Six ways to lower your blood pressure
Heart health experts say high blood pressure is a silent killer, at times offering few outward symptoms before tragedy can strike.
“Many patients do not realize they have high blood pressure until it is measured, or unfortunately at the time of an emergency, such as a stroke,” says Jason Evanchan, DO, a cardiologist at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center.
Hypertension is one of the leading risk factors of many types of heart disease, including heart attacks, heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms such as atrial fibrillation, according to Dr. Evanchan. Hypertension is also a major risk factor for developing kidney disease.
Despite being such a common yet potentially dangerous condition, only half the people diagnosed with high blood pressure have it under good control.
Dr. Evanchan has six tips to help reduce high blood pressure:
1. What is normal – and high – blood pressure
The first step to controlling high blood pressure is understanding the numbers. Blood pressure is measured in two numbers and in millimeters of mercury. The “top” number, or the first one, is systolic blood pressure, or the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats. The “bottom” number, or the second one, is diastolic blood pressure, which measures the pressure in your blood vessels between heart beats.
Normal blood pressure is a systolic reading of less than 120 mm Hg and diastolic reading of less than 80 mm Hg.
High blood pressure is a systolic reading of higher than or equal to 130 mm Hg and / or diastolic reading greater than or equal to 80 mm Hg.When systolic blood pressure is between 120 to 129 mm Hg it is considered elevated blood pressure or prehypertension, Dr. Evanchan adds. The more blood your heart is pumping, and the higher the resistance in your arteries, the higher your blood pressure will be. High blood pressure can damage or weaken your blood vessels, increasing the risk of blood clots that can cause heart attacks and strokes.
“In general, for every 20 mm Hg higher systolic and 10 mm Hg higher diastolic than 115/75 mm Hg, the risk of death from heart disease and stroke doubles,” Dr. Evanchan says.
2. Monitor your blood pressure regularly
If you are curious about your blood pressure and want to check it yourself, or your doctor instructed you to monitor it routinely, there are ways to do so outside the doctor’s office.
“Blood pressure machines or cuffs are available at many pharmacies, and are recommended for any patient who has high blood pressure,” Dr. Evanchan explains.
Record the numbers daily over a period of a few weeks and give them to your doctor.
3. Get more exercise
Exercising regularly strengthens the heart muscle and helps it to pump with less effort and less strain on your arteries. Often, regular physical exercise can reduce high blood pressure almost as effectively as medication.
“We recommend regular, moderate-intensity physical exercise Dr. Evanchan says.
That means about 150 minutes per week of exercise or for 30 minutes, 5 days a week. Dr. Evanchan suggests building up to this, even starting at just 60 minutes per week of exercise.
Running, walking, biking and swimming are great exercise options that can help reduce blood pressure over time.
4. Eat less sodium, and more potassium
A high-sodium diet makes it harder for your kidneys to remove water from your bloodstream, raising your blood pressure and strain on your blood vessels due to the excess liquid.
This is why it is good to avoid salty foods, such as deli meats, canned soups, condiments, frozen and boxed foods and snack foods like chips and salted pretzels, Dr. Evanchan explains.
A high-potassium diet is great for those with high blood pressure because it lessens the effects of sodium on the body.
“The DASH diet – Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension – for example, is a good diet option, because it is high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, low-fat dairy products and nuts,” Dr. Evanchan says.
A healthier diet can also help you to lose weight, Dr. Evanchan adds, which, can in turn help to reduce blood pressure. Losing as little as five to 10 pounds can ease high blood pressure.
5) Reduce stress
Stress increases hormones in the blood that cause your heart beat faster and your blood vessels to narrow. Stress-induced high blood pressure is usually temporary. However, if it is coupled with an unhealthy diet and lack of physical exercise, stress can permanently damage your vessels, heart and kidneys. It is important to find ways to manage stress so that this doesn’t happen.
Practicing yoga, meditation and deep breathing exercises; simplifying your schedule; getting plenty of sleep; and maintaining a good diet and exercise regimen have all been proven to reduce stress and high blood pressure.
Treating sleep apnea and quitting smoking are two additional steps to ease your blood pressure numbers.
6) Medications for high blood pressure
Many people with hypertension need medication, in addition to lifestyle changes, to control their blood pressure. In fact, with medication, high blood pressure can be controlled quickly, often in a matter of days. Following the proper dosage and instructions with medication and communicating regularly with your doctor is just as important.
Common high blood pressure medications include diuretics (help reduce the amount of salt and water in the blood), beta blockers (help slow down your heartbeat), calcium channel blockers and ace inhibitors (help prevent your blood vessels from tightening).