How to Reduce High Blood Pressure
Hearing from your doctor that you have high blood pressure is scary. If it gets out of control, high blood pressure can lead to a long list of very serious health problems, including heart disease and stroke. But most patients can get a handle on it long before it gets to that point, as long as you’re willing to work with your doctor to do what it takes to reduce your high blood pressure.
High blood pressure is actually really common. One in four people in the United States have it. If a diagnosis immediately led to catastrophe, far more people would be keeling over dead from high blood pressure every day.
As it is, many of those people listen to their physicians, work up a plan for healthier living, and change their habits for the better. They might not always do so happily – salty snacks are delicious after all – but the tradeoff is worth it.
Here are seven actions you can take to reduce your risks of getting high blood pressure to begin with, or bring it down once it gets too high.
- Exercise regularly.
You’ve heard it a million times. It’s on every list about getting healthier or avoiding illness you’ve every seen. But it’s so important.
Getting regular movement into your day is one of the best things you can do for your health.
Most people don’t find exercising fun, but one of the most effective ways to get yourself into the habit is to figure out what kind of exercise you can either enjoy, or at least mind the least. Long walks in the neighborhood can count. So can dancing or gardening.
Figure out what type of exercise you’ll actually do and commit to sticking with it.
- Try the DASH diet.
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The foods included in a DASH diet are low in fat, cholesterol, and salt. They’re high in fiber-rich vegetables and lean protein.
If you’re a big snacker, don’t worry. Snacks are allowed! You just have to stick with nuts, seeds, and fresh fruits. The DASH diet is distinct from diets that aim to limit how much food you eat. It’s more about making sure the foods you eat are ones that will aid in your health rather than make it worse.
You can buy DASH diet cookbooks or find recipes online if you need help with ideas for making foods that fit the bill. It may sound like a drag at first to cut out some of your favorite foods, but you may find you actually like some of the new recipes you try. And you’ll almost certainly feel better.
- Consume less sodium.
90% of people in the United States consume more than the recommended amount of salt. You may feel like you fare well in this category if you hardly ever pull out the salt shaker to add more to your food, but if you ever eat out or buy processed foods, you can bet you’re consuming a lot of sodium that way.
85% of the sodium people in the U.S. consume comes from restaurants and processed foods. So how are you supposed to avoid it?
The unfortunately unpleasant answer (at least to many people’s ears) is to do more of your cooking at home. It’s far easier to control sodium intake when you’re making most of the food you consume from scratch.
That may not be practical to do for every meal, so you should also make a habit of always checking nutrition labels on products you buy to see how much salt they have. Whenever possible, go with the product that has less sodium.
When you’re at a restaurant, you can also ask the waiter to pass along a request to the chef to go light on the sodium. At most restaurants, they’ll be happy to oblige if it means a happier customer.
- Quit smoking.
Hopefully most of the seniors reading this can ignore this one. If you’re not a smoker now, yay! You’ve got one less thing to worry about.
If you are still smoking, then quitting is one of the best moves you can make to bring your blood pressure down. No matter how long you’ve been smoking, quitting can still have a positive effect on your health. It’s not the kind of thing where you get too many years in and there’s no going back.
Quitting is definitely difficult (as you well know), so you may find it worthwhile to get one of the nicotine replacement products or medication to help you through the process. Whatever it takes is worth it. You’ll be better off once you’ve kicked the habit.
- Drink less.
Alcohol’s another item that can contribute to higher blood pressure if consumed in excess. Like salt, you don’t have to cut it out of your diet entirely, but cutting back on how much you drink can have a big influence on your hypertension.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting your alcohol intake to two drinks a day for men and one for women. You can talk to your doctor for a more personalized recommendation, but sticking to the occasional beer or glass of wine in lieu of a night of heavy drinking is your best bet.
- Try meditation.
Another significant risk factor for high blood pressure is stress. Most of us can’t easily cut stress out of our lives entirely. Life inconveniently comes with lots of responsibilities and obligations and balancing them all causes a frequent sense of overwhelm for most people.
Nonetheless, we can work on techniques to reduce stress. Meditation’s been known to help. Devoting a chunk of time each day to letting your brain and body be still can help reduce how stressed you feel and bring down your blood pressure along with those feelings. You do have to commit the time though; it’s not a one and done kind of deal.
- Take medication.
Medication can often be used in conjunction with these other tips to help with the process of reducing high blood pressure. Your doctor will let you know if they think it’s a smart move in your situation.
It can be easy for people with high blood pressure to try to lean on medications alone though. You’ll be much more successful at keeping your blood pressure in check if you combine the use of pills with other changes in your lifestyle habits.
You’ve seen everything on this list before. We all know these are tips we should be taking, but it’s often hard to stick with them in the day-to-day. Accepting the lot of healthier meals and daily walks will be much easier than dealing with the effects of a heart attack, stroke, or kidney disease.
If you put the effort toward prevention now, you can ward off worse effects that are harder to live with later. So buy yourself a cookbook, put a spot on your calendar for meditation, and get started.