High blood pressure is often called the silent killer because you can have it for years without showing any symptoms. Over time, however, the increased pressure can cause problems. Your heart has to work harder, and the pressure is also hard on the walls of blood vessels, according to the Mayo Clinic. Ultimately, high blood pressure can contribute to such health conditions as a heart attack, stroke, heart disease and heart failure.
According to the American Heart Association, some 103 million Americans have high blood pressure. And the death rate from high blood pressure is on the rise, up to almost 79,000 people in 2015.
If you have high blood pressure, you may be wondering whether there are natural ways to lower it. You probably know that there are medications that can help you manage blood pressure. But if you can commit to serious, long-term changes to achieve a healthier lifestyle, that might be all that’s needed to keep blood pressure under control. In fact, the Mayo Clinic notes that many people can delay or reduce their need for medication by using natural methods, and maybe even avoid medication altogether.
Consider these 10 steps toward a healthier you:
1. Change your diet
If you focus on fruits and vegetables, eat plenty of whole grains, choose low-fat dairy products and cut out saturated fat and cholesterol, you may be able to lower blood pressure as effectively as with medication, the Mayo Clinic says. These principles are the foundation of an eating plan known as the DASH diet, short for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Research has shown that people on the DASH diet have lowered their blood pressure by an average of 11 points.
The main principles of the DASH diet are:
- Getting nutrients from plentiful fruits and vegetables
- Focusing on healthy whole grains
- Replacing fatty protein sources with lean meat, such as chicken and fish.
If you’re interested in trying the DASH diet, talk to your doctor about how the plan might work for you.
2. Focus on low sodium
For many people, sodium intake — which comes from the salt in your food — has a direct effect on blood pressure. What’s more, the average American is getting 3,400 milligrams or more of sodium each day. Sodium intake should be closer to 2,300 milligrams daily, and some people shouldn’t go over 1,500. There are DASH diet plans available to help you meet either of these goals.
The best ways to cut back on sodium are to eat out less and eat fewer processed foods, the Mayo Clinic says. Low-sodium versions of packaged foods can also help. In addition, there are non-salt alternatives made with herbs and spices that you can use to add flavor to foods while cooking to further cut back on sodium.
3. Exercise more
Exercise has a number of benefits for your body, but the research is pretty clear on blood pressure. If you get 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week, you can lower your blood pressure by 5 to 8 points, the Mayo Clinic says. Regular exercise can prevent high blood pressure from occurring in the first place or help bring it down to a healthy level if you already have it.
If you’re not a regular exerciser, just getting out to walk on a regular basis is a good way to start. The key is to simply get moving, and then you can work your way up to higher-intensity activities like jogging, cycling or strength training.
4. Lose weight
Excess weight, particularly around your midsection, is directly tied to high blood pressure risk. Men should strive for a waist measurement of less than 40 inches, while the goal for women is 35 inches, according to the Mayo Clinic. Even a small amount of weight loss seems to help lower blood pressure. Many of the other strategies here, particularly the diet and exercise advice, can also help with weight loss.
5. Keep stress in check
If you have a hard time dealing with stress in your life, this can directly affect your blood pressure reading and ultimately inflict damage on your heart and blood vessels, says the Mayo Clinic. What’s more, high stress often leads to unhealthy habits such as a poor diet, less exercise and substance abuse that further contribute to problems.
To keep stress in check, be sure to schedule time for rest and relaxation around the periods when you are working. It also helps if you can avoid stress triggers, learn to focus on what you can control and temper your expectations in certain situations. Simply doing your best to remain calm in the face of stress can help you.
6. Curb caffeine, nicotine and alcohol
All three of these substances seem to play a role in blood pressure readings, but in different ways. Smoking directly raises blood pressure each time you smoke, and the best advice here is to find a way to quit.
When it comes to caffeine and alcohol, the relationship is a bit more complicated. For example, caffeine may raise blood pressure in occasional caffeine drinkers, but that effect seems to wear off when it’s consumed regularly. And alcohol actually lowers blood pressure if you can limit consumption to a drink or two a day. If you drink more, however, it can actually begin to raise your blood pressure.
7. Add potassium
The Cleveland Clinic notes that just as too much sodium can raise blood pressure, getting the right amount of potassium in your diet can lower it. The clinic recommends striving for an intake of 3,000 to 3,500 milligrams of potassium a day from potassium-rich sources such as tomatoes, bananas and other fruits and vegetables.
8. Get more sleep
Aiming for about eight hours of sleep each night has many protective benefits, and health experts now believe that blood pressure regulation should be on that list. Research indicates that getting a healthy amount of sleep each night not only prevents high blood pressure, but it can keep blood pressure from fluctuating as well, the Cleveland Clinic notes. In some cases, that can be as dangerous as high blood pressure.
9. Try meditation
The Journal of the American Heart Association published a review article in September 2017 that examined the role of meditation in lowering high blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease. It looked at the results of several studies on the topic. Though the researchers noted that more studies are needed, they did acknowledge that meditation showed some promise in lowering blood pressure. It’s also a very low-risk activity with other potentially healthy benefits.
10. Don’t rely on supplements alone
While a few different herbal and vitamin supplements have shown promise for lowering blood pressure, the Cleveland Clinic notes that almost all of them require more research to determine their true effects. The reality is that healthy lifestyle changes are the most effective natural way to lower blood pressure, and it’s best not to rely on a “magic bullet” to solve your blood pressure problems.
The bottom line on lowering blood pressure naturally
If you have high blood pressure and you’re concerned about taking medications, there are certainly alternatives available to you. With a concerted effort to exercise more, eat a healthy diet and practice other healthy habits, many people are able to bring their blood pressure back to healthy levels without medication. Of course, it’s best to talk to your doctor about the best strategy for your particular situation.
- More than 100 million Americans have high blood pressure, AHA says, American Heart Association, 2018, https://www.heart.org/en/news/2018/05/01/more-than-100-million-americans-have-high-blood-pressure-aha-says
- High blood pressure (Hypertension), Mayo Clinic, 2019, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20373417
- Why High Blood Pressure Is a “Silent Killer,” American Heart Association, 2017, https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/why-high-blood-pressure-is-a-silent-killer
- 10 ways to control high blood pressure without medication, Mayo Clinic, 2019, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/high-blood-pressure/art-20046974
- DASH diet: Healthy eating to lower your blood pressure, Mayo Clinic, 2019, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/dash-diet/art-20048456
- 6 Natural Ways to Lower Blood Pressure, Cleveland Clinic, 2019, https://health.clevelandclinic.org/6-natural-ways-to-lower-blood-pressure/
- Meditation and Cardiovascular Risk Reduction, Journal of the American Heart Association, 2017, https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/JAHA.117.002218