Medication may not always be the answer – or the only answer – when your blood pressure levels are in question.
Whether you’re already on medication or just want to take some early preventative steps, lifestyle changes can make a big difference for your health.
“If we do not treat or manage high blood pressure, it can lead to serious complications over time,” says Nabeel Salih, DO, an internist with Hartford HealthCare Medical Group in Fairfield. “The good news is that we can prevent these complications by keeping our blood pressure under control.”
Dr. Salih offers 5 all natural ways to lower your blood pressure.
1. Cut foods high in sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars from your diet
“Sodium causes our bodies to retain fluid, which raises blood pressure,” explains Dr. Salih. “Saturated fat and added sugars can increase cholesterol and inflammation, which damages our blood vessels.”
Eating a healthy diet with foods rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium will help relax your blood vessels, balance the effects of sodium, and lower your blood pressure. Examples of these rich in nutrient foods include:
- Dairy products
Dr. Salih also suggests trying the DASH diet – dietary approaches to stop hypertension. The DASH diet includes foods from all food groups and limits sodium intake. Studies have shown that following the DASH diet can lower blood pressure in as little as two weeks.
2. Regular aerobic exercise
Exercising regularly helps strengthen your heart and reduce body weight, which in turn, helps lower blood pressure.
“This type of exercise that helps lower blood pressure is called aerobic exercise,” says Dr. Salih. “This is any activity that makes your heart beat faster and increases your breathing rate.” Examples of aerobic exercise include:
- Jumping rope
To lower your blood pressure, Dr. Salih recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity. “Moderate intensity means you can talk but not sing while exercising, vigorous-intensity means you can only say a few words before pausing for breath,” explains Dr. Salih.
3. Avoid smoking and limit alcohol intake
“Smoking damages your blood vessels and increases inflammation. Heavy alcohol use increases sodium retention, weight gain and stress hormones. Both raise our blood pressure,” says Dr. Salih.
Not only will quitting smoking and limiting your alcohol intake lower your blood pressure, but it will also benefit your overall heart health. Additional benefits include:
- Lower cholesterol
- Improved sleep quality
- Reduced risk of heart disease
4. Checking your blood pressure regularly at home
“Checking blood pressure at home provides both you and your healthcare provider with more accurate and consistent information about your condition,” says Dr. Salih. “This can help with early diagnosis, better treatment, improved control and reduced healthcare costs.”
Home blood pressure monitoring also helps track how your lifestyle changes affect your blood pressure, which can help you motivate yourself to stick to your plan and achieve your goals.
5. Getting a good night’s sleep
Allowing your body and mind to relax and recover with a good night’s sleep can help lower your blood pressure. Sleep also regulates your hormones, reduces inflammation and improves cardiovascular function.
“However, poor sleep quality or quantity can have the opposite effect. Poor sleep can increase your stress levels and cause nocturnal spikes in your blood pressure,” explains Dr. Salih.
To get a good night’s sleep, Dr. Salih recommends:
- Using relaxation strategies before bed: meditation, breathing exercises, or listening to soothing music
- Creating a comfortable sleeping environment that’s dark, quiet, cool and free of distractions
- Exercising regularly during the day but avoiding vigorous activity close to bedtime
- Enjoying a balanced diet that’s low in salt, caffeine and alcohol
- Maintain a consistent sleeping pattern by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day
What should I do if my blood pressure is still high?
“If your blood pressure is very high or if lifestyle measures fail, your doctor may prescribe one or more medications to control it,” says Dr. Salih. “There are many different types of drugs for treating high blood pressure, each with its own pros and cons.”
Your doctor will prescribe the best medication for you based on your medical history, risk factors, side effects and preferences.