If your doctor has told you that you have high blood pressure, it might have come as a bit of a shock.
After all, most people who have high blood pressure, or hypertension, feel perfectly fine. It may not be until you go to the doctor for a routine check-up that you discover it’s a problem. While it can be tempting to put it to the back of your mind, if high blood pressure goes ignored, over time it could lead to damage to vital organs like the heart, brain, and kidneys. The time to act is now, and luckily there are lots of options to lower blood pressure naturally.
What is high blood pressure?
Hypertension is a disease in which the blood flows through the body’s blood vessels, or arteries, at a higher pressure than what is considered normal. There are actually two types of high blood pressure: primary and secondary.
Secondary is generally a temporary condition that is caused by an unrelated medical condition or the use of a certain medicine; it tends to go away once the cause is treated or the patient stops taking the medication. Primary high blood pressure is the most common, and occurs frequently as a person ages.
Anytime your body is sick or operating at less than 100 percent, it has a way of letting you know. But unlike colds, allergies, and other tell-tale symptoms, high blood pressure can be hard to spot. Most people don’t really experience any physical sensations, so the only way to truly know if you have high blood pressure is to have a medical professional check. This is why it’s a routine part of any yearly exam—and as long as you stay up-to-date on health screenings you’ll know if you’re at risk.
To measure your blood pressure numbers, a nurse practitioner or nurse will watch the clock while using a stethoscope and a blood pressure cuff (the device that Velcros around your arm and tightens). They’ll be calculating two types of pressure in your veins. The first is systolic pressure, which is the pressure when the heart muscle contracts and pumps blood. The second is diastolic pressure, which is when the heart rests in between the heartbeats and refills with blood.
A blood pressure reading is those two numbers placed on top of each other—the systolic number on top and the diastolic number on the bottom. The measurement is in mmHg, or millimeters of mercury, but when it’s spoken, that metric is usually left off and it is simply read as “one hundred and twenty over eighty,” or 120/80 mmHg, for example—which is considered an ideal figure.
There are different stages of high blood pressure, including prehypertension. The more your numbers increase above the ideal reading (120/80 mmHg), the more severe the hypertension can become. Your doctor may recommend you take blood pressure medication, but if you’re in the early stages, you might like to know other options to help the situation.
How to lower blood pressure naturally
It seems like a no-brainer, but by leading a healthy lifestyle and eating well, you’re already ahead of the game in lowering your chances of developing hypertension. It’s the sodium-packed foods and lack of exercise that can really have an effect on blood pressure over time. So, if you’re looking for ways to keep your health in check, try these natural methods to lower blood pressure.
Consume less sodium
A recommended daily dose of sodium is 2,300 milligrams or less, but that amount can vary from person to person. Foods affect people differently, so someone could consume half of that dose and experience high blood pressure while someone else may put loads of salt into all their meals and never have an issue.
Consuming less sodium is as simple as reading food labels thoroughly, opting for low-sodium alternatives, and trying not to add more salt to your foods. Opt for natural options when possible and eat lots of fruits and veggies, since sodium is barely traceable in produce.
Consume more potassium
While decreasing your sodium intake, it’s also a good idea to add more potassium into your diet. Potassium is an integral part of any balanced diet but also works to lessen the effects of sodium. Adults should have at least 4,700 milligrams per day; good sources of potassium include:
- Potatoes (especially sweet potatoes)
- Spinach, mushrooms, lima beans, and peas
- Tomatoes, including tomato juice and tomato sauce (low-sodium versions are best)
- Oranges, grapefruit, prunes, and apricots, as well as the natural fruit juices of each
- Cantaloupe and honeydew melon
- Raisins and dates
- Fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk
- Fat-free yogurt
- Halibut and tuna
When you constantly find yourself in an agitated and stressed-out state, you’re making a big impact on your overall health. Stress increases blood pressure and quickens the heart rate, which is fine from time to time; however, if you experience prolonged anger or anxiety this could result in hypertension.
Find ways to lower your stress levels and deal with difficult situations. Meditation, deep breathing, yoga, and tai chi all encourage the body to slow down—both mentally and physically. Other options can be as simple as taking a walk every evening or reading a few chapters of a book. Stress is okay in small doses, but you should always find ways to release it.
Cigarettes are known to contain some pretty nasty ingredients, like ammonia, lead, tar, and formaldehyde. As if you needed another reason to quit them, smoking can also increase your risk for high blood pressure. That’s because nicotine causes blood vessels to constrict, forcing the heart to pump harder in order to transport oxygen to the rest of the body.
Eat foods that naturally dilate blood vessels
The term “dilates blood vessels” isn’t exactly something you’ll see on food labels, but a lot of natural fruits, veggies, and some other healthy food choices can do this trick—dilated blood vessels make it easier to pump blood through to different parts of the body, making the heart’s job easier. Here are some good food options that can help with dilation:
- One cup of blueberries, raspberries, and/or strawberries per week. Berries contain anthocyanins, which help lower blood pressure.
- High fiber breakfast cereals. Large concentrations of fiber has been proven to significantly reduce hypertension.
- Beet juice. Drink just one glass and within a matter of hours you’ll have a lower blood pressure reading.
- Dark chocolate. Here’s a good reason to indulge! Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, which are natural compounds that dilate blood vessels.
Limit alcohol consumption
A glass of wine every now and then is fine, but more than a couple of alcohol-based drinks per day can lead to higher blood pressure (as well as loads of extra calories). Binge drinking is even more dangerous, because it can temporarily raise blood pressure and, over time, lead to permanent increases.
Exercise does a body good in so many ways—it gets the blood pumping, helps to de-stress, and can promote weight loss. Packing on extra pounds can also put you at risk for hypertension, so that provides even more incentive to start moving.
You’ll want to get at least 30 minutes of exercise multiple times a week to be effective, particularly cardio options like jogging, cycling, swimming, or dancing that bring you to a level where it is difficult to carry a conversation. This means that you’re exerting yourself enough to get your heart rate up. But if that’s a struggle, know that even a walk is better than no exercise at all.
If you’re pressed for time, you can also sneak in movement throughout the day, such as walks on a lunch break or while doing household chores. Just always check with your doctor about an exercise regimen that’s best for you before beginning any new routine.
Cut out the coffee
Like alcohol, you might consider eliminating caffeine altogether, too—even a small amount occasionally can raise blood pressure by 10 mmHg. Caffeine, just like sodium, affects every person differently, so it’s good to understand how it changes your body’s chemistry. To determine its effect, check your blood pressure before drinking a caffeinated beverage and after; if it increases considerably with the second reading, you might consider other energizing food and beverage options (a good dose of protein can be just as stimulating).
Monitoring your blood pressure
If you want to keep track of your progress, you don’t have to go to the doctor’s office every time you want to check your blood pressure. Instead, purchase a cuff (available at drugstores or online) and do your readings at home once a day to see how far these efforts have taken you. To take your own blood pressure, just follow these steps:
- Find a quiet, comfortable spot to sit, and allow your arm to rest at heart level.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing and roll up your sleeve.
- Rest your forearm on a table or desktop in front of you with your hand facing up.
- Wait 5-10 minutes to allow your body to be at its resting blood pressure and heart rate.
- Locate your pulse using the forefinger and middle finger of your opposite hand and resting it in the bend of your elbow.
- Secure the cuff around your upper arm, about one inch above the bend in your elbow.
- Inflate the cuff to about 30 mmHg above what your systolic pressure was at your last check-up. A digital cuff will automatically display the readings.
- For a manual cuff, you’ll want to slowly release the valve and listen with a stethoscope to hear your pulse. At first, you won’t be able to hear it, but as the air slowly releases you must listen carefully for that first beat. Make a note of that number, which is your current systolic pressure.
- Continue to slowly deflate the cuff until the sound of your pulse disappears. Once you can no longer hear it, again look at the gauge and make a note of the reading. This is your diastolic pressure.