Lower Your Blood Pressure
The evidence based way to lower your blood pressure
What is Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure measures how well your body circulates blood throughout your body. It is measured with a set of two numbers, which indicate how well you are circulating blood when the heart beats and between those beats.
What Does High Blood Pressure Mean?
High blood pressure is an indicator that your heart is straining to pump blood to the rest of your body. This is often caused by narrowing of arteries.
High blood pressure is any reading of 130/80 and above.
Over time high blood pressure puts you at greater risk for a heart attack or stroke, aneurysm, metabolic syndrome, kidney damage, dementia, and other memory problems. Most of these problems are caused because your blood is not circulating well enough to transport the right amount of oxygen throughout your body.
How Much do I Have to Lower my Blood Pressure for it to Matter?
Lowering your blood pressure lowers your risk of developing other more serious conditions like getting a heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, or kidney damage. Even if you are only able to lower your blood pressure a little bit, you are will decrease your risk of developing those other conditions, and decrease any long term damage to your body.
Decreasing your blood pressure can be cumulative, so keep going! Start small and build on it—as you lower your blood pressure, you lower your risk.
How to Lower Blood Pressure
Increase Your Activity
Exercise can lower your blood pressure by making your heart stronger. Your heart is a muscle, so the more you work it, the stronger it gets. Guidelines suggest 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week, but beyond that, it's the dealer's choice.
You don’t need to become the greatest athlete in the world. All you need to do is find an activity that gets your heart pumping and that you enjoy. Consistency is key! Here are some great activities that will get your heart rate up:
- Walking—You don't have to run to "exercise". Walking with purpose gets your heart rate up and can lower your blood pressure.
- Dancing—You can dance in a fitness class, dance class, out on the town, or in your living room. All sorts of dancing will get your heart rate moving while you learn new ways to move.
- Yoga—Try out classes in your area, or build an at home yoga practice for free with youtube videos! You don't need anything to get started - just a soft place to stretch out.
- Biking—Take some time to get outside!
- Running—If you are just picking up running, start off slow. The latest recommendations say to start by alternating running and walking. You don't have to run the whole time - it's more important to get moving and enjoy yourself.
Exercise will help make your heart stronger and better at pumping blood. Just think about it: If you do bicep curls every day your biceps will eventually get stronger. It is the same with your heart muscle. If you make it work a little bit every day, it too will get stronger.
Just walking 30 minutes a day, can lower your blood pressure! Consistency is as important as the amount or type of exercise that you do. Even if you don't increase the quantity of your exercise, just continuing to get your heart rate up a few times a week will continue to show benefits.
Eat More Potassium
People usually talk about what to reduce when you have high blood pressure. Here’s the good news: there are some things that you can eat that actually will help! Potassium is a mineral that helps your body get rid of sodium. If you eat more potassium rich foods, you can help your body balance out higher sodium in your diet.
Try incorporating more whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables, into your diet. Potassium rich foods include: vegetables, fruit, dairy, tuna, nuts, and beans. Leafy greens like spinach (which also has magnesium in it, another mineral shown to help lower blood pressure) and fruits like melons and bananas are easy to add into your diet and have added benefits well beyond lowering your blood pressure.
Eat Less Salt
Though the relationship between sodium and high blood pressure is a little unclear, it is clear that some people are more sensitive to salt than others. Processed, pre-made, and takeout foods often have a lot of sodium, even if they don't taste salty. If you are eating a lot of these types of foods, you may be eating a lot more sodium than you realize!
The first thing to do is to be aware of it— check out the labels on your food and see how much sodium things contain. If you are there are easy ways to fix it!
Ideally, to lower your blood pressure you want to consume about 1,500 mg of sodium per day (or less).
Try to buy products with less sodium and supplement with fresh fruits and veggies. Have some fast and easy options that you already love and are low sodium? Swap them out for some of the higher sodium foods you've been consuming. And if you're up for it, try cooking from scratch more.
You can even freeze foods for yourself - which typically reduces sodium and costs!
Having a drink does not cause high blood pressure or heart disease. In fact there's evidence that a glass of red wine might actually be beneficial. The key here is the amount you're drinking (not whether or not you're drinking at all).
Having a lot of drinks (binge drinking, drinking daily) negates any potential cardiovascular benefits of drinking alcohol. If you like having a drink with dinner or socially, there is no reason to stop doing this for your blood pressure. However, binge drinking or alcohol addiction can be a huge problem for your blood pressure and overall heart health.
If binge drinking or drinking a lot is proven to hurt your heart, then not drinking in excess will, at the very least, not hurt your heart. If you reduce your drinking to just one or two drinks a night you can help your heart simply by not hurting it more.
If you have very high blood pressure, other risk factors for heart disease, or the options above just aren't for you - there are a number of medications that can help keep your blood pressure in line. Any way you lower your blood pressure is good - and decreases your overall risk of developing heart disease or other conditions triggered by long term high blood pressure.
When you talk to your doctor about blood pressure medication, know that you have a few options:
- ACE (Angiotensin converting enzyme) Inhibitors — block a specific enzyme, which helps regulate blood pressure and increase blood volume.
- Calcium Channel Blockers (CCBs) — reduce calcium levels in arteries and blood vessels, which helps them widen and that widening reduces blood pressure.
- Thiazide Diuretics — help the kidneys reduce sodium.
- Beta-blockers — reduces your heart rate (not often prescribed anymore).
- Renin Inhibitors — block a specific enzyme in the kidneys that restricts your blood vessels, so when it is blocked they are wider which lowers your blood pressure.
It is important to remember that your body is always changing. As you make changes to help lower your blood pressure, the amount or type or medication you need might change. It is important to be aware of that so that you can find the best combination medicine and lifestyle changes that work for you.
If your blood pressure is just a little above average, your doctor will probably talk to you about making lifestyle changes before putting you on medication. However, if you are at an increased risk for a stroke or heart attack, then medication is a great preventative measure.
Eat Less Red Meat
Red meat is often linked to high cholesterol which is linked to high blood pressure. If you are eating a lot of red meat and you want to make an easy change, this is a great way to do it. Red meat is also in a lot of deli meats which tend to be really high in sodium. If you have chosen to cut back on sodium, eating less deli meat will be really helpful!
Drink Less Caffeine
Caffeine can make your blood pressure spike, but there is actually little evidence that shows that it has a lasting effect on your overall blood pressure. That being said, some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others. If you feel like coffee is making your heart race, and you need six cups just to get through the day, maybe you should try to cut back a bit. But don’t worry about that single cup of coffee that brightens your morning.
Beyond a temporary spike in blood pressure, stress is usually what leads to all of our unhealthy habits—the bag of sodium filled chips, the six beers, the lack of exercise, the poor diet, etc. Reducing your stress level can help you make the lifestyle changes that are actually proven to reduce your blood pressure.
It's healthier to focus on staying active and eating well than on a specific number on the scale. We don't recommend focusing on losing weight as the primary way to reduce your blood pressure.
Instead, focus on getting your heart rate up a few times a week in whatever way you enjoy. And check out the sodium levels of what you're eating.
These lifestyle changes may contribute to healthy, sustainable weight loss - but they may not! Either way they will contribute to lowering your blood pressure, which decreases the strain on your heart and arteries, and lowers your overall risk of developing serious or life threatening diseases.