Consider Taking Vitamins and Supplements

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Research shows that a few vitamins and minerals may be helpful in lowering blood pressure. But talk to your doctor before taking any. Make sure they know everything you take.

Potassium: This helps your body get rid of sodium through your pee. Men should aim for 3,400 mg a day, and women around 2,600. It’s found in fruits like bananas and prunes and vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, and artichoke.

Vitamin D: This helps make the enzyme renin, which is linked to blood pressure health. You can get vitamin D from fatty fish, like salmon or mackerel, or milk. You also can absorb vitamin D from sunlight or take it in a supplement.

Get Quality Sleep

Like several other body functions, such as your heart rate and breathing rate, your blood pressure goes down when you’re asleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, that means your blood pressure stays high for longer. It’s also possible that a lack of sleep can affect your body’s ability to control stress hormones, and that may play a role, too.

To get a good night’s sleep, it’s best to stick to a regular schedule, exercise early in the day, and don’t have anything to eat or drink too close to bedtime.

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