Eight ways to lower blood pressure naturally
If you’re struggling with high blood pressure, you may need help bringing it under control with medications. However, if the idea of taking a pill every day puts you off, there are lifestyle changes you can try first to help you avoid, delay or reduce the need for medication.
“One of the main risk factors for stroke is hypertension,” said Hyannis neurologist Sean Horrigan, DO. “Hypertension is also a risk factor for heart disease and heart attacks. Across the board, doctors need to do a better job of watching it carefully and treating it when we see it.”
With each newly diagnosed hypertension patient, Dr. Horrigan tries his best to teach them first how to manage their blood pressure without medication.
Diet, weight monitoring and an exercise program can help maintain the maximum blood pressure goal of 130/80, he said. Here are his top eight tips for natural blood pressure control:
- Lose weight. Being overweight dramatically increases your risk of high blood pressure. Even a small weight loss can help. “I’ve had a lot of people improve their blood pressure by losing even five pounds,” Dr. Horrigan said. “It makes a big difference in getting blood pressure under control and improving heart health.”
- Follow a heart healthy diet. The Mediterranean diet focuses on eating lots of vegetables and fruits and cutting down on saturated fats, meat, and carbohydrates like pasta and bread.
- Limit salt intake. The goal is to eat no more than 1,500 mg a day. “There’s a strong correlation between too much sodium intake and hypertension and other metabolic disorders,” Dr. Horrigan said.
- Read food labels. “If you are looking at the ingredient list on a food label and there are a lot of words that look like they’ve come out of an organic chemistry book, it’s probably not the best choice for you,” he said.
- Consider your priorities. When patients complain that healthy food costs more, Dr. Horrigan tells them, “Personally I would rather put my money towards my grocery store than my pharmacy. I would rather try to treat these risk factors with what I eat for three meals every day than having to spend money every month on a pill for blood pressure, a pill for cholesterol, and a pill for blood thinner.”
- Don’t smoke. “Everybody focuses on the fact that smoking is so bad for your lungs and that it’s a cancer risk, but the truth is it is a risk factor for heart attack and stroke as well,” Dr. Horrigan said. “It affects your blood supply in your vascular system feeding those organs.”
- Limit alcohol. “There is a very fine line between healthy and unhealthy drinking,” he said. “The American Heart and Stroke Association are in agreement that men should not be drinking more than two alcoholic beverages a day and for women it’s one a day.”
- Get moving. Make exercise a regular part of your week. Most of Dr. Horrigan’s patients are over 65, so he keeps his recommendations realistic. “But quite honestly there are a lot of good studies that suggest 30 minutes of a light cardiovascular exercise program three days a week helps lessen the chances of high blood pressure, diabetes, and it helps with the management of cholesterol. These are all risk factors for stroke and heart disease.”
For patients who have difficulty lowering their blood pressure through diet and exercise, Dr. Horrigan emphasized the need to manage it with the help of medication.
“If people can’t lower their blood pressure with diet modification and an exercise program then it’s important to manage it with blood pressure pills,” he said. “There are a lot of medical conditions that are brought on because of poorly controlled chronic hypertension.”