Know where you stand
Syda Productions/ShutterstockBe aware of the things that can elevate your blood pressure reading before you go in—but definitely get your BP tested regularly. “High blood pressure is silent so you don’t know if yours is elevated unless you get tested during your annual physical,” says Ali Rahimi, MD, a cardiologist at Kaiser Permanente in Atlanta. Don’t miss these surprising things you didn’t know were affecting your blood pressure.
Understand the numbers
Seasontime/ShutterstockNormal blood pressure is defined as a systolic pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading that measures heart beats while pumping blood) below 120 mm/Hg and a diastolic pressure (the lower number that reflects the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats) below 80 mm/Hg. “Know your numbers and what they mean so you can prevent heart attacks and strokes by taking action to lower your blood pressure if it is elevated,” says Dr. Rahimi. Anything above this may indicate a problem or the early stages of one.
Slash your salt intake
taa22/ShutterstockSalt gets a bad rap when it comes to high blood pressure. While salt is likely not public enemy No. 1, it can cause trouble for certain salt-sensitive individuals. Sodium can lure water into the bloodstream, which can increase the volume of blood and blood pressure. “Most of the salt in our diets comes from processed foods—not the salt shaker,” Dr. Rahimi says. These 13 foods have way more salt than you realized.
Read food labels
Benoit Daoust/ShutterstockThe American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams (mgs) of sodium a day with an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg. “Read labels and look for wording like ‘low-sodium’ (140 mg of sodium or less per serving), ‘sodium free’ (less than 5 mg of sodium per serving) or ‘no salt added’ (just what it says) when grocery shopping,” Dr. Rahimi says. Even a small reduction in the sodium in your diet can reduce blood pressure by 2 to 8 mm Hg, according to doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
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Brent Hofacker/ShutterstockPeople on a low-salt diet can struggle to find low-sodium, healthy snacks that will help them control HBP. These 9 healthy snacks can curb your cravings for salty food.
Give canned veggies a bath
Steve Cukrov/ShutterstockMost of us don’t get enough vegetables and for some the high cost associated with fresh ones is prohibitive. “Canned veggies do contain sodium, but rinsing them off before eating them can dial sodium back and for a more affordable alternative,” says Boston-based nutritionist Dana Greene, RD.
Hanna_photo/ShutterstockAn apple a day may keep the doctor away, but a banana a day may keep HBP at bay. “We know that potassium lessens the harmful effects of sodium,” says Greene. “The more potassium you take in, the more sodium you excrete through urine.” That’s not all this super important mineral does to help lower blood pressure either. “Potassium eases tension in your blood vessel walls, which helps reduce blood pressure,” she says. A medium banana has about 420 mg of potassium and is easy to include in your breakfast or as a mid-afternoon snack. The recommended potassium intake for an average adult is 4,700 milligrams (mg) per day, according to the American Heart Association. Sweet potatoes, chicken, broccoli, peas, Lima beans, tomatoes, potatoes and citrus fruits are excellent sources of potassium, Greene says.
Spice things up
Atiwan Janprom/ShutterstockJust because you need to shake our salt habit doesn’t mean that flavor of your favorite foods should suffer. “Choose fresh herbs and spices such as garlic, pepper and lemon juice to add flavor to your food without raising your blood pressure,” Dr. Rahimi says. Here are some things doctors don’t tell you about healthy blood pressure.
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Lose weight, if you need to
george cristi/ShutterstockBeing overweight or obese ups our risk of a host of illnesses including heart disease. And in case you haven’t heard, you can be “overfat” without being overweight. “Overweight also increases the chances that you will develop high blood pressure, and this can be a double whammy to your heart health,” says Arthur Heller, MD, a primary care doctor in New York City. But “losing as little as five to 10 pounds may help lower your blood pressure and improve heart health.”
Kamil Macniak/ShutterstockRegular exercise helps us maintain a normal weight and reduces blood pressure levels, packing a one-two punch against heart disease, and numerous other health issues. The current recommendations call for moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (think brisk walking) at least 2 hours and 30 minutes each week or vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise for 1 hour and 15 minutes per week (think indoor cycling or running). Check in with your doctor before making any major changes to your workout schedule. Here are some other things that are affecting your blood pressure reading.
Fill up on fiber
LesiChkalll27/Shutterstock“Fiber makes us feel full for longer so we eat less and can maintain our weight,” Dr. Rahimi says. Aim for 21 to 38 grams of fiber each day. Great sources include dried beans, peas, fruits (with the skin on), vegetables and whole grains, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Four slices of fiber-rich GG Scandinavian Bran Crispbread provides a whopping 80 percent of the recommended intake of fiber.
Indulge your sweet tooth
iravgustin/ShutterstockChocoholics rejoice: Wondering how to lower high blood pressure? Dark chocolate—when eaten in moderation—may help keep blood pressure levels in check. Research suggests that the blood pressure-lowering properties come from antioxidant-rich compounds called flavonoids found in cocoa and dark chocolate. Most studies suggest 1 oz to 3.5 oz (roughly one chocolate bar) a day to reap the benefits. “Dark chocolate still has calories so it’s important not to over do it,” Dr. Heller warns. Here’s how dark chocolate is good for your heart, too.
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Choose healthier fats
Maria Uspenskaya/ShutterstockIt turns out that coconut oil is not a superfood after all, but there are a plethora of other healthy fats out there that can help keep your heart in prime shape. “Use olive oil or vegetable oil for cooking, and stay away from margarine and hydrogenated cooking oils,” Dr. Rahimi says. These 12 foods help lower blood pressure naturally.
Cool it on the caffeine
YAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV/ShutterstockThe caffeine that gives coffee, energy drinks, tea, and other foods and drinks their kick can raise blood pressure levels for a brief period of time, Dr. Heller says. “There have also been studies showing these products can improve blood pressure in some people,” he says. If you have high blood pressure or are concerned about how caffeine affects you, ask your doctor how much you can safely consume each day. (And remember, a cup is just 8 oz—far less than the supersized servings we get at Starbucks and other coffee shops.) Here’s what happens to your body when you drink coffee every day.
Ditty_about_summer/ShutterstockStress—and our inability to cope with it—makes everything worse, and high blood pressure is no exception. Carving out some “you time” can help boost mental and physical health. “In mindfulness meditation, you put your focus and awareness on your breath, and become the observer of your thoughts rather than a reactor,” explains Venice, CA-based Mindfulness Meditation teacher Ora Nadrich.”By doing this, you allow for your thoughts to come in and out of your mind with acceptance and non-reactivity. This lowers your stress levels, which has a direct effect on lowering your blood pressure.” Free Apps like Insight Timer and Aura can help you get into the mindfulness groove. You’ll want to take a look at these 37 stress management tips to find some calm in your life.
Eugenio Marongiu/ShutterstockTranscendental mediation (TM for short) is a form of meditation reportedly practiced by Jennifer Aniston, Ellen DeGeneres, Howard Stern among other A-list celebs. TM may do more than improve mental clarity, this age-old practice may also confer a reduction in blood pressure levels. One study found that meditators showed a significant drop in blood pressure and had nearly 50 percent lower rates of heart attack, stroke and dying than their counterparts who did not meditate. This method requires training by a certified teacher, which can cost up to $1,500, although sliding scales are available.
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Eat like a Greek
leonori/ShutterstockRich in olive oil, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and fish, the Mediterranean diet has been shown time and time again to lower blood pressure and heart disease risks. “This is not a diet as much as it is a lifestyle and these foods really work together to improve our overall health,” Greene says. Other blood-pressure lowering diets such as the DASH diet can also keep blood pressure in the normal range, she says.
Say yes to yogurt
GooDween123/ShutterstockYogurt has been shown to have many important health benefits, and now research adds lower blood pressure to the mix. Women who consumed five or more servings of yogurt a week had a 20 percent lower risk of developing high blood pressure than women who hardly ever ate yogurt, according to research presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology/Lifestyle 2016 Scientific Sessions.
Strike a pose
Poprotskiy Alexey/ShutterstockYogis may be on to something. The mind-body practice touted by millions may be able to prevent high blood pressure along with its many other health benefits. “Yoga is great exercise and it also has a stress reduction aspect to it so it makes sense that doing yoga would improve blood pressure,” Dr. Heller says. Check out these natural remedies for high blood pressure.
Surawut/ShutterstockTechnology can make you sick, and chatting it up on your mobile phone has been shown to increase blood pressure, according to a study our of Italy’s Guglielmo da Saliceto Hospital. It turns out that blood pressure readings of men and women who had mild to moderate high blood pressure jumped to 129/82 from 121/77 while they chatted on a mobile phone.
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Get your zzz’s
Rachata Teyparsit/Shutterstock“When you get poor sleep, your heart does not get the ‘rest’ it needs, and over time, a lack of sleep could hurt your body’s ability to regulate stress hormones, leading to high blood pressure,” says Los Angeles sleep expert Michael J. Breus, PhD, author of several books on sleep including the latest The Power of When. If you need an alarm clock to wake up, you are sleep deprived, he says. “Improve sleep hygiene by going to bed and waking at the same time every day (including weekends), keeping the bedroom cool and dark and avoiding stressful activities right before bed such as paying bills.”
Talk to your parents
pixelheadphoto digitalskillet/ShutterstockHBP runs in families. “If you have a first-degree relative who developed high blood pressure before the age of 50, you may be at risk,” Dr. Rahimi says. “It is silent so you don’t always know you have it until it starts causing problems.” Get ahead of HBP by talking to your parents about your family history and acting on it.
Africa Studio/ShutterstockDrinking beet juice may help to lower blood pressure in just a few hours. One study showed that guzzling one glass of beet juice lowered systolic blood pressure by an average of 4-5 points. “There are nitrates in beets, which are converted into nitric oxide,” Greene says. Nitric oxide relaxes and dilates blood vessels, to improve blood flow and lower pressure. “There is no miracle food or diet that can lower blood pressure, but there is nothing wrong with eating more beets as they are really good for you.” Don’t miss these ways to lower the top blood pressure number.
ADragan/ShutterstockFlossing is a drag, but there are really good reasons why you should do it. Gum disease has been linked to an increased risk for many diseases and conditions including heart disease and preterm birth, and now Korean researchers show that poor oral hygiene may lead to high blood pressure. The study appears in the July 2015 issue of the Journal of Periodontology. “Keeping plaque to a minimum with regular flossing and visits to your dentist will help keep gum inflammation under better control and sometimes reduce cardiac risk factors,” says Saul Pressner, DMD, a dentist in New York City.
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Take your medications
Kristen Prahl/ShutterstockWe are fortunate to have a wealth of drugs that can help lower high blood pressure as well as its potentially dire consequences, Dr. Heller says. “Medications only work if you take them as directed for as long as directed.” Discuss any issues you have with your blood pressure meds with your doctor to see if there is a work around.
Don’t overdo it at happy hour
Arina P Habich/ShutterstockDrinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure, but moderate alcohol consumption may help protect the heart. “Moderation is the key word here,” Dr. Heller says. “I would never tell anyone to start drinking to improve their health, but some research does suggest that moderate alcohol intake of no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women may have some benefits.” (Remember that a drink equals 12 oz. beer, 4 oz. of wine, and 1.5 oz. of 80-proof spirits or 1 oz. of 100-proof spirits.)
Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock“We know that smokers are more likely to develop high blood pressure than non smokers,” Dr. Heller says. Smoking is also a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke and cancer. “If you do smoke, quit and if you don’t smoke, never start.” Get schooled on quitting methods at the CDC’s Smoking and Tobacco Use website. Here’s what you need to know about the new blood pressure guidelines.
Keep off the grass
ShutterstockProfessional/ShutterstockSmoking marijuana—legal or not—may increase your risk of dying from high blood pressure, according to a study out of Georgia State University in Atlanta that appears in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. The study found that the risk of dying from hypertension grew with each year of smoking marijuana. “Marijuana stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, leading to increases in heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen demand,” Barbara Yankey, who co-led the research told Newsmax. More studies will be needed to confirm these findings and draw any firm conclusions.
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Check your BP at home
Bacho/ShutterstockIf you do have HBP or are at risk of developing it, checking it at home can help make sure your treatment is working, Dr. Rahimi says. The American Heart Association recommends an automatic, cuff-style, and upper-arm monitor. “Sit with your back straight against a wall and your feet flat on the floor when taking your blood pressure at home,” he says. For accuracy, place your arm on a flat surface and take it at the same time every day, he says. “Keep a record and make sure to share your findings with your doctor.”
Get more D
Duangnapa Kanchanasakun/ShutterstockBy now you’ve probably heard about all the health benefits of vitamin D, which is why you should familiarize yourself with the signs that you might be low. Too low levels of vitamin D have been linked to high blood pressure, and a study in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology found that for each 10 percent increase in vitamin D levels, there was an 8 percent decrease in the risk of developing high blood pressure. “It’s too soon to say that low vitamin D can cause high blood pressure, but getting tested to see where you stand and taking steps to increase your levels if they are low makes sense,” Dr. Heller says. Vitamin D is often called the sunshine vitamin because we produce it when exposed to sunlight. It is also found in eggs, milk, yogurt, tuna, salmon, cereal and orange juice. “Sometimes supplements may be necessary,” he says.
Invest in an activity monitor
g-stockstudio/ShutterstockBracelets, apps and the somewhat old-school pedometer can help us track activity and calories. Some even measure sleep, heart rate, and other health signs. “These can be really motivating for people,” Greene says. Next, don’t miss these foods that are bad for high blood pressure.