Blood pressure is the force exerted on the walls of the veins and arteries with each heartbeat. It is expressed as two numbers, X/Y. A “normal” blood pressure would be considered 120/80 or lower. The top number (X) is the systolic. This is the maximum pressure exerted on the walls when the heart contracts, squeezing blood out of the heart and into the arteries. After each compression of the heart muscle, there is a resting phase during which the heart fills with blood. The diastolic (Y) is the pressure exerted during this phase.
The question before us is this: Can you reduce high blood pressure without the use of drugs, and if so, how?
Reducing High Blood Pressure Naturally
You can absolutely reduce high blood pressure through changes in lifestyle. At least up to a point. I can tell you that the event that originally prompted me to get in gear about my health was related to my blood pressure. Below are 8 suggestions for controlling your blood pressure without drugs. I wasn’t a smoker, but I’ve implemented the rest, and they’ve worked for me. Maybe they’ll work for you too.
#1. Lose Weight
Lowing excess weight has been proven to reduce high blood pressure for most people. It seems like weight loss should be a simple thing, but of course, it isn’t. The Center for Disease Control estimates that 34% of US adults are obese, as defined by BMI. Research suggests that weight control has a significant influence on your risk of developing high blood pressure with age, and therefore it is important to try to maintain a healthy body weight over the course of our lives. Of course, many of us struggle to control our weight. It is well documented that diets are fleeting.
Researchers at the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey found that overweight subjects who lost 20 pounds could lower their diastolic by as much as 7 mm, Hg. Of course, within a short period of time, participants in the study were also very likely to have gained their weight back. The goals is to make small changes such that they become embedded in your routine.
#2. Eat Less Sodium
The average American consumes between 6,900-9,000 milligrams of sodium per day. Sodium has the effect of causing us to retain water, much adds to the total volume of liquid in our bloodstream. The increase in blood volume causes pressure to rise.
Most recommendations now suggest we consume a maximum of 2,400 milligrams of sodium per day, and individuals considered at high risk for heart disease are recommended to consume less than 1,500 milligrams/day. To put that in perspective, 1 teaspoon of salt has a mass of 2,500 milligrams. Cutting back will help lower your blood pressure.
In today’s world of dining out and highly processed food, avoiding sodium is nigh impossible. Let’s look at the sodium content of a few commonly consumed items:
- McDonalds cheeseburger = 740 milligrams
- Campbell’s Chicken with Mini-Noodles Soup at Hand (1 can) = 980 milligrams
- 1 slice of white bread = 150 milligrams
As you can see, staying below 1500 mg is going to be tough. Simply having a ham sandwich will put you near your limit. So how do you manage? The standard recommendations still apply. Eat more fruits and vegetables and avoid the “fast food” trap as much as possible.
Watch out for canned or highly processed foods. One way to reduce the sodium content of canned goods (vegetables, etc) is to rinse them immediately after opening the can. This will remove a lot of the sodium used in the canning process. Most experts recommend against adding salt to foods, reasoning that if you can taste the salt, there’s probably too much in there.
Unfortunately, starting somewhere between 40-60 years old, our taste buds become less sensitive. The ability to taste salty foods is generally one of the first to go. As a result, older people tend to add more salt to their foods than they actually need. I’ve gotten in the habit of avoiding the salt shaker entirely.
#3. Exercise 30 Minutes A Day
The benefits of exercise at reducing high blood pressure is undeniable, and it need not be intense exercise. In fact, for an individual who is just starting at trying to control their blood pressure, vigorous exercise may not be the best course. The simple act of walking 30 minutes a day, 4-5 days a week can show benefits. The Mayo Clinic suggests that regular exercise at this level can reduce your systolic blood pressure by 5-10 mm, Hg. This is as good as many of the blood pressure reducing drugs on the market.
Other studies, such as the one conducted by researchers at Indiana University, suggest that “lifestyle physical changes” can lower systolic blood pressure by as much as 13 points. This would include activities such as: cutting the grass, running the vacuum sweeper, trimming the bushes. Too many of us feel we don’t have the time to do these chores, so we pay others to do them for us. This impacts us in two ways, because it hits us in the pocket book, and we miss out on the health benefits of reduced blood pressure and reduced stress.
Although most of us know this, it’s important to reiterate it: Talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program!!
#4. Take Up Yoga
Yoga, biofeedback, and other relaxation techniques have been shown to reduce blood pressure. In one study, scientists at the University of Georgia showed that people practicing Transcendental Meditation had a 6.5% reduction in vasoconstriction when meditating. Even middle-school age children have been shown to reduce their anxiety levels by practicing relaxation techniques for as little as 20-minutes a day. In another study, students reduced their systolic blood pressure by an average of 3.8 points.
Most men probably chuckle at the mental image of sitting in the lotus position going “Ooohhhmmm…” If that seems implausible for you, perhaps biofeedback would be a better selection. The Mayo Clinic suggests that many people who practice biofeedback report improvements in a whole host of symptoms. The techniques are often times taught in physical therapy clinics. If you decide to look for a therapist, try the Biofeedback Certification Institute of America.
#5. Eat A Banana
Bananas are loaded with potassium, which unlike sodium, has been shown to reduce blood pressure. Unfortunately, while most Americans consume far more sodium than they should, they also consume less potassium than recommended. Foods high in potassium include: nuts, legumes, bananas, and green leafy vegetables. For more, check out these 18 power foods that lowers blood pressure as well.
#6. Have A Glass Of Lemonade
Lemon juice is a mild diuretic. Diuretics encourage the body to lose water by increasing the rate of urination. (Cute, eh?) The theory goes that by reducing the volume of fluid in the bloodstream, pressure on the vessel walls is reduced. There are a number of known diuretics.
#7. Go To Bed Early
Several studies have been conducted that suggest sleep patterns are important at maintaining lower blood pressure. Two studies, published a year apart in the medical journal Hypertension found that individuals who slept six hours a night or less were at much greater risk of developing high blood pressure.
In another study, researchers at Columbia University found that 24% of people between the age of 32 and 59 who slept for fewer than five hours a night developed hypertension, versus 12% for those individuals who slept eight hours per night.
#8. Stop Smoking
Smoking dramatically increases the risk of developing a whole range of heart-related diseases, with hypertension being right up on the list. Some estimates suggest that 30% of all deaths from heart disease are related to smoking.
Smoking causes damage to the cells that line the arteries, increases blood clotting, and decreases oxygen to the heart. There appears to be some debate as to whether smokers are at higher risk of developing high blood pressure, however simple act of smoking a cigarette can cause a rise in blood pressure of 5-10 mm Hg. Furthermore, for every 10 mm Hg increase in systolic blood pressure, smokers face an 81% increase in the risk of having a hemorrhagic stroke.
If you’re reading about reducing high blood pressure, I would guess that you, or a loved one, has had a small scare, and you’re looking to take the first steps. Hopefully this provides a starting point for ideas you can implement to get reduce your blood pressure. I know that at least one of them worked for me. If you find something that works for you, I’d love to hear about it.