- The best ways to lower blood pressure are regular exercise, a heart-healthy diet, and stress management.
- If you’re overweight, research has found that losing 10 pounds can reduce blood pressure by 12 mm Hg.
- It should take at least a few months to lower blood pressure effectively, depending on your lifestyle changes.
- This story is a part of Insider’s guide to High Blood Pressure.
High blood pressure, also known as
, affects over 100 million people — nearly half of all adults in the US — according to the most recent guidelines by the American Heart Association (AHA).
Hypertension is often symptomless, and if left untreated, could lead to serious health threats like
, heart attack, or stroke.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for high blood pressure. But with positive lifestyle changes, it’s possible to manage your blood pressure and reduce the risk of health complications.
Common causes of hypertension include a lack of regular exercise, a high-sodium diet, being overweight, and smoking cigarettes.
Sanjiv Patel, MD, and cardiologist at MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center, says working to make positive changes in these areas can have a big impact on your blood pressure.
Below, you’ll find seven helpful tips to lower your blood pressure levels naturally.
1. Maintain a healthy weight
If you’re overweight and have hypertension, losing even a small amount of weight can have a big effect on lowering your blood pressure. Shedding 10 pounds can drop your systolic blood pressure by as many as 10 to 12 mm Hg, Patel says.
2. Get more exercise
One major way to maintain a healthy weight is with physical activity. Regular exercise trains the heart to expand and contract, which in the long-term helps the heart pump more efficiently, resulting in lower blood pressure.
For those with hypertension, research has found that regular physical activity can lower systolic blood pressure (the top number) by an average of seven mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) by an average of five mm Hg.
To get these benefits, Patel recommends at least 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity each day. This can be a combination of aerobic exercise — like walking, jogging, or bike riding — and strength training with low weights and high repetitions.
In regards to how quickly exercise can help lower your blood pressure, it depends on the lifestyle factors you’re addressing, and how high your blood pressure is to begin with.
For example, if you have moderate to severe hypertension and begin exercising regularly, you are likely going to see a shaper reduction in your blood pressure when compared with someone who has mild hypertension and works out regularly.
3. Strive for a balanced diet
A steady, well-balanced diet can have a lasting impact on your blood pressure. In fact, an entire diet was developed by the National Institutes of Health for the express purpose to help lower blood pressure.
DASH, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, may be a diet designed to help people overcome hypertension, but its overall philosophy is widely applicable to sustaining healthy eating habits.
encourages people to limit sodium, sugar, and saturated or trans fats while increasing the variety of foods rich in nutrients like potassium, calcium, and
. This well-rounded plan is heart-healthy and has been found to significantly reduce blood pressure for those with hypertension.
For example, potassium is known to accelerate the secretion of sodium from the body and relax the blood vessel walls to help lower blood pressure.
Overall, the DASH diet focuses on foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains, and fish — and discourages fast food, packaged items, and processed snacks.
4. Watch your sodium intake
There are many studies that link consuming too much sodium and having high blood pressure.
Keep in mind that salt and sodium are not the same and refer to two different things.
Sodium is a mineral that occurs naturally in foods, but also used as an additive to processed foods to typically enhance flavor, preserve freshness, or improve texture. Salt — the kind we use for cooking and seasoning — is a combination of sodium and chloride.
According to a study by the AHA, the average American adult consumes 3,400 mg of sodium every day — well above the recommended limit of 2,300 mg. For reference, the FDA recommends that people with hypertension consume no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day.
Depending on your choices, it doesn’t take much to exceed your daily amount of sodium. But even a small decrease can make a big difference. To make better choices, keep the following in mind:
- Eat less processed foods. The same AHA study found that 70% of sodium Americans consume comes from processed and restaurant, prepackaged, and prepared meals. Instead, opt for fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Read and compare labels: Common grocery items like canned foods can be a hidden source of sodium. On the nutrition label, note how many milligrams of sodium there are in each serving and how many servings the package contains. Alternatively, look for “no salt” or “low sodium” versions.
- Be aware of the “salty six”: According to the AHA, there are six popular food types that can add high levels of sodium to your diet. These include bread, pizza, sandwiches, cold cuts, soup, and burritos and tacos.
5. Limit alcohol consumption
Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure, so drinking in moderation is key.
Moderate drinking is considered no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. A standard drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.
According to the Mayo Clinic, heavy drinkers who practice moderation can lower their systolic blood pressure by two to four mm Hg and their diastolic blood pressure by one to two mm Hg.
6. Kick the smoking habit
As the leading cause of preventable death worldwide, smoking is known to temporarily raise blood pressure.
According to the American Heart Association, the nicotine from smoking cigarettes increases the risk of plaque buildup in the arteries, which also happens to people diagnosed with hypertension.
While there is no association between smoking and the development of hypertension, people with high blood pressure who smoke are at greater risk of hypertensive crisis, heart disease, and stroke.
7. Manage stress
While more research is needed to understand the correlation between stress and heart health, excessive stress has been known to contribute to hypertension.
Furthermore, chronic stress is associated with a higher risk of many types of heart disease: coronary artery disease,
, and heart rhythm disorders like tachycardia.
Reducing and managing stress looks different for everyone, so it’s important to take a realistic look at the stressors in your life, adjust what you can, and spend time to find out what works for you.
Beyond regular physical activity, here are just a few ways you can manage stress:
Preventing and managing high blood pressure requires a well-rounded plan and a lifelong commitment of healthy choices.
For those who have hypertension, changes may come slowly, but they will come. “It takes a few months to see good results, although some lifestyle changes can make a bigger impact,” Patel says. “Blood pressure can drop by 10 to 20 points depending on what kind of change you’re implementing.”
Even if you are able to lower your blood pressure, you’ll need to continue monitoring it, because it can creep back up as you age. Overall, the key to lowering blood pressure with lifestyle changes is maintaining those healthy practices over the long-term.
“Lifestyles changes need to be permanent, not just for two or three months,” Patel says. “Once you break that cycle, [your health] gets better — and then you need to sustain that.”