High blood pressure, or hypertension or in other words the “quiet killer” often has no symptoms, but can contribute to major diseases such as stroke and heart diseases. Hypertension has become so common in the United States that one in three adult has it, that’s 33% of the entire adult population.
Every blood pressure reading has two values
- Systolic blood pressure
Systolic blood pressure (the value at the higher end) represents the pressure in your blood vessel when your heart beats
- Diastolic blood pressure
Diastolic blood pressure (the value at the lower end) represents the pressure in your blood vessels in between heartbeats when your heart is in a brief resting period.
As dreadful as this “epidemic” may sound certain healthful, small lifestyle changes in diet and exercise can accomplish wonders if you’re trying to beat high blood pressure. Quite often many patients see results in just a few weeks by minute changes, while others require reinforced medication to tackle shooting blood pressure.
Here are 10 effective lifestyle changes to lower your blood pressure levels:
- Exercise a bit more
One of the most obvious ways to lower your blood pressure levels; heart is a muscle like any muscle of the body, as you exercise the increased breathing and heart rate makes your heart stronger which results in lower pressure on arteries and eventually lowering blood pressure.
As a matter of fact, a study published in 2013 concluded that adults who took part in regular aerobic exercise training had lowered their blood pressure levels by 4-5 mmHg.
The American College of Cardiology (ACC) recommends moderate to vigorous exercise for 40 minutes, three to four times a week to see some noticeable results.
Hitting up the treadmill or going to the gym are not the only two ways to increase your physical activity, the following can be used as alternatives
- Taking the stairs rather than the elevator to work or home
- Walking instead of driving
- Mowing the lawn every once a while
- Household chores
- Playing some sort of sport
Another study conducted in 2014 found out that aerobic exercise, resistance training, high-intensity intervals training all contribute to lowering blood pressure.
- Shed some weight if you’re overweight
It’s no secret, overweight people are predisposed to high blood pressure. Get your BMI levels checked and if you are overweight, shedding a few pounds can reduce your blood pressure and deal with other medical illnesses that are caused by it.
Recent studies indicate that people who lose weight or follow strict weight loss diets reduce their blood pressure by an average of 3.2 mm Hg diastolic and 4.5 mm Hg systolic.
- Sugar is your enemy
Thanks to new medical advancements we now know that reducing the amount of sugar and refined carbohydrates in your diet can immensely improve your blood pressure.
Researchers compared a low-carb diet with a low-fat diet in 2010, and they concluded that both are effective diets to lose weight plus both aid in reducing blood pressure, however, they found out that low carb diets are much more effective to overcome high blood pressure as compared to low-fat diets.
Subjects who were following a low-carb diet in the above mentioned research lowered their blood pressure by 4.5 mm Hg diastolic and 5.9 mm Hg systolic. Whereas, subjects following a low-fat diet exhibited 0.4 mm Hg diastolic and 1.5mm Hg lower blood pressure levels.
- Lower your sodium intake and increase potassium
This is the go to advice of Doctors for their patients who have high blood pressure. Patients have been using the high potassium and low salt diet for years to control their blood pressure.
Potassium is known for its ability to reduce the side effects of salt in our body and the best bit; it also reduces the tightness of vessels. Despite that, a high potassium diet can be harmful to patients who have renal diseases so it’s always better to consult with your physician regarding the matter.
There are a number of foods that you can introduce to your diet to increase potassium levels of your body, here are some
- Low carb dairy foods
- Vegetables – potatoes, tomatoes, green vegetables, spinach
- Fruits – bananas, apricots, avocados, oranges
It is also noteworthy that many people are not salt sensitive, which basically means that they can have a high salt diet and it won’t have an effect on their blood pressure as it is readily excreted through urine from the body. The same may not be true for other patients.
- Quit smoking
Quitting cigarettes have a million benefits one of which is normalization of blood pressure. Smoking causes a short term increase in blood pressure or heart rate, the “light headedness effect”. In the long run, using products that contain tobacco and nicotine can increase pressure around blood vessels, narrowing the arteries and eventually stiffness of blood vessels; these cascade of events lead to a spike in blood pressure.
Furthermore, studies have shown that passive smokers are prone to changes in blood vessels; a study also indicates that children who are around smokers (Family members) had higher blood pressure than those from nonsmoking homes.
- Stress is your worst enemy
In this day and age, everyone is living in stressful times whether its work, home or just by switching on the television and seeing the news. Finding ways to reduce your overall stress is important for your health and to regulate your blood pressure.
There are many ways to reduce stress levels; most doctors believe the following are the best ways to reduce stress levels:
- Deep breathing
- Brisk walk
- Watching a comedy show
- Reading a book
- Processed foods don’t help
Without us even knowing, half of the extra salt that is consumed by us comes from processed foods, restaurants and fast foods. Some of the most popular processed items that are consumed are canned soup, pizza and chips all of which can spike up your blood pressure.
Moreover, foods that have been labeled “low-fat” tend to have extra salt and sugar added which again is no good. Putting aside processed foods will able you to eat less salt, less sugar, less carbohydrates and control your blood pressure.
- Give meditation or yoga a try
Meditation has been used since the beginning of modern medicine. University of Massachusetts claims that more than 19,000 people participated in meditation and mindfulness programs in 2012 to reduce – Yes that’s how effective it is.
Yoga, another form of meditation that involves controlling breathing, posture and other meditations techniques also has been known to reduce stress levels and in return reduce our blood pressure.
- Dark chocolate can accomplish wonders
Other than how amazing dark chocolate tastes, it’s also known to significantly reduce blood pressure.
Being said that, it’s noteworthy to keep in mind that the dark chocolate you use should 60-70% cacao. Reviews by researchers suggest that eating one to two pieces of dark chocolate per day may help to reduce chances of developing cardiac diseases by lowering blood pressure and inflammation. Researchers believe that this effect comes from flavonoids present in dark chocolate, flavonoids helps to dilate blood vessels and reduce the pressure in them.
Another study conducted in 2010 from Jordan on 14,310 people found that subjects who ate regular dark chocolate had lower blood pressure as compared to those who didn’t eat them at all.
- Herbal medicine
Herbal medicine has been used since ancient history and in many cultures to cure patients with high blood pressure.
Studies and researches have suggested that some herbs have the ability to lower blood pressure values; however, more needs to be explored in this particular field. Regardless, you must always check with your doctor before taking on any supplements or herbal medicine.
Here are a couple of herbal supplements that are widely known to control high blood pressure:
- black bean (Castanospermum australe)
- cat’s claw (Uncaria rhynchophylla)
- celery juice (Apium graveolens)
- Chinese hawthorn (Crataegus pinnatifida)
- ginger root
- giant dodder (Cuscuta reflexa)
- Indian plantago (blond psyllium)
- maritime pine bark (Pinus pinaster)
- river lily (Crinum glaucum)
- roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa)
- sesame oil (Sesamum indicum)
Dr. Ameerzeb Pirzada
BDS MPhil DM