By making these 8 lifestyle changes, you may lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease, also potentially reducing the need for medication.
If you've been diagnosed with high blood pressure, you might be concerned about the side-effects of taking medication to bring your numbers down.
Lifestyle plays an important role in treating your high blood pressure. If you successfully control your blood pressure with a healthy lifestyle, you may delay, reduce and possibly even avoid the need for medication. (Please be sure to seek professional medical guidance before making any changes to prescribed medication)
Here are 8 lifestyle changes you can make to lower your blood pressure and keep it down.
1. Lose extra pounds and watch your waistline
Blood pressure often increases as weight increases. Being overweight also can cause disrupted breathing while you sleep (sleep apnoea), which further raises your blood pressure.
Weight loss is one of the most effective lifestyle changes for controlling blood pressure. Losing just 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) can help reduce your blood pressure.
Besides shedding pounds, you generally should also keep an eye on your waistline. Carrying too much weight around your waist can put you at greater risk of high blood pressure.
- Men are at risk if their waist measurement is greater than 102 centimetres.
- Women are at risk if their waist measurement is greater than 89 centimetres.
2. Exercise regularly
Regular physical activity - at least 30 minutes most days of the week - can lower your blood pressure by 4 to 9 millimetres of mercury (mm Hg). It's important to be consistent because if you stop exercising, your blood pressure can rise again.
If you have slightly high blood pressure (prehypertension), exercise can help you avoid developing full-blown hypertension. If you already have hypertension, regular physical activity can bring your blood pressure down to safer levels.
The best types of exercise for lowering blood pressure include walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, dancing and strength training (weights). *(I have added a bit more on weight lifting at the end of this article).
3. Eat a healthy diet
Eating a diet that is rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products and skimps on saturated fat can lower your blood pressure by up to 14 mm Hg.
It isn't easy to change your eating habits, but with these tips, you can adopt a healthy diet:
- Keep a food diary. Writing down what you eat, even for just a week, can shed surprising light on your true eating habits. Monitor what you eat, how much, when and why.
- Consider boosting potassium. Potassium can lessen the effects of sodium on blood pressure. The best source of potassium is food, such as fruits and vegetables, rather than supplements.
- Be a smart shopper. Read food labels when you shop and stick to your healthy-eating plan when you're dining out, too.
4. Reduce sodium in your diet
Even a small reduction in the sodium in your diet can reduce blood pressure by 2 to 8 mm Hg.
The effect of sodium intake on blood pressure varies among groups of people. In general, limit sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day or less. However, a lower sodium intake - 1,500 mg a day or less - is appropriate for people with greater salt sensitivity, including:
- Anyone age 51 or older
- Anyone diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease
To decrease sodium in your diet, consider these tips:
- Read food labels. If possible, choose low-sodium alternatives of the foods and beverages you normally buy.
- Eat fewer processed foods. Only a small amount of sodium occurs naturally in foods. Most sodium is added during processing.
- Don't add salt. Just 1 level teaspoon of salt has 2,300 mg of sodium. Use herbs or spices to add flavour to your food.
- Ease into it. If you don't feel you can drastically reduce the sodium in your diet suddenly, cut back gradually. Your palate will adjust over time.
5. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink
Alcohol can be both good and bad for your health. In small amounts, it can potentially lower your blood pressure by 2 to 4 mm Hg.
But that protective effect is lost if you drink too much alcohol - generally more than one drink a day for women and for men older than age 65, or more than two a day for men age 65 and younger.
Drinking more than moderate amounts of alcohol can actually raise blood pressure by several points. It can also reduce the effectiveness of blood pressure medications.
6. Quit smoking
Each cigarette you smoke increases your blood pressure for many minutes after you finish. Quitting smoking helps your blood pressure return to normal. People who quit smoking, regardless of age, have substantial increases in life expectancy.
7. Cut back on caffeine
The role caffeine plays in blood pressure is still debated. Caffeine can raise blood pressure by as much as 10 mm Hg in people who rarely consume it, but there is little to no strong effect on blood pressure in habitual coffee drinkers.
Although the effects of chronic caffeine ingestion on blood pressure aren't clear, the possibility of a slight increase in blood pressure exists.
To see if caffeine raises your blood pressure, check your pressure within 30 minutes of drinking a caffeinated beverage. If your blood pressure increases by 5 to 10 mm Hg, you may be sensitive to the blood pressure raising effects of caffeine.
8. Reduce your stress
Chronic stress is an important contributor to high blood pressure. Occasional stress also can contribute to high blood pressure if you react to stress by eating unhealthy food, drinking alcohol or smoking.
Take some time to think about what causes you to feel stressed, such as work, family, finances or illness. Once you know what's causing your stress, consider how you can eliminate or reduce stress.
If you can't eliminate all of your stressors, you can at least cope with them in a healthier way. Try to:
- Change your expectations. Give yourself time to get things done. Learn to say no and to live within manageable limits. Try to learn to accept things you can't change.
- Think about problems under your control and make a plan to solve them. You could talk to your boss about difficulties at work or to family members about problems at home.
- Know your stress triggers. Avoid whatever triggers you can. For example, spend less time with people who bother you or avoid driving in rush-hour traffic.
- Make time to relax and to do activities you enjoy. Take 15 to 20 minutes a day to sit quietly and breathe deeply. Try to intentionally enjoy what you do rather than hurrying through your "relaxing activities" at a stressful pace.
- Practice gratitude. Expressing gratitude to others can help reduce stressful thoughts.
*Is weightlifting safe if I have high blood pressure?
Weightlifting can cause a temporary increase in blood pressure. This increase can be dramatic, depending on how much weight you lift. But, weightlifting can also have long-term benefits to blood pressure that outweigh the risk of a temporary spike for most people.
Regular exercise, including moderate weightlifting, provides many health benefits, including helping to lower blood pressure in the long term.
If you have high blood pressure, here are some tips for getting started on a weightlifting program:
- Learn and use proper form when lifting to reduce the risk of injury (a personal trainer is recommended)
- Don't hold your breath. Holding your breath during exertion can cause dangerous spikes in blood pressure. Instead, breathe easily and continuously during each lift.
- Lift lighter weights more times. Heavier weights require more strain, which can cause a greater increase in blood pressure. You can challenge your muscles with lighter weights by increasing the number of repetitions you lift.
- Alternate between upper and lower body exercises to let your muscles rest during exercise.
Option A: work out for a little over 2 hours/week with a bunch of positive side effects like having more muscle and less fat, getting stronger, stress relief (which also lowers blood pressure) and looking and feeling better in your "birthday suit".
Option B: take costly medication with potential negative side effects like coughing, dizziness, changes in flavour of foods, and constipation.
Hopefully you too can experience the benefits of choosing Option A and reduce or even eliminate the need for blood pressure medication.
*Disclaimer: Individual results vary based on agreed goals. Click here for details.