Blood pressure is the force at which blood pumps from the heart into the arteries. A normal blood pressure reading is less than 120/80 mm Hg.
When blood pressure is high, the blood moves through the arteries more forcefully. This puts increased pressure on the delicate tissues in the arteries and damages the blood vessels.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects about half of American adults, estimates the American College of Cardiology.
Known as a “silent killer,” it usually doesn’t cause symptoms until there’s significant damage done to the heart. Without visible symptoms, most people are unaware that they have high blood pressure.
Your blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury, which is abbreviated as mm Hg. There are two numbers involved in the measurement:
Systolic blood pressure. The top number represents the force of the pressure when your heart pushes blood into the arteries throughout the rest of your body.
Diastolic blood pressure. The bottom number represents the pressure in your blood vessels between beats, when your heart is filling and relaxing.
Your blood pressure depends on how much blood your heart is pumping, and how much resistance there is to blood flow in your arteries. The narrower your arteries, the higher your blood pressure.
Blood pressure lower than 120/80 mm Hg is considered normal. Blood pressure that’s 130/80 mm Hg or more is considered high.
If your numbers are above normal but under 130/80 mm Hg, you fall into the category of elevated blood pressure. This means you’re at risk of developing high blood pressure
The good news about elevated blood pressure is that you can make changes to significantly reduce your numbers and lower your risk — without requiring medications.
Home Remedies for Managing
In today’s fast-paced world that’s filled with increasing demands, it can be hard to slow down and relax. It’s important to step away from your daily responsibilities so you can ease your stress.
Stress can temporarily raise your blood pressure. Too much of it can keep your pressure up for extended periods of time.
It helps to identify the trigger for your stress. It may be your job, relationship, or finances. Once you know the source of your stress, you can try to find ways to fix the problem.
You can also take steps to relieve your stress in a healthy way. Try taking a few deep breaths, meditating, or practicing yoga.
Drinking a glass of red wine with your dinner is perfectly fine. It might even offer heart-health benefits when done in moderation.
But drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can lead to lots of health issues, including high blood pressure.
Excessive drinking can also reduce the effectiveness of certain blood pressure medications.
What does drinking in moderation mean? The AHA recommends that men limit their consumption to two alcoholic drinks per day. Women should limit their intake to one alcoholic drink per day.
One drink equals:
- 12 ounces of beer
- 5 ounces of wine
- 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor
Nix your nicotine addiction
Each cigarette you smoke temporarily raises blood pressure for several minutes after you finish. If you’re a heavy smoker, your blood pressure can stay elevated for extended periods of time.
People with high blood pressure who smoke are at greater risk for developing dangerously high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
Even secondhand smoke can put you at increased risk for high blood pressure and heart disease.
Aside from providing numerous other health benefits, quitting smoking can help your blood pressure return to normal. Visit our smoking cessation center to take steps to quit today.
Lose excess weight
Weight and blood pressure go hand in hand. Losing just 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) can help lower your blood pressure.
It’s not just the number on your scale that matters. Watching your waistline is also critical for controlling blood pressure.
The extra fat around your waist, called visceral fat, is troublesome. It tends to surround various organs in the abdomen. This can lead to serious health problems, including high blood pressure.
In general, men should keep their waist measurement to less than 40 inches. Women should aim for less than 35 inches.
Put down the saltshaker
Keeping your sodium intake to a minimum can be vital for lowering blood pressure.
In some people, when you eat too much sodium, your body starts to retain fluid. This results in a sharp rise in blood pressure.
The AHA recommends limiting your sodium intake to between 1,500 milligrams (mg) and 2,300 mg per day. That’s a little over half a teaspoon of table salt.
To decrease sodium in your diet, don’t add salt to your food. One teaspoon of table salt has 2,300 mg of sodium!
Use herbs and spices to add flavor instead. Processed foods also tend to be loaded with sodium. Always read food labels and choose low-sodium alternatives when possible.
Exercising 30 to 60 minutes a day is an important part of healthy living.
Along with helping lower blood pressure, regular physical activity benefits your mood, strength, and balance. It decreases your risk of diabetes and other types of heart disease.
If you’ve been inactive for a while, talk to your doctor about a safe exercise routine. Start out slowly, then gradually pick up the pace and frequency of your workouts.
Not a fan of the gym? Take your workout outside. Go for a hike, jog, or swim and still reap the benefits. The important thing is to get moving!
Eat more potassium and less sodium
Increasing your potassium intake and cutting back on salt can also lower your blood pressure.
Potassium is a double winner: It lessens the effects of salt in your system and eases tension in your blood vessels. However, diets rich in potassium may be harmful to people with kidney disease, so talk with your doctor before increasing your potassium intake.
It’s easy to eat more potassium. So many foods are naturally high in potassium. Here are a few:
- low fat dairy foods, such as milk and yogurt
- fruits, such as bananas, apricots, avocados, and oranges
- vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, potatoes, tomatoes, greens, and spinach
Note that people respond to salt differently. Some people are salt-sensitive, meaning that a higher salt intake increases their blood pressure. Others are salt-insensitive. They can have a high salt intake and excrete it in their urine without raising their blood pressure.
The National Institutes of Health recommends reducing salt intake using the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. The DASH diet emphasizes:
- low sodium foods
- fruits and vegetables
- low fat dairy
- whole grains
- fewer sweets and red meats
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Eat less processed food
Most of the extra salt in your diet comes from processed foods and foods from restaurants, not your salt shaker at home. Popular high salt items include:
- deli meats
- canned soup
- other processed snacks
Foods labeled “low fat” are usually high in salt and sugar to compensate for the loss of fat. Fat is what gives food taste and makes you feel full.
Cutting down on — or even better, cutting out — processed food will help you eat less salt, less sugar, and fewer refined carbohydrates. All of this can result in lower blood pressure.
Make it a practice to check nutrition labels. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a sodium listing of 5 percent or less on a food label is considered low, while 20 percent or more is considered high.
It can be difficult to do, but it’s worth it: Stopping smoking is good for your all-around health. Smoking causes an immediate but temporary increase in your blood pressure and an increase in your heart rate.
In the long term, the chemicals in tobacco can increase your blood pressure by damaging your blood vessel walls, causing inflammation, and narrowing your arteries. The hardened arteries cause higher blood pressure.
The chemicals in tobacco can affect your blood vessels even if you’re around secondhand smoke.
A study showed that nonsmokers who were able to go to smoke-free restaurants, bars, and workplaces had lower blood pressure than nonsmokers in areas that had no smoke-free policies affecting public places.
Try meditation or yoga
Mindfulness and meditation, including transcendental meditation, have long been used — and studied — as methods to reduce stress.
Yoga, which commonly involves breathing control, posture, and meditation techniques, can also be effective in reducing stress and blood pressure.
A 2013 review on yoga and blood pressure found an average blood pressure decrease of 3.62 mm Hg diastolic and 4.17 mm Hg systolic when compared with those who didn’t exercise.
Studies of yoga practices that included breath control, postures, and meditation were nearly twice as effective as yoga practices that didn’t include all three of these elements.
Eat some dark chocolate
Yes, chocolate lovers: Dark chocolate has been shown to lower blood pressure.
But the dark chocolate should be 60 to 70 percent cacao. A review of studies on dark chocolate has found that eating one to two squares of dark chocolate per day may help lower the risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure and inflammation.
The benefits are thought to come from the flavonoids present in chocolate with more cocoa solids. The flavonoids help dilate, or widen, your blood vessels.
Make sure to get good, restful sleep
Your blood pressure typically dips down when you’re sleeping. If you don’t sleep well, it can affect your blood pressure.
People who experience sleep deprivation, especially those who are middle-aged, have an increased risk of high blood pressure.
For some people, getting a good night’s sleep isn’t easy. These are some of the many ways to help you get restful sleep.
- Try setting a regular sleep schedule.
- Spend time relaxing before bedtime.
- Exercise during the day.
- Avoid daytime naps.
- Make your bedroom comfortable.
The 2010 national Sleep Heart Health Study found that regularly sleeping fewer than 7 hours a night and more than 9 hours a night was associated with an increased rate of high blood pressure.
Regularly sleeping fewer than 5 hours a night was linked to a significant risk of high blood pressure long term.
Eat garlic or take garlic extract supplements
Fresh garlic or garlic extract are both widely used to lower blood pressure.
A meta-analysis found that for people with high blood pressure, garlic supplements reduced their systolic blood pressure by up to about 5 mm Hg and reduced their diastolic blood pressure as much as 2.5 mm Hg.
According to a 2009 clinical study, a time-release garlic extract preparation may have a greater effect on blood pressure than regular garlic powder tablets.
The risks of high blood pressure
When left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to serious health complications, including stroke, heart attack, and kidney damage. Regular visits to your doctor can help you monitor and control your blood pressure.
A blood pressure reading of 130/80 mm Hg or above is considered high. If you’ve recently received a diagnosis of high blood pressure, your doctor will work with you on how to lower it.
Your treatment plan might include medication, lifestyle changes, or a combination of therapies. Taking the above steps can help bring your numbers down, too.
Experts say each lifestyle change, on average, is expected to bring down blood pressure by 4 to 5 mm Hg systolic (the top number) and 2 to 3 mm Hg diastolic (the bottom number).
Lowering salt intake and making dietary changes may lower blood pressure even more.