While medication can lower blood pressure, it may cause side effects such as leg cramps, dizziness, and insomnia. Fortunately, most people can bring down their blood pressure naturally without medication. First, get to a healthy weight. Then try these strategies to reduce the risk of heart disease.
1. Go for power walks
Hypertensive patients who went for fitness walks at a brisk pace lowered pressure by almost 8 mmhg over 6 mmhg. Exercise helps the heart use oxygen more efficiently, so it doesn’t work as hard to pump blood. Get a vigorous cardio workout of at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. Try increasing speed or distance so you keep challenging your ticker.
2. Breathe deeply
Slow breathing and meditative practices such as qigong, yoga, and tai chi decrease stress hormones, which elevate renin, a kidney enzyme that raises blood pressure. Try 5 minutes in the morning and at night. Inhale deeply and expand your belly. Exhale and release all of your tension.
3. Pick potatoes
Loading up on potassium-rich fruits and vegetables is an important part of any blood pressure-lowering program, says Linda Van Horn, PhD, RD, professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medical. Aim for potassium levels of 2,000 to 4,000 mg a day, she says. Top sources of potassium-rich produce include sweet potatoes, tomatoes, orange juice, potatoes, bananas, kidney beans, peas, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, and dried fruits such as prunes and raisins.
4. Be salt smart
Certain groups of people—the elderly, African Americans, and those with a family history of high blood pressure—are more likely than others to have blood pressure that’s particularly salt (or sodium) sensitive. But because there’s no way to tell whether any one individual is sodium sensitive, everyone should lower his sodium intake, says Eva Obarzanek, PhD, a research nutritionist at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. How far? To 1,500 mg daily, about half the average American intake, she says. (Half a teaspoon of salt contains about 1,200 mg of sodium.) Cutting sodium means more than going easy on the saltshaker, which contributes just 15% of the sodium in the typical American diet. Watch for sodium in processed foods, Obarzanek warns. That’s where most of the sodium in your diet comes from, she says. Season foods with spices, herbs, lemon, and salt-free seasoning blends.