Hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure, affects one-third of all adults in the United States – and less than half of the people with high blood pressure have it under control.
High blood pressure can cause serious health problems without showing any warning signs.
“When your blood pressure is too high for too long, it puts you at risk for heart disease, stroke, kidney damage or an aneurysm formation,” explains Colin A. Craft, MD, physician at Penn Heart and Vascular Center Washington Square.
The good news is lifestyle changes can help you naturally lower your blood pressure.
Ways to Lower Blood Pressure Naturally
1. Enjoy Regular Physical Activity
It’s no secret that regular physical activity does a body good. Not only does exercise help control high blood pressure, it also helps you manage your weight, strengthen your heart and lower your stress level.
“Try to aim for at least 150 minutes of exercise per week of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking,” says Dr. Craft.
While any type of aerobic activity (walking, jogging, dancing) does the heart good, try to find something you enjoy doing. This will make it easier to commit to a regular routine and will motivate you to get up and moving.
2. Eat Less Salt
Most people eat too much salt without realizing it. The American Heart Association estimates that the average American eats about 3,400 mg of sodium a day. However, the recommended daily intake is 2,300 mg, with an ideal limit of less than 1,500 mg per day, especially for those with high blood pressure.
Dr. Craft adds “Even a small reduction of sodium in your diet can help improve your heart health and can reduce your blood pressure if you have hypertension.”
To decrease sodium in your diet, try these tips:
- Read food labels. Look for “low salt” or “low sodium” versions of the food and beverages you normally buy.
- Eat fewer processed foods. Only a small amount of sodium naturally occurs in foods. Nearly 80 percent of the sodium we eat comes from processed, prepackaged and restaurant foods.
- Don’t add salt. Just 1 teaspoon of salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium. Use salt substitutes such as spices, garlic, herbs and other seasonings in place of some or all of the salt to add flavor to your favorite dishes.
3. Add More Potassium to Your Diet
Not only does potassium help regulate heart rate, it can also reduce the effects of sodium in the body.
“Potassium helps your body get rid of sodium and also eases tension in your blood vessel walls, both of which help to further lower blood pressure,” says Dr. Craft
The most effective way to increase your potassium intake is by adjusting your diet, as opposed to taking supplements. Potassium-rich foods include:
- Fruits like bananas, melons, oranges, apricots, avocados and tomatoes
- Milk, yogurt and cream cheese
- Leafy green vegetables, potatoes and sweet potatoes
- Tuna and salmon
- Nuts and seeds
While incorporating these foods into your diet can improve heart health, it’s important to talk with your doctor about the potassium level that’s right for you. Also, if you have significant kidney disease, you should avoid consuming too much potassium, because your kidneys may not be able to eliminate it.
4. Limit Your Alcohol Consumption
Some research shows that drinking alcohol in moderation can benefit your heart. However, too much alcohol consumed at one time can cause a sudden spike in your blood pressure.
“Monitoring alcohol intake is very important. Alcoholic beverages can contain significant amounts of calories and sugar, which can contribute to increased body fat and weight gain – both of which are factors that can lead to higher blood pressure over time,” says Dr. Craft.
If you do drink, the American Heart Association recommends that men limit their alcohol consumption to two drinks per day for men and women limit their alcohol intake to one drink per day. A drink is one 12 oz. beer, 4 oz. of wine, 1.5 oz. of 80-proof spirits or 1 oz. of 100-proof spirits.
If you’re currently taking medication to treat high blood pressure, you should be especially mindful of your alcohol intake.
“Besides the effect on your blood pressure, alcohol can also reduce the effectiveness of blood pressure medications,” explains Dr. Craft.
5. Find Ways to Reduce Your Stress
We all have stress in our day-to-day lives – a flat tire in the middle of rush hour, a looming deadline at work – that can cause a temporary spike in blood pressure. In most cases, once the stressful situation is resolved, your heart rate and blood pressure return to normal.
However, chronic stress may put you at risk for a variety of long-term health issues, including high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Stress can also increase your blood pressure levels if your coping mechanisms involve eating unhealthy food, drinking alcohol or smoking.
While it’s impossible to eliminate all stressors from your life, learning to cope with them in a healthier way can make a positive impact on your health and wellness – which can in turn lower your blood pressure.
Some methods to help alleviate or deal with stress include:
- Reframing your mindset. Focus on the things you can control, instead of worrying about situations that are out of your hands. Many times, our anxieties stem from the “what if”—instances that might not ever occur. Putting those thoughts into perspective and reminding yourself to stay present can help calm those worries.
- Avoid stress triggers. Try to avoid putting yourself in unnecessary stressful situations. For example, try leaving for work a few minutes early to beat rush-hour traffic.
- Practice gratitude. Acknowledging all the positives in our lives often helps to shift the focus away from what we want or what we are lacking. In addition, outwardly expressing gratitude to others can also help reduce feelings of stress.
- Take time to relax and enjoy. Carve out time for things that bring you joy. Whether that’s eating a good meal, spending time with loved ones or listening to an interesting podcast on your commute, find time to incorporate small moments of enjoyment throughout the day.
It’s important to note that if you have prolonged hypertension, your treatment may require both healthy lifestyle changes like these, along with care and medications as prescribed by your physician.