High blood pressure plays a contributing role in more than 15 percent of deaths in the United States, according to a Harvard study. Although it causes no symptoms, high blood pressure boosts your risk of leading killers such as heart attack and stroke, as well as aneurysms, cognitive decline, and kidney failure. Twenty-eight percent of Americans have high blood pressure and don’t know it, according to the American Heart Association. If you haven’t had yours checked in 2 years, see a doctor.
While medication can lower blood pressure, it may cause side effects, such as leg cramps, dizziness, and insomnia. Fortunately, most people can bring down their blood pressure naturally without medication. First, get to a healthy weight. Then try these strategies to reduce your risk of heart disease.
GO FOR POWER WALKS
Hypertensive patients who went for walks at a brisk pace lowered their blood pressure by almost 8 mmHg over 6 mmHg. Exercise helps the heart use oxygen more efficiently, so it doesn’t work as hard to pump blood.
Get a vigorous cardio workout for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week for low blood pressure. Try increasing speed or distance so you keep challenging your ticker.
Slow breathing and meditative practices such as qigong, yoga, and tai chi decrease stress hormones, which elevate renin, a kidney enzyme that raises blood pressure. Practice for 5 minutes in the morning and at night for lower BP. Inhale deeply and expand your belly. Exhale and release all of your tension. Use this breathing technique as your guide.
Loading up on potassium-rich fruits and vegetables is an important part of any blood pressure – lowering program, says Dr Linda Van Horn, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Aim for 4,700 mg of potassium a day.
Top sources of potassium-rich produce to achieve low blood pressure include sweet potatoes, tomatoes, orange juice, potatoes, bananas, kidney beans, peas, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, and dried fruits, like prunes and raisins.
INDULGE IN DARK CHOCOLATE
Dark chocolate varieties contain flavanols that make blood vessels more elastic and increase the chances of low blood pressure. In one study, 18 percent of patients who ate dark chocolate every day saw blood pressure decrease. Have 15g daily, and make sure it contains at least 70 percent cocoa.
TAKE A SUPPLEMENT
In a review of 12 studies, researchers found that coenzyme Q10 reduced blood pressure by up to 17 mmHg over 10 mmHg.
The antioxidant, required for energy production, dilates blood vessels. Ask your doctor about taking a 60 to 100 mg supplement up to three times a day for low blood pressure.
DRINK (A LITTLE) ALCOHOL
According to a review of 15 studies, the less you drink, the lower your blood pressure will drop - to a point. One study found that light drinking may actually reduce blood pressure more than no drinks per day.
One “drink” equals 355ml of beer, 150ml of wine, or 45ml of spirits to achieve the goal of low blood pressure. Other studies have also found that moderate drinking - up to two drinks a day for a man - can lower risks of heart disease. “High levels of alcohol are clearly detrimental,” says Obarzanek. “But moderate alcohol is protective of the heart. If you are going to drink, drink moderately.”
SWITCH TO DECAF COFFEE
Scientists have long debated the effects of caffeine on blood pressure. Some studies have shown no effect, but one from Duke University Medical Center found that caffeine consumption of 500 mg - roughly three 236ml cups of coffee - increased blood pressure by 4 mmHg, and that effect lasted until bedtime. For reference, 236ml of drip coffee contain 100 to 125 mg of caffeine; the same amount of tea, 50 mg; an equal quantity of cola, about 40 mg.
Caffeine can raise blood pressure by tightening blood vessels and by magnifying the effects of stress, says Dr Jim Lane, an associate research professor at Duke and the lead author of the study. “When you’re under stress, your heart starts pumping a lot more blood, boosting blood pressure,” he says. “And caffeine exaggerates that effect.”
TAKE UP TEA
Study participants who sipped three cups of a hibiscus tea daily lowered systolic blood pressure by 7 points in 6 weeks on average, say researchers from Tufts University - results on par with many prescription medications. Those who received a placebo drink improved their reading by only 1 point.
The phytochemicals in hibiscus are probably responsible for the large reduction in high blood pressure, say the study authors. Many herbal teas contain hibiscus; look for blends that list it near the top of the chart of ingredients for low blood pressure - this often indicates a higher concentration per serving.
GET AWAY FROM YOUR DESK
Putting in more than 41 hours per week at the office raises your risk of hypertension by 15 percent, according to a University of California, Irvine, study of 24,205 California residents. Doing overtime makes it hard to exercise and eat healthy, says Dr Haiou Yang, the lead researcher.
It may be difficult to clock out super-early - especially if your workload seems impossible - but try to leave at a decent hour, so you can go to the gym or cook a healthy meal as often as possible for low blood pressure. Set an end-of-day message on your computer as a reminder to turn it off and go home.
RELAX WITH MUSIC
The right tunes can help lower your blood pressure, according to researchers at the University of Florence in Italy. They asked 28 adults who were already taking hypertension medication to listen to soothing classical, Celtic, or Indian music for 30 minutes daily while breathing slowly.
After a week, the listeners had lowered their average systolic reading by 3.2 points; a month later, readings were down 4.4 points.
Related: 5 Ways Music Can Improve Your Life
SEEK HELP FOR SNORING
It’s time to heed your partner’s complaints and get that snoring checked out. Loud, incessant snores are one of the main symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). University of Alabama researchers found that many sleep apnea sufferers also had high levels of aldosterone, a hormone that can boost blood pressure. In fact, it’s estimated that half of all people with sleep apnea have high blood pressure.
If you have sleep apnea, you may experience many brief yet potentially life-threatening interruptions in your breathing while you sleep. In addition to loud snoring, excessive daytime tiredness and early-morning headaches are also good clues. If you have high blood pressure, ask your doctor if OSA could be behind it; treating sleep apnea may lower aldosterone levels and improve BP.