15 Ways to Naturally Lower Blood Pressure
"Try these at home and see if you can start lowering your blood pressure."
In today's Inside Health episode, Dr. Keller Wortham, MD, will conclude his two-part series on high blood pressure. In Part one, Dr. Keller talked about what blood pressure is, how it's measured, what normal and high ranges are considered to be, and how high blood pressure affects the body. Today he'll be taking a closer look at the factors that influence blood pressure, and going over 15 natural tips that can help get blood pressure under control. Don't miss this important show!
- 00:11: Quick Recap of Part 1
- 01:21: Getting Accurate Results
- 02:30: 15 Tips to Lower Blood Pressure Naturally
- 21:10: Wrap-Up
Quick Recap of Part 1
In part one, we discussed hypertension, the medical term for high blood pressure, and today we’ll look more closely at what it means for your body and your health, and some lifestyle and diet changes you can make lower blood pressure. There are quite a few health risks associated with high blood pressure, including increased risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, damage to the eyes. So, there's a lot of reasons to keep your blood pressure under control. We discussed the optimal blood pressure range, which is 120/80 — if your numbers are going over than 140 in the top number or over 90 then you have been diagnosed or you can be diagnosed with high blood pressure.
Getting Accurate Results
A lot of people are worried about their blood pressure, and sometimes the worry itself, especially when you’re on your way to the doctor’s office to get it checked, can send blood pressure skyrocketing. So it is important, if you have a doctor's visit, to try to stay relaxed when you get your blood pressure taken. If you’ve rushed there, tell the doctor you need a few minutes to sit and relax. They shouldn't be taking your blood pressure right when you come up the elevator. Take a moment to relax, take some deep breaths, and if you're someone who gets nervous when you go to a doctor (something they call white coat hypertension), then get a cuff and check your blood pressure at home. Then you can bring in your cuff and your reading to your doctor, so even if your blood pressure is high when you’re at the doctor’s office, you can demonstrate what it’s like when you’re more calm. This machine doesn't lie.
15 Tips for Better Blood Pressure
If you have high blood pressure and if you've been diagnosed with it by your doctor, you could be prescribed medication. And there are a lot of medications out there that can control blood pressure, but we want to talk about things that you can do at home without needing to take a medication. If you watched the last video, you know we talked about all of the different influences on blood pressure, and the fact that blood pressure is influenced by your brain and what you're thinking, by chemicals you put in your body like nicotine and alcohol and caffeine, by your kidneys, by your parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems — the ways that nerves are firing off in your body — and by your adrenal glands and hormones. So, with all these different inputs to blood pressure, making any changes to your blood pressure might feel overwhelming. But actually, it's just the opposite. It means there are so many opportunities for you to take to control your blood pressure by addressing some of those different influences. Here are 15 different things you can do, right at home.
This is really the most important step of all. Of course exercise is so important for so many things, but for blood pressure it is critical. People who exercise have lower blood pressure in general, and the kind of exercise does make a difference. Maybe you've heard about aerobic exercise and anaerobic exercise. Both are great, but when it comes to controlling blood pressure, aerobic exercise seems to have more of an impact on lowering blood pressure. Aerobic exercise is the kind that gets your breathing rate and your heart rate up for extended periods of time. So, if you're running, jogging, swimming, going up and down stairs, even doing yoga or Pilates, or any other activity that raises your heart rate and your respiratory rate, then you're doing aerobic exercise.
It's been shown that even getting in about 30 minutes to 45 minutes of aerobic exercise a couple of times a week can substantially reduce your blood pressure by up to 10 mmHg. You don't have to be running marathons. Just do 30 to 45 minutes, a couple of times a week. Three to four times a week for aerobic exercise is ideal, and then you can pepper in some anaerobic exercise, some weightlifting or resistance training on the other days. So, exercise is crucial. Make it your number one goal, and you'll already start to be helping your blood pressure. Now some people will ask, “isn’t it true that exercise can raise your blood pressure?” It is true, temporarily. And if you've got concerns about your heart, or you've got other health conditions, by all means talk to your doctor about how to implement an exercise routine safely for you. But most of the time, exercise is going to do you a world of benefit, and if you do it right, there's very minimal risk.
It's been shown that people who are overweight have a tendency towards higher blood pressure. A lot of that has to do with hormones that change like insulin and other things that go up when you're overweight. Also, just your heart having to pump blood to a larger body mass, means that it has to increase the pressure in the system, which is not great for your arteries and your veins. You don't have to lose a ton of weight to nudge your blood pressure in the right direction. You can lose just about 5% of your body mass and again get an 8 to 10 number drop in your blood pressure. So, really if you can work on weight loss, you'll do your blood pressure a lot of good. We know this topic can seem overwhelming and if you don't know where to start, please check out some of Dr. Keller’s other videos, but if you just focus on eating a good healthy diet of whole foods and avoiding some of those sugars and processed foods, you're already going to start your body in the right direction for weight loss.
Sleep is so important for so many reasons, and we know that is critical to maintaining your healthy blood pressure. When people don't sleep enough they get stressed and stress raises cortisol levels and changes some other hormones as well. It can affect your adrenal glands, and all of that could end up causing a higher blood pressure. So, you need to get adequate sleep — around eight hours a night, which may seem like a luxury, but again we're dealing with hypertension, which is a serious issue. So really try to make sleep a priority. It’s important to note that a lot of people might think they're getting adequate sleep but could be suffering from something called sleep apnea. This is a condition in which you fall asleep at night and you start snoring, and then that snoring gets worse and worse and you essentially cut off your airway, so you're not really getting oxygen at night while you sleep. Sleep apnea is a big risk factor for developing high blood pressure. So, if you have high blood pressure and you're overweight or if maybe your spouse complains you snore all the time, or if you're really tired during the day despite the fact that you slept a full eight hours, talk to your doctor about screening you for sleep apnea because that could be the root of your high blood pressure.
We know it's easier said than done, but it can be done! A lot of people think about smoking as bad for your lungs but it is really bad for your cardiovascular system as well — your heart and your blood vessels. There are a couple reasons why: First off, Nicotine is a stimulant. So, nicotine, when you smoke causes a clamping down of your blood vessels and if you smoke a lot — a couple cigarettes a day, maybe a pack a day — every time you're having nicotine in your system it's stimulating your blood vessels to constrict down. As that happens more and more over time then your blood vessels start to lose their flexibility and harden. Tobacco is also a very inflammatory substance, so all the other chemicals in tobacco that have nothing to do with the nicotine are causing inflammation in your body that can further cause a hardening of the arteries. So, for many many reasons, smoking is really bad for your heart and blood vessels. If you’re having a hard time quitting, please talk to your doctor about it. But please do whatever you can to focus on reducing the amount of nicotine in your daily routine. And that goes for e-cigarettes as well. There is nicotine in those e-cigarettes, so it's not just the typical tobacco that’s the problem.
Reduce Alcohol Intake
We know it may seem like we’re taking everything fun away, but we're dealing with a serious subject, so Dr. Keller is giving you options that are within your grasp to manage and moderate. Alcohol has an effect on the blood pressure in several ways. One major way is that alcohol is a depressant, so it causes your blood pressure and a lot of your vital signs to slow down. When you get off of alcohol you get this rebound effect where basically your body starts to pump back up again. So, chronic alcohol use can increase your blood pressure especially over time, and people who drink a lot of alcohol can have what's called a hypertensive crisis as they come off of it. This means withdrawal from alcohol sends their blood pressure through the roof. So, if you are consuming a lot of alcohol, talk to your doctor about safely tapering off. Now, some people may have heard that alcohol is good for your heart and blood vessels, and it’s true that alcohol in moderation can be considered safe for the heart and blood vessels. We're talking about one drink a day for a woman, maybe two drinks a day for a man. Also, try to opt for things like red wine that have some biochemical properties that can be healthier for your heart and blood vessels. But in general, especially if you're already suffering from hypertension, alcohol is probably going to be more of a detriment than a benefit for you.
Reduce Sodium in Your Diet
This isn’t restricted to just table salt. There's a lot of salt in food already, especially if it's packaged food or processed food, canned foods, frozen foods, and fast foods. For some people who don't have blood pressure issues, salt is not going to cause a problem, but if you're someone whose blood pressure runs high, chances are that increasing the sodium in your diet is going to make your blood pressure worse. A lot of people like salt because of flavor, and yes, salt is very good for flavoring, but there are so many other spices out there that you can add, that can increase flavor to your food to help you reduce salt intake. Try seasonings like cayenne pepper and turmeric. These are great spices to add to lots of different foods, soups, meats, and these spices in addition to adding flavor, also have great properties that can reduce inflammation in your body and reduce your blood pressure. There are other spices as well, like cinnamon, ginger, and paprika. So try these to add flavor to food and reduce your sodium intake.
Increase Potassium in Your Diet
Potassium is an electrolyte. It's one of the minerals Dr. Keller discussed in his video on minerals we need for health. Potassium is very important for regulating muscle, and since the arteries are basically a smooth kind of muscle, it helps regulate both the tension in the arteries and the contractility of the heart. So, potassium-rich foods are a great way to balance your blood pressure. Everybody knows that bananas are rich in potassium, but you can also get potassium from other things like avocado, and from leafy greens. There are so many good sources of potassium that also have other healthy properties, other electrolytes, and other vitamins in there that will help you. So make sure you're getting good potassium in your diet.
That's a hard one for a lot of people. In general, having a cup of coffee in the morning is probably fine — even beneficial. But if you're someone who's consuming a lot of caffeine, you're doing several cups a day and you have a blood pressure problem, keep in mind that caffeine is a stimulant. And when you have a stimulant it's going to cause things to kind of rev up and clamp down. If you're dealing with high blood pressure, those are things that you don't really want, so try to moderate your caffeine.
Manage Your Stress
Managing your stress is so important for your blood pressure. Some of the things we've already talked about, such as exercise and good sleep, help with that. But if you're trying to add more things to manage stress, take walks. Get out in nature if you can. It's been shown that actually just being in nature can help reduce stress. Socializing with people that you enjoy being around can help. Listening to music can help. Just changing your perspective on things like traffic or things like conflict at work, can also help with reducing stress. If you can reduce stress, you're going to tell your sympathetic nervous system and your adrenal glands to calm down. And that really can help your blood pressure come down.
We’ve taken away some fun things, but here we get to recommend one! Dark chocolate (70% or above), will actually help lower blood pressure. This is fantastic — it’s like a natural gift. So, if you want to try lowering your blood pressure naturally, go out and find some good quality dark chocolate bars. It's a little more bitter than your milk chocolate, but you'll get used to it, and it’s a great, very flavorful way to lower your blood pressure.
These are another good treat. Blueberries are great for lowering your blood pressure. They're rich in something called polyphenols, a magical molecule that helps reduce inflammation in your body. It helps your heart, and your blood vessels. So, start adding berries to your diet. You'll get a lot of those biological chemicals and compounds that will help your blood pressure.
Meditation and Breathing Exercises
This may sound a little “hippie” but there’s nothing mystical about it. There are plenty of studies that show the benefits of just taking time to close your eyes — you don't have to have some crazy mantra, just close your eyes and take deep breaths, listening to your breathing.
If you want to practice some sort of gratitude as you're doing it, that's fine. But just the simple act of just staying still, breathing in, breathing out is all it needs. If you don't know what to think about just focus on the breathing. Think, “I’m breathing in. I’m breathing out.” You will calm down your sympathetic nervous system, which will in turn calm down your adrenal glands and it can really help get your blood pressure in check. You don't have to do it for long. Even 10 minutes in the morning before you go to work, or 10 minutes in the afternoon during lunch can really help reset your body. It's amazing what the breath can do for us.
Calcium Rich Foods
We know the calcium is so important to the heart, and so important to the blood vessels, so find some calcium-rich foods. Broccoli is very rich in calcium, and of course, there are dairy products, for those of you like dairy, such as whole milk and yogurt, that are rich in calcium. Calcium is again going to help set and balance electrolytes, keep your heart well, and improve the health of your vascular system.
There are some supplements out there that can actually help lower blood pressure. Garlic is a great one. You can also eat fresh garlic, but there are great garlic supplements that actually have been clinically proven to help lower blood pressure. Granted you do have to deal with some side effects, like garlic breath, but if you're thinking about having to take a medication with a lot of side effects or suffer from consequences of high blood pressure, maybe a little garlic breath isn't the end of the world. Maybe don't take your garlic right before you go out on a date, but other than that I think it's a very worthy supplement to add to your diet. They make garlic capsules with concentrated garlic extract. Berberine is another supplement that has been shown in studies to reduce blood pressure. Omega-3 oils are great for the heart and cardiovascular system, and anti-inflammatory. You can get them from fish but you can also get omega-3 oil capsules.
And last but not least, foods high in magnesium are great for lowering blood pressure. Magnesium can be found in some vegetables, and also got legumes; garbanzo beans, and lentils, for example. Legumes are very rich in magnesium, and magnesium is an electrolyte that's so important in helping your body equilibrate itself and lower your blood pressure.
So, there you go. If you're dealing with high blood pressure, it kind of scary to think of all the things that could happen from high blood pressure, like strokes, heart attacks. But before you start a medication, try all of these natural options, including exercise, breathing exercises, getting good sleep, dietary changes, and supplements. Try these at home and see if you can start lowering your blood pressure. If your blood pressure is already critically high and your doctor is worried about you, have that conversation. Maybe you do have to go on a medication to protect yourself, but that doesn't mean you have to stop trying these other things. We hope you found this helpful! Stay tuned for more great information from Dr. Keller Wortham.