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.
If you’re overweight, losing as little as 10 pounds can lower your blood pressure. It 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.
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.
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.
It’s basic rules are to stay away from or cut back on:
Foods high in total and saturated fat
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:
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 four to nine 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
- Vitamin C: This has antioxidants that protect the linings of your blood vessels. Orange juice is a good source, as are fruits like kiwi and strawberries, and vegetables like broccoli, kale, tomatoes, and sweet red peppers. Adults should get 400 mg per day.
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.