Eating a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products (such as the DASH diet) while cutting back on foods that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol can significantly lower your blood pressure. One way to stick to a healthy diet is to write down everything you eat. Keeping a diary for even just a week can make people aware of their true eating habits.
Smoking is a habit that can worsen nearly any health condition. With each cigarette smoked, blood pressure increases temporarily. Over the long-term, smoking can compound the health problems associated with high blood pressure by damaging blood vessels and arteries and causing inflammation throughout the body. While quitting may not be easy, programs such as Commit to Quit can help with resources such as assistance from medical professionals, prescription medications, and group support.
3. Eat a healthy diet. Food is another powerful medicine. Whether you need to lose weight or not, eating well can improve your blood pressure. That means eating fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy oils (such as olive and canola), foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, tuna, walnuts and flaxseed, for example) and two or three servings daily of low-fat or nonfat dairy products. It also means avoiding saturated and trans fats.
There are more worrisome facts about medications, notes Dr. Fruge. Drug treatment frequently has annoying and sometimes dangerous side effects, and never cures the disease. All too often, blood pressure problems grow progressively worse despite the use of medications. That’s deeply troubling because hypertension is a major risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, cardiac arrhythmia, and premature death.
If you’re interested in working with a personal trainer but are concerned about the cost, Parker notes that trainers don’t have to be expensive. Some trainers offer group sessions that are cheaper than individual training sessions. College students getting degrees in kinesiology, the study of human movement or physical activity, also train people at reduced cost.
Hypertension affects 33 percent of American adults, yet only 1 percent of hunter–gatherer populations following a traditional diet develop high blood pressure (5). The Standard American Diet, full of added sugars, refined grains, and industrial seed oils, sets the stage for hypertension to develop. The following nutrients and food guidelines, as part of a Paleo diet, can help lower blood pressure.
A comprehensive exercise regimen, such as my Peak Fitness program, is very important in producing long-term benefits in people with high blood pressure. Nearly every program should incorporate anaerobic sprint or burst-type exercises one to three times a week, as these have been shown to be even more effective than aerobic exercises at reducing your risk of dying from a heart attack.
Don’t assume that your doctor is aware of these facts. If you are diagnosed with mild, high blood pressure, you likely will be prescribed medication, instructed that it is helpful, and told that you must take it for the rest of your life. But before accepting this potentially dangerous treatment, it may be to your advantage to seek answers to the following questions: “What caused my high blood pressure?” and “Can I remove those causes and reverse this condition?”
Exercise. Doctors recommend at least 150 minutes per week of exercise to help reduce blood pressure. Brisk walking is excellent for reducing blood pressure and improving overall cardiovascular health, but other exercises can work too. Try jogging, riding a bike, swimming, dancing, or interval training to get your aerobic exercise. Strength training is also important to your heart health and can help reduce blood pressure.
Other exercise options that don’t require a gym membership include body weight exercises, like pushups, squats, and jumping jacks. These exercises can be done at home or outside. For people who like going to the gym or running, these can be good ways to build community, notes Parker. Apps like Fitbit and MapMyRun can be helpful if you like keeping track of your steps, calories burned, weight, or number of miles run.
Foods that commonly have a ton of salt in them are prepared, canned, and bottled foods. These include meats, pickles, olives, soups, chili, bacon, ham, sausage, bakery products, and meats with added water, which will have a higher sodium content. Also, avoid prepared condiments, such as prepared mustard, salsa, chile sauce, soy sauce, ketchup, barbecue sauce and other sauces.
Eat potassium- and magnesium-rich foods. Potassium can help regulate your heart rate and can reduce the effect that sodium has on your blood pressure. Foods like bananas, melons, oranges, apricots, avocados, dairy, leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tuna, salmon, beans, nuts, and seeds have lots of potassium. Magnesium is thought to help blood vessels relax, making it easier for blood to pass through. Foods rich in magnesium include vegetables, dairy, chicken, legumes, and whole grains. It’s better to get vitamins and minerals from food, and a heart-healthy diet like the one we described above is a good way to ensure you get plenty of nutrients. However, you may want to talk to your doctor about whether taking certain supplements might help your blood pressure.
“Exercise, particularly cardio and aerobic exercise, has been known to be a potent dropper of blood pressure for a long time, and we know that fruits and vegetables rich in potassium and naturally occurring nitrates can actually lower blood pressure as effectively as many of the medications,” he said. “So that, to me, is no surprise. It’s nice that they put it all together in this study.”
Eighty million U.S. adults, or one in three, have hypertension (1). Another one in three have prehypertension, defined as blood pressure in the range of 120–139/80–89 mmHg. In addition to costing $48.6 billion annually, hypertension is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, congestive heart failure, chronic renal failure, and stroke (1). Even prehypertension increases the risk of death from CVD (2). Because of its severity, hypertension requires immediate treatment, but prescription drugs may not be the answer.
Having a bad day can impair our judgment and lead to most of us making not-so-wise lifestyle choices like binge eating, smoking, or drinking. These unhealthy habits done in excess can negatively affect our health, especially our blood pressure. As one in four Americans continue to suffer from the epidemic of high blood pressure, it is imperative for us to effectively avoid and reduce this highly preventable disease associated with heart attack and stroke, aneurysms, cognitive decline, and kidney failure. Fortunately, there are ways to bring down blood pressure without the use of medication.