How to lower your blood pressure?
Dr. Angel Rivera
Picture yourself and two coworkers. You’re all pretty healthy, right? Appearances can be deceiving. The American Heart Association estimates that about 103 million people, or one out of every two adult Americans, have high blood pressure, and that number is expected to rise. Only about 50 percent of people with high blood pressure report having their blood pressure under control. High blood pressure is one of the leading causes of heart disease, and hypertensive heart disease is the leading cause of death associated with high blood pressure. About 70 percent of people who have their first heart attack, 77 percent who have their first stroke, and 74 percent who have congestive heart failure have high blood pressure. Getting your blood pressure under control will not only make you feel better - it might just save your life! There are lots of ways you can lower your blood pressure without medication by making a few simple lifestyle changes.
What is high blood pressure?
Before we talk about what it means to have high blood pressure, let’s first establish what blood pressure is. Blood pressure is simply the force at which your blood pushes against the walls of your blood vessels, like your arteries, veins, and capillaries. In order to stay alive and function properly, our tissues and organs need to receive oxygen from our blood. The heart pushes blood out into the blood vessels each time it pumps, sending it to the organs and extremities.
Blood pressure is measured using numbers that quantify two different forces: systolic pressure and diastolic pressure. When you receive a blood pressure reading, the systolic pressure is the first or top number listed, while the diastolic pressure is the second or bottom number. Systolic pressure is the pressure that occurs when the blood pumps out of the heart and into the arteries; it may help to think of this as the “active” pressure. Diastolic pressure is the pressure measured as your heart rests between beats; it may help to think of this as the “resting” pressure.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, occurs when your blood pushes too hard against the walls of your blood vessels on a consistent basis. Hypertension can damage your overall heart health and blood vessels because it increases their workload, causing them to work less efficiently and have to work harder to achieve the same levels of oxygen in the blood. Eventually, the extra pressure damages the walls of the arteries and can cause narrowing in the blood vessels, further preventing blood from reaching the different areas of the body and further elevating your blood pressure.
What causes high blood pressure?
Scientists don’t know exactly what causes high blood pressure, but there are a number of factors that contribute. Genetic factors, health conditions, and lifestyle choices can all influence your blood pressure. Some causes linked to high blood pressure include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Lack of physical activity
- Eating too much salt
- Drinking excess alcohol (more than one or two drinks per day)
- Family history
- Chronic kidney disease
- Adrenal and thyroid disorders
- Sleep apnea
When the exact cause of hypertension cannot be identified, it is referred to as “essential hypertension;” more than 95 percent of cases fall into this category. When high blood pressure is categorized as essential hypertension, it is most likely due to lifestyle factors, particularly salt intake.
Men are more likely to experience high blood pressure than women until the age of 45. Between 45 and 65, men and women experience high blood pressure at similar levels. Over age 65, women are more likely to have high blood pressure than men.
What are the blood pressure measurement ranges?
There are five different categories for blood pressure. Blood pressure readings are written by placing the systolic, or “active,” number on top and the diastolic, or “resting,” number on the bottom.
- Normal: 90 - 120 over 60 - 80 (90-120/60-80)
- Elevated: 120 - 129 over less than 80 (120-129/less than 80)
- Stage 1 high blood pressure: 130-139 over 80 - 89 (130-139/80-89)
- Stage 2 high blood pressure: 140 and above over 90 and above (140 and above/90 and above)
- Hypertension crisis: higher than 180 over higher than 120 (higher than 180/higher than 120). In cases of a hypertension crisis, seek medical attention right away.
What conditions can high blood pressure cause?
High blood pressure can cause or contribute to a number of serious issues and health conditions. Some of the conditions most commonly impacted by high blood pressure include:
- Vision loss
- Heart failure
- Heart attack
- Kidney disease and kidney failure
- Sexual dysfunction
Many people do not realize they have high blood pressure because the condition on its own does not cause noticeable symptoms. That’s why it’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly so you can manage it before it is too late.
How can I lower my blood pressure?
Because high blood pressure is so frequently and heavily influenced by the lifestyles we lead and the choices we make, there are many steps you can take to lower your blood pressure. If you’re wondering how to lower your blood pressure, begin by incorporating one or more of these suggestions into your daily routine:
- Up your exercise: Increasing your physical activity is one of the most important and effective steps you can take to lower your blood pressure. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity in per week. A great guideline to shoot for is to try to add activity that increases your heart and breathing rate for 30 minutes per day.
- Lose excess weight: Losing weight has been proven to reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure for people who are overweight or obese. Losing just five to ten pounds can lead to a noticeable drop in your blood pressure.
- Cut out the carbs and sugar: If you’re not sure where to start to lose weight, simply healthy eating can help. For example, cutting out or cutting back on carbs and sugar can help you lose weight while also reducing your blood pressure. Low carb diets and eating whole grains have been found to reduce blood pressure more than low fat diets and also are more effective at promoting weight loss.
- Watch the salt: People with high blood pressure tend to be more salt-sensitive than others, meaning that a higher salt and sodium intake increases their blood pressure. Reducing your salt intake can help lower your blood pressure, as can adding in more potassium to your diet. Potassium helps reduce the effects salt has on your blood pressure while also easing the pressure on your blood vessels. Low fat milk, yogurt, fish, bananas, avocados, and sweet potatoes are all great sources of potassium.
- Focus on whole foods: An easy way to help reduce your salt intake is by eating more whole foods. The less processed your food is, the less salt it will naturally include.
- Stop smoking: Did you know that every time you light up, you’re immediately increasing your blood pressure and heart rate? Nicotine, like caffeine, is a stimulant that produces these effects. Cutting out smoking will help lower your blood pressure.
- Stress less: It’s easier said than done, of course, but cutting back on your stress will help lower your blood pressure. If you can’t cut back on obligations, try practicing deep breathing, mindfulness, or meditation for a few minutes during the day, or even listening to soothing music. Every little bit helps!
- Add in herbs: Some herbs, like ginger root, celery juice, sesame oil, green tea, tomato extract, and oolong tea, have been shown to reduce blood pressure. If you’re going to be drinking tea in the morning anyway, why not choose a variety that will help you lower your blood pressure?
- Get your chocolate fix: Lowering your blood pressure isn’t all work and no play - eating dark chocolate can bring it down, too! Eating one to two squares of 60 to 70 percent cacao dark chocolate has been shown to lower blood pressure and inflammation, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease.
- Sleep tight: Everyone’s exhausted these days, but if you struggle with high blood pressure, prioritizing your sleep is especially important. Studies have shown that sleep deprived people have a higher risk of high blood pressure, so spend some time relaxing at night and practice good sleep hygiene so that you can get your full eight hours.
- Put the beer down: Drinking more than one to two alcoholic drinks per day is shown to raise blood pressure even in healthy people. Keep it to a minimum (one drink per day for women, and no more than two drinks per day for men).
- Cut back on caffeine: Caffeine immediately and temporarily increases your blood pressure for about 45 to 60 minutes. It may have more of an impact on individuals whose blood pressure is already high. Consider cutting back on your caffeine intake if your blood pressure is a concern.
- Add a prescription if needed: If you already live a healthy lifestyle including a healthy diet but still have high blood pressure, or if your blood pressure is very high, you may need to take a prescription medication to lower your blood pressure. Your doctor or cardiologist can tell you which blood pressure medication might work best for you.