How to Cut Down on Medications

Medically Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on May 16, 2014
4 min read

What if you could cut back on the prescription drugs you take for blood pressure, cholesterol, or type 2 diabetes? It may be possible, with your doctor's support.

The trick is to make lifestyle changes that have a big impact on your health. These seven steps will help.

1. Make better eating convenient.

Heart-healthy eating boils down to a few simple steps:

It sounds so simple, right? But first, you need to get those items in your pantry, fridge, car, workplace, and anywhere else you spend a lot of time.

What's in there right now? Is it supporting your goals for how you want to eat? If not, it's time to rethink and restock.

2. Read when you shop.

Check the nutrition facts label on anything that comes in a bag, box, or can. Packaged foods can have a lot of sodium in them, and there are often lower-sodium options you could buy instead.

Making that shift, and reaching for the saltshaker less often, can make a big difference. Cutting back on sodium can start to improve your blood pressure quickly -- in about a month, says Houston cardiologist John Higgins.

3. Strengthen your most important muscle.

It's your heart. And the way you make it stronger is just like any other muscle: Make it work harder.

You do that by moving more. It can be a formal workout, or it can just be part of your day.

Maybe you take your dog on a hike, or take a dance break when you're doing your chores at home. Maybe you try an online yoga video, or dust off the bike in your garage.

Whatever you do, you're making your heart stronger, helping to lower your blood pressure, and starting to get your blood sugar level to where you want it to be.

Moving more can cut down on the amount of insulin you need, lower your insulin resistance, and cut down on the number of pills you take for your blood sugar, blood pressure, or cholesterol and other blood fats, Higgins says.

Try to exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days. That means a grand total of 150 minutes or more per week.

Becoming more active and working on your diet help you lose extra weight. Losing even a small amount of weight can help, says cardiologist James Beckerman.

4. Cut back on alcohol.

Yes, moderate drinking may be good for your heart. But drinking too much can raise your blood pressure.

You don’t have to eliminate alcohol completely to make a difference. Stick to a max of about one glass per day if you’re a woman or two per day if you’re a man.

5. Sit. Breathe. Repeat.

Take time to relax every day. Sit quietly and breathe deeply for 15-20 minutes.

Learn how to manage your time. It’s OK to say “no” if you don’t have time or energy for something.

Identify your stress triggers, or things that upset you, and avoid them when possible. If you can’t avoid them, find ways to unwind.

“Simple, effective relaxation techniques can help you focus, relax, and lower your blood pressure,” says John Kennedy, MD, author of The 15 Minute Heart Cure.

6. Go smoke-free.

Avoid cigarettes and all other tobacco products. If you smoke, quitting can improve your blood pressure and risk of heart attack and stroke.

Even if you don’t smoke, stay away from secondhand smoke.

7. Ask for feedback.

Let your doctors know that you're working on these habits. They can support you and let you know if you're ready to cut back on any medications as you make progress over time. Don't make any medication changes on your own.

Your doctor may also refer you to other experts, like a dietitian or trainer, who can help you.

Making these changes is powerful. Over time, you should see your blood pressure, weight, blood sugar, and cholesterol improve. You'll probably feel and sleep better, too.

How long it takes to see these changes varies depending on the number of changes you make and how your body responds to them. Typically, you’ll start seeing results within about 3 to 6 months, Higgins says.