Fight Back Against The “Silent Killer:” High Blood Pressure
Updated: Oct 6
High Blood Pressure (HBP) often times has no symptoms but can damage blood vessels and lead to some serious health problems if not managed properly. HBP is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, and about one in three U.S. adults has high blood pressure. 1 There is no absolute cure to HBP but keeping up on your medications as prescribed and making some new lifestyle changes can help reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and other health conditions.
Do you know if your blood pressure is within the healthy or unhealthy range? If you are unsure, get your blood pressure checked by your doctor. If your blood pressure is diagnosed as high, you should monitor it regularly. Tracking your results over time can show whether or not the lifestyle changes you decide to make are working.
Chart provided by heart.org
Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (Hg) and there are two numbers involved in the measurement.
1. Systolic blood pressure: The top number represents the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats.
2. Diastolic blood pressure: The bottom number represents the pressure in your blood vessels between beats, when your heart is resting.
Your blood pressure depends on how much blood your heart is pumping, and how much resistance there is to blood flow in your arteries. The narrower your arteries, the higher your blood pressure.1 As mentioned previously, with some healthy lifestyle changes, you can significantly reduce your numbers and lower the risk of HBP without medications. Here seven ways to lower your blood pressure:
1. Increase Activity & Exercise – In a study in 2013, sedentary older adults who participated in aerobic exercise training lowered their BP by an average of 3.9% systolic and 4.5% diastolic.1 As you exercise more regularly, your heart gets stronger, requiring less effort to pump blood throughout your body. A report from the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association recommends physical activity for 40-minute sessions, three to four times a week.1 Some simple exercises to start with include:
· Use the stairs instead of the elevator
· Walk to where you plan to go, instead of driving your car
· Do more chores around the house
· Enjoy a bike ride outside
2. Lose Weight (If You Need To) – If you are considered overweight, losing 5-10 pounds can reduce your BP, along with lowering your risk of other medical problems. Weight loss can also reduce strain on your heart, which can also increase your risk for HBP, leading to more serious health issues. Increasing your activity and exercise as mentioned previously may help with weight loss, along with making healthier food choices. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. If you are someone that needs to lose weight, talk with your doctor about the best approach.
3. Eat Less Sodium & More Potassium – Over the years, many Americans have developed a diet that contains high salt content, mostly coming from packaged, processed foods. Eating less of these types of foods can help reduce the sodium intake, helping to lower your BP and reduce/prevent HBP from developing. The AHA recommends no more than 2300mgs per day of sodium, but ideally to keep that number around the 1500mg range for adults.
Potassium in our bodies lessens the effects of salt and reduces tension in your blood vessels. Keep in mind that diets that are rich in potassium may be harmful to those that have kidney disease. Consult with your physician before adding more potassium to your diet. Some foods that are high in potassium include:
· Milk & Yogurt
· Bananas, Oranges, Apricots, Avocados
· Sweet Potatoes, Tomatoes, Spinach
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends reducing salt intake using the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet.1 DASH focuses on:
· Low-sodium foods
· Fruits & Veggies
· Low-fat dairy
· Whole grains
· Fewer sweets and red meats
4. Stop Smoking – Not only is this good for your blood pressure, but it is also good for your overall heath. Smoking causes an immediate, but temporary increase in your BP and heart rate. Overtime, the chemicals in tobacco can increase your BP permanently by damaging blood vessel walls, causing inflammation, and narrowing your arteries.1
5. Get Enough Good, Restful Sleep – When you are sleeping, your BP tends to be lower than when you are awake. If you are not sleeping well, this can negatively affect your BP. However, getting a good night’s sleep is not always easy for everyone. If you are someone that struggles with this, here are some tips:
· Set a regular sleep schedule
· Relax during the nighttime
· Exercise during the day
· Avoid naps during the day
· Make your bedroom comfortable
6. Reduce Unnecessary Stress – Stress can be everywhere. We often experience stress in the workplace, our personal lives, and because of events happening around us in the world. It is important to reduce and manage your stress to keep your blood pressure within a healthy range. What are some simple things you can do to reduce stress?
· Practice deep breathing
· Take a walk
· Read a book
· Watch a funny movie
Listening to music daily has also been shown to reduce systolic blood pressure. A recent 20-year study showed that regular sauna use reduced death from heart-related events. And one small study has shown that acupuncture can lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.1 Be sure to talk with your doctor about these as potential avenues before pursing.
7. Eat Dark Chocolate – You are probably thinking, “how can eating dark chocolate reduce my blood pressure?” It is true! Eating one to two squares of dark chocolate a day has been shown to lower blood pressure and inflammation.1 However, the dark chocolate you choose to eat should be 60-70% cacao. There are flavonoids present in chocolate have a higher concentration of cocoa, which help widen blood vessels. A study from 2010 found that individuals without hypertension that ate more dark chocolate had lower BP overall than those who ate less.1
Managing Your Blood Pressure is a Commitment
If you are someone who has been diagnosed with HBP, it is important to listen to your doctor. Educate yourself on this condition and how to monitor your BP at home. The more information you have, the more successful you can be at managing it without the use of medications. When you adapt and change your lifestyle to a heart-healthy one, you can:
· Reduce HBP
· Prevent or delay HBP development
· Increase effectiveness of BP medications
· Lower your risk of other health conditions like a heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney damage, vision loss, and more
For more information about your blood pressure levels, what they mean, and what you should do to manage them check with your family physician. You can also visit credible sites like the American Heart Association, the National Institutes of Health, or the CDC.