The normal blood pressure is 120/80 mm Hg (millimeter of mercury). Blood pressure is the pressure exerted by circulating blood upon the walls of blood vessels. During each heartbeat, blood pressure varies between a maximum (systolic) and a minimum (diastolic) pressure. The human heart consists of 4 chambers: the right atrium, the right ventricle, the left atrium, and the left ventricle. The systolic pressure is referred to the contraction (squeezing) of the left ventricle and is a force that drives blood out of the heart to other organs. Diastolic pressure is the period of time when the heart refills with deoxygenated blood from other organs and relaxes (dilates) after the systole pressure.
If you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure (a systolic pressure – the top number – of 140 or above or a diastolic pressure – the bottom number – of 90 or above) you might be worried about taking medication to control your blood pressure.
Lifestyle plays an important role in treating your high blood pressure. If you successfully control your blood pressure with a healthy lifestyle, you may avoid, delay or reduce the need for medication.
Here are 10 lifestyle changes you can make to lower your blood pressure.
Avoid Tobacco Products and Second Hand Smoke
On top of all the other dangers of smoking, the nicotine in tobacco products can raise your blood pressure by 10 mm Hg or more for up to an hour after a smoke. Smoking throughout the day means your blood pressure remains high.
Cut Back on Caffeine
Although drinking coffee can be beneficial in some ways, it is not advised for people who have high blood pressure. Drinking caffeinated beverages can cause a spike in your blood pressure. Caffeine causes your arteries to contract thereby increasing the pressure the heart has to pump blood out. It also causes your adrenal glands to release more adrenaline, a hormone produced during high stress or exciting situations. Adrenaline works by stimulating the heart rate, contracting blood vessels and dilating air passageways which work to increase blood flow to the muscles.
Lose Weight and Watch Your Waistline
Blood pressure often increases as weight increases because the heart has to work harder to compensate for the increased load. Losing weight can help reduce your blood pressure. In addition, losing weight makes any blood pressure medication you’re taking more effective. You and your doctor can determine your target weight and how to achieve it. Besides shedding pounds, you 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. In general, men are more at risk if their waist measurement is greater than 102 cm, and women are at risk if their waistline is greater than 89 cm.
Regular physical activity, at least 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week, can lower your blood pressure by 4 to 9 mm Hg. Talk to your doctor about developing an exercise program. He/she can recommend any exercise restrictions to avoid increased heart rate. Even moderate activity for 10 minutes at a time, such as walking or doing chores around the house, can help.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Eating a diet rich in fruits, whole grains, vegetables, and low fat dairy products and avoiding saturated fats and cholesterol can lower your blood pressure by at least 14 mm HG. This eating plan is know as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH).
- Keep a food diary – Writing down what you eat, even for a week, can make you realize your true eating habits. Monitor what you eat, how much and when.
- Consider boosting potassium – Potassium can lessen the effects of sodium on your blood pressure. The best source of potassium is food, such as bananas, rather than supplements. Consider talking to your doctor about the potassium level that’s best for you.
- Be a smart shopper – Make a shopping list before heading to the supermarket to avoid picking up junk food. Read food labels when you shop and stick to your healthy-eating plan when your dining out too.
Reduce Sodium in Your Diet
Salt works on your kidneys to make your body hold on to more water. This extra stored water raises your blood pressure by reducing the amount of blood reaching the heart. This leads to angina (sharp pain in the chest). With this condition, the cells in the heart don’t work as well as they should because they are not receiving enough oxygen and nutrients. Even a small reduction in your sodium intake can reduce blood pressure by 2 to 8 mm Hg. Limit sodium to 2,300 mg a day. A lower sodium level – 1,500 mg – is recommended for individuals aged 51 and above.
- Track how much salt is in your diet – Keep a food diary to estimate how much sodium is in what you eat and drink every day.
- Read food labels – If possible, choose low-sodium alternatives of the foods and beverages you consume.
- Eat fewer processed foods – Potato chips, frozen dinners, beef bacon and processed lunch meats are high in sodium.
- Don’t add salt – Just 1 teaspoon has 2,300 mg of sodium. Use herbs or spices, rather than salt, to add more flavor to your foods.
Reduce Your Stress
Stress or anxiety can temporarily increase blood pressure. Take some time to think what causes you to feel stressed. Once you know what’s causing your stress, consider how you can eliminate it. Take deep breaths for deep breathing exercises. Get a massage or take up yoga or meditation. Take a look at our article on beating stress the natural way
Monitor Your Blood Pressure at Home and Make Regular Doctor’s Appointments
If you have high blood pressure, you may need to monitor your blood pressure at home. Learning to self monitor your blood pressure using an upper arm monitor can help motivate you. Regular visits to your doctor are also likely to become a part of your normal routine. These visits will keep a tab on your blood pressure.
Get Support from Family and Friends
Supportive family and friends can help improve your health. They may encourage you to take care of yourself, drive you to the doctor’s office or help start an exercise program. Talk to your family and friends about the dangers of high blood pressure.