Getting a high blood pressure reading at the doctor’s office can be tough on anybody. Although high blood pressure is a serious health concern, it’s often referred to as a silent killer because it can creep on you without any symptoms. High blood pressure (HBP or hypertension) increases your risk of heart attacks, stroke, aneurysms, kidney failure and cognitive decline. High blood pressure is a major cause of premature death worldwide.
While your doctor might prescribe some medication to lower your blood pressure, most of the drugs available can have side effects such as dizziness, leg cramps and insomnia. Therefore, if your readings are below 140/90, your doctor might suggest some lifestyle changes instead.
Here are some of the best ways to naturally improve your blood pressure readings:
1. Cut salt intake
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If you have a high blood pressure reading, it is time to go easy on the salt shaker. One of the biggest causes of high blood pressure is too much salt as this wrecks the delicate balance in your body, which causes water retention. This extra fluid strains delicate blood vessels, causing hypertension.
According to the American Heart Association, you should keep your sodium intake below 1,500mg a day. This is about half of what most consume. Although checking the amount of salt you add in your food helps, you will have bigger impact if you stop eating processed foods – most of them contain more salt than you know.
2. Take up walking
Regular aerobic exercise, such as walking, might be just as effective in lowering your blood pressure readings as commonly prescribed BP drugs. When you exercise, your heart uses oxygen more efficiently and improves the capacity of your blood vessels to dilate, which results into lower blood pressure.
A 2019 study from researchers at the University of Western Australia says that even as little as 30 minutes of exercise every morning can make a significant difference. The researchers found that the study subjects who were required to have regular exercise had lower blood pressure than those who didn’t.
Additionally, they found that women had even better blood pressure readings if they added short 3-minute walks throughout their day. This effect wasn’t significant in men, although the reason wasn’t clear.
3. Practise breathing exercises
The stress of daily life can build up in your body, increasing the production of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline in your bloodstream. Although these hormones are healthy in normal levels, they can wreak havoc in your body when elevated. They raise your heart rate, constrict your blood vessels and cause a spike in blood pressure.
However, slow, meditative breathing exercises can help relieve stress and regulate the levels of stress hormones in your bloodstream. A 2018 study published in the International Journal of Science and Healthcare Research found that 3 or 5 15-minute sessions of slow breathing can lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure within eight weeks.
Breathing exercises will also help you reduce inflammation, relieve pain, boost energy levels, improve digestion, manage depression, and detoxify the body. There are various exercises and practices which encourage breathing exercises such as yoga, qigong, tai chi and so on.
However, you can also practise breathing exercises by yourself. You can start with the 4-7-8 breathing technique just before going to bed. It simply means that you breathe in through the nose for four seconds, hold the breath for a count of seven seconds, and then exhale forcefully through the mouth for eight seconds. Repeat these cycle four times.
4. Drink hibiscus tea
African herbal specialists have used hibiscus tea to treat high blood pressure since time immemorial. Drinking up to three cups of the ruby-coloured, lemony beverage daily has been shown to lower systolic blood pressure by seven points in six weeks -this is according to a research by Tufts University. The phytochemicals in hibiscus might be responsible for this health benefit.
A 7-point reduction in blood pressure might not seem much, but studies have shown that even small changes in blood pressure can, when maintained over time, can significantly reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack.
5. Don’t Work Too Hard
Are you a workaholic? To successfully lower your blood pressure without medication, you will have to delegate some of your work responsibilities. According to a study of more than 2,400 California residents, putting in more than 41 hours per week at the office raises your risk of hypertension by 17 per cent.
Putting in extra hours at work is not only stressful on both your body and mind, it also makes it harder to eat healthy and exercise – all of which might send you to an early grave. Although it might not always be possible to clock out early, try to manage your time a little better. Make time to hit the gym, prepare a healthy meal and relax with friends and family.
6. Listen to music
After a long day at work, what’s better than listening to calming tunes on the drive home? The right music will have a calming effect on both your body and mind. In an Italian research, 29 adults who were already on blood pressure medication were asked to listen to soothing classical, Celtic or Indian for 30 minutes daily while breathing slowly. When the researchers checked up on the subjects six months later, their blood pressure had dropped by an average of four points.
7. Reduce (but don’t stop) drinking
When you have high blood pressure, your doctor might warn you against drinking alcohol. But you don’t have to stop drinking altogether. According to research from Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, light to moderate drinking (one drink or less per day) is associated with lower risk of high blood pressure in women.
8. Go bananas
Potassium-rich foods, such as bananas, can also help in lowering your blood pressure. This is because potassium helps your kidneys excrete sodium, preventing harmful fluid build-up in your body. Other potassium-rich foods to include in your diet include potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, oranges, kidney beans, raisins and peas.
DO YOU HAVE HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE?
You are considered to have high blood pressure if your readings are consistently 140/90 or higher, over a number of weeks. High blood pressure affects an estimated 1.13 billion people worldwide. Approximately 1 in 4 men and 1 in 5 women suffer from hypertension. Of the people with hypertension, fewer than 1 in 5 have the problem under control.