If your doctor recently diagnosed you with high blood pressure, you might assume that medication is your only option. However, lifestyle changes, from increasing physical activity to addressing your diet, can also help you manage this condition. Learn more about what high blood pressure is, and lifestyle changes you can make to help manage it naturally.
What Is High Blood Pressure?
Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure is often symptomless, yet it increases your risks for heart disease, kidney disease, strokes and aneurysms. Roughly half of U.S. adults live with high blood pressure, and the condition remains one of the leading causes of death in the country.
Blood pressure factors in how much blood your heart pumps and the resistance your arteries create. This measurement uses two numbers: Systolic blood pressure pertains to the force your heart uses to divert blood to your arteries, and diastolic applies to the pressure inside your blood vessels as your heart fills with blood.
Ideal numbers are 120/80 mm Hg or lower. High blood pressure is classified as 130/80 mm Hg or higher. "Elevated blood pressure" applies to the range in between.
How to Naturally Lower Blood Pressure
See if you can get your numbers down with the following lifestyle changes:
Watch Your Waistline
This applies both to your weight and waistline measurement. Blood pressure tends to increase as you put on pounds, especially once your BMI falls in the "overweight" range or higher. Also, having excess weight around the waist increases your risk. For men, these concerns become more prominent once your waistline measures over 40 inches, while for women, they begin over 35 inches.
While this factor can influence weight loss, physical activity also helps control blood pressure, causing it to drop by as much as 8 mm Hg. An ideal metric is 150 minutes per week - or 30 minutes per day - of moderate physical activity, such as aerobic walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, dancing, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or strength training.
Examine Your Diet
A diet high in whole grains, lean proteins, low-fat dairy, fruits and vegetables is a good place to start. From here:
- Get in more potassium, as this mineral can reduce the effects of sodium, can help your heart's movement and can lessen tension in your blood vessels. Aside from supplements, sources include melons, bananas, salmon, leafy greens, milk, yogurt, cheese, nuts and beans.
- Reduce the amount of sodium you consume, limiting it to no more than 2,300 mg/day.
- Limit processed foods, as these also contain high levels of sodium.
- Reduce sugars and refined carbohydrates, especially fructose. Recent studies show that sugars, more than salts, can contribute to high blood pressure.
- Restrict alcohol to no more than a glass per day for women and two for men.
- Increase your protein and fiber intake, as both can help lower blood pressure levels.
Don't Ignore Sleep Quality
Extended periods of poor sleep quality - getting in six or fewer hours each night or interrupted sleep - can also elevate blood pressure levels. While these patterns may be due to insomnia, restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea, you can try to improve your sleep through the following habits:
- Create a consistent sleep schedule, in which you wake up and go to sleep at the same time during the week days and weekends.
- Make sure your bedroom is conductive to sleeping. Create a cool, dark and quiet area that's free of electronic devices.
- Think about your diet. Stop consuming caffeine after noon, and finish dinner a few hours ahead of when you plan to sleep.
- Pay attention to napping. Napping, especially for hours at a time, can throw off your sleep schedule. Should you feel you need to rest, restrict your nap to 30 minutes.
Think About Stress
Stress can have a pervasive effect on your body, from digestion to your organs and heart. Although temporary stress is to be expected, chronic stress elevates your heart rate and blood pressure and increases your risks not only for hypertension but also heart disease and strokes.
To lessen stress:
- Avoid coping habits like alcohol and smoking, as these can also elevate blood pressure.
- Try to reduce or limit the source of stress.
- Carve out time in your day to relax.
- Practice deep breathing, mindfulness and gratitude.
- Consider yoga and meditation, as these activities can help control your breathing, which can then benefit stress levels and blood pressure.
Talk with your doctor about all the ways you can achieve a healthy blood pressure and develop a plan together.