The cornerstones of high blood pressure treatment are exercise and diet changes, and even if your doctor has prescribed blood pressure-lowering medication, these lifestyle efforts are essential.

Lifestyle changes to reduce high blood pressure

Keeping an eye on your blood pressure is very important for general health. Below is our list of recommended treatments and remedies for high blood pressure. Before deciding which ones are for you, it's a good idea to be sure to measue your blood pressure across a week, as it can vary at different points during the day. To make this easier, Reader's Digest is currently offering 18% off on Philips Upper Arm and Wrist Blood Pressure Monitors. Use code JUL1READ to claim your discount (offer ends 6th August 2017).

At least 3 times a week – and preferably 5 – fit in a minimum of 30 minutes of brisk exercise. This advice might seem odd, as most forms of exercise temporarily raise blood pressure, but when you exercise regularly, you help to keep your resting blood pressure at a safe level. Running, brisk walking, cycling and swimming are all excellent choices. 

Carrying extra weight forces the heart to pump harder. That's why blood pressure rises as body weight increases. If you're overweight, losing as little as 5 kilograms can lead to a significant reduction in blood pressure.

If you smoke, give up now. Compounds in tobacco smoke contribute to hardening of the arteries by causing injury to blood vessels. And the nicotine in cigarettes causes blood vessels to constrict. That's bad for anyone, but it is especially bad for people who have high blood pressure.

Cut back on alcohol. Heavy drinkers tend to have high blood pressure. If you do drink, limit yourself to a drink a day if you're a woman, 2 a day if you're a man. A single unit is half a pint of beer, a small glass of wine or a single pub measure of spirits.

Cut back on caffeine. A number of large studies all point to excess coffee consumption (more than 5 cups a day) as a contributing factor in high blood pressure. Interestingly, this effect is most pronounced in younger people.

We all know that driving in heavy traffic is tiring and increases our stress levels. In fact a recent German study found that people living in areas of heavy traffic were twice as likely to be having treatment for high blood pressure as those living on quiet streets. People who kept their windows open at night, in spite of the racket, were at highest risk.

 

Relaxation tips to control high blood pressure

Consider getting a pet. Whether walking a dog, sitting with a cat on your knee or even gazing at fish, interacting with animals has been shown to have a good effect on blood pressure.

Learn to meditate. Research shows that meditation really does affect blood pressure, apparently by lowering levels of stress hormones in your body. To begin, choose a simple word or phrase to focus on. Close your eyes and relax all your muscles. Breathing slowly and naturally, repeat your word or phrase every time you exhale. As you do this, try to assume a passive attitude. Don't try to evaluate whether you're relaxed or ‘doing well’–just concentrate on your words and your breathing. Do this once or twice a day for 10 to 20 minutes.

Any therapy which reduces stress will also help to reduce high blood pressure. Consider taking up yoga, tai chi or similar mind-body skills. They all help to restore a sense of control and so contribute to feeling calmer.

Hobbies may be just as beneficial for you as meditation.

High blood pressure diet

Studies in the USA have shown that a diet known as DASH (short for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is very effective at lowering blood pressure. The gist of the diet is this: it's low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy foods. A diet based on these principles can produce positive results – a reduction in blood pressure – in as little as 2 weeks.

Reduce your salt intake. Eating too much salt causes your body to retain water. The effect is the same as adding more liquid to an overfilled water balloon: pressure rises. In a follow-up to the DASH study, researchers found that the biggest drop in blood pressure came when people followed the DASH diet and also limited themselves to 1500mg of sodium a day. That's less than a teaspoon of salt a day.

There’s a lot of ‘hidden’ salt in packaged and processed foods, especially snacks, meat products and tinned soups. So read labels carefully to find out the sodium or salt content. Look for low-salt soups and biscuits and rinse beans and other foods canned in brine before using them.

Try making your own bread. If you have a bread maker, it takes less than 5 minutes a day to tip in the ingredients and, 2 hours later, there's the bread. Why bother? Because most shop bread contains high levels of salt, and you can control exactly how much salt – and fat – goes into a homemade loaf.

You'll see major benefits if you eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables – raw or cooked. The goal is to eat 5 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit a day – more if you can manage it (preferably vegetables rather than fruit). Fruit and vegetables are important sources of potassium, magnesium and fibre – all of which help to keep your arteries healthy.

Porridge is good in 2 ways – it helps to lower blood pressure as well as cholesterol levels, as some studies have shown. Its beneficial effect seems to come from a form of soluble fibre known as beta-glucan. If you start every day with a bowl of porridge, your blood pressure will probably fall.

Supplements to reduce high blood pressure

Take magnesium supplements. The mineral helps to relax the smooth muscle tissue that lines blood vessels, allowing them to open wide. Magnesium is especially effective at reducing high blood pressure associated with pregnancy, but always consult your doctor before taking any supplement when you're pregnant. Look for a magnesium tablet or capsule in the form of magnesium citrate or magnesium gluconate, which has a gentler effect on the digestive tract. If you take magnesium, be sure to take calcium as well – but take the supplements at least 2 hours apart for maximum absorption. The recommended dose for lowering blood pressure is 400mg magnesium and 1000mg calcium a day.

Potassium also tends to lower blood pressure, so aim to eat foods high in potassium and low in sodium to receive maximum benefit.

Hawthorn is known to dilate arteries. It seems to work by interfering with an enzyme (angiotensin-converting enzyme, or ACE) that constricts blood vessels. If you currently take medication for high blood pressure, consult your doctor before taking hawthorn. It may take several weeks or even months to build up in your system and have an effect. (Caution: This is a restricted herb and must be prescribed by a qualified health professional.)

Garlic helps to lower blood pressure, too, although it's not known why. Some experts recommend simply eating a clove of raw garlic a day. Others advise taking dried concentrate equivalent to 4g fresh garlic a day. If you opt for supplements, choose enteric-coated capsules for best results; the deodorised forms are considered to be less effective.

Take fish-oil supplements to boost your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s inhibit the body's production of substances, such as prostaglandins, that narrow the arteries. These ‘good’ fats come from oily fish such as trout and salmon; a typical supplement contains 1000mg. Taking 2 doses a day encourages good circulation and can help to reduce high blood pressure. Or take 1 tablespoon of flaxseed oil a day. (Caution: Check with your doctor before taking any supplements.)

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