There are several key approaches you can take to help manage your blood pressure. That’s because genetic, lifestyle and health factors all contribute to blood pressure levels. When attempting to manage or lower your blood pressure, results will vary from person to person. It may take time, patience and some experimenting to get it right. Learn what you can do to lower your levels for a healthier heart.
To monitor how these changes may affect your blood pressure, you can get an at-home blood pressure monitor and cuff. You can take your readings often and track your levels over time. Be sure to seek the advice of a physician before starting any new health routine, diet or fitness plan.
Adopt a new eating plan
Eating a healthy diet is one of the most impactful ways you can lower your blood pressure. There isn’t a “magic ingredient” that can lead to lower blood pressure. Studies have shown that DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating can help with lowering blood pressure over time. One such study found that dietary changes alone decreased systolic blood pressure (also known as the top number in your reading) by 6-11 mmHG.1 The DASH diet plan limits the intake of red meat, sodium and sugar. When eaten in excess, these things can contribute to an increased risk of high blood pressure. The DASH diet focuses on:
- Lean proteins like chicken and fish
- Healthy fats from nuts and olive oil
- Fresh or frozen veggies and fruits
Eat less sodium
Decreasing your salt intake can help lower blood pressure too. That’s because when there is more salt in your bloodstream, it pulls water into your blood vessels. More water means more total volume of blood. And more blood can mean higher blood pressure for some people.2 Salt-sensitive blood pressure can occur if you are older than 45 years, are African American, are a woman or have metabolic syndrome.3
Eating less sodium means more than holding the table salt. Sodium is hidden in things like packaged foods, canned foods, snacks, deli meat and more. To limit your sodium intake, eat less of these types of foods. Avoid table salt by flavoring your foods with vinegar, citrus juice, spices and fresh or dried herbs. With these changes, you may see a decrease in blood pressure in as little as two weeks.
Up your activity
Physical activity is another way that you can help lower your blood pressure. This is because aerobic exercise can help reduce vascular resistance.4 That includes low-impact activities such as walking. Vascular resistance is what your heart must overcome to push blood through the circulatory system and create blood flow. Some people may have high blood pressure despite taking multiple blood pressure medications. This condition is known as resistant hypertension. Physical activity may help people with this condition lower blood pressure over several weeks.5 You can read more about resistant hypertension below. Even 5-10 minutes a day can make a difference. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of activity on most days.
Maintain a healthy weight
Excess fat cells in the body can lead to high blood pressure. Carrying excess body fat stimulates the brain and increases blood pressure.6 The great news is that just a small amount of weight loss can lower your blood pressure. Even 5-10 pounds can be enough to have an impact. In the long term, you should focus on maintaining a healthy weight. Talk to your doctor about what your healthy weight range might be.
The nicotine in cigarettes stimulates the brain. This can cause a temporary increase in blood pressure. Over time, smoking can also increase the buildup of plaque inside the arteries. This puts extra strain on the heart and could lead to a heart attack or stroke.7 Quitting smoking is an important step in overall heart health. Exposure to secondhand smoke can have the same negative effects on the body, meaning your loved ones could be at risk too. Improve your health and the health of your loved ones by quitting. Teladoc offers tobacco cessation support for anyone who may need support with their goal to quit smoking.
Did you know stress releases hormones in the body? These hormones cause your heart to work harder and beat faster. They also cause your blood vessels to constrict. These effects are temporary. However, over time, chronic stress can keep your body in this heightened state for days or weeks. This puts unnecessary strain on your heart. Stress can also contribute to other risk factors for high blood pressure, like smoking, excessive drinking, poor dietary choices, disrupted sleep and more.8
To stress less, it’s important to learn about what causes you stress and why. Working through difficult emotions can be an effective skill. Daily journaling or therapy can often help relieve stress. If you can, take 15-20 minutes a day to focus on your breathing. Deep breathing is a great tool for communicating to our nervous system that there’s no reason to be stressed. Teladoc therapists and psychiatrists are available to help with stress.
Moderate your alcohol intake
Studies have shown a link between high alcohol consumption and high blood pressure. Researchers have found that lowering alcohol intake can help lower blood pressure. This is especially true for those who consume two or more drinks per day.9
There have been some studies that show a beneficial link between alcohol consumption and blood pressure. However, alcohol has been known to do more harm than good in higher quantities. Experts note that moderate alcohol intake is ideal. For men, two drinks or less per day is the recommended quantity. For women, one drink or less per day is considered moderate.10
Take all medications as prescribed
If you’re managing blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe one or more medications to help. Here are the different kinds of medications that help treat blood pressure:
- Diuretics. These rid the body of excess sodium (salt) and water and help control blood pressure. These are sometimes called “water pills.”
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) and calcium channel blockers. These relax and open up the narrowed blood vessels and lower blood pressure.
It is important that you take all medications as directed. Continue to monitor your blood pressure over time for changes. Medications may be very effective for managing blood pressure. However, it may take time for you and your doctor to find the right dosage and schedule. If you don’t see any changes in your blood pressure over time, be sure to talk to your doctor. An at-home blood pressure monitor can help you track your blood pressure trends.
Understanding resistant hypertension
It’s important to remember that making significant lifestyle changes may not impact blood pressure right away. It may take weeks or months to find the right combination of changes that will have the greatest impact on health. The best way to understand which changes have the most infuence for you is to monitor your blood pressure over time. However, some people may have what is known as resistant hypertension. This kind of hypertension is hard to treat and may have a secondary cause.11
There are many pathways can help lower blood pressure—and the key to good health is finding the ways that work for your lifestyle, body and goals. Curiosity and patience can help on any journey to achieving better health.
Published March 23, 2022