High blood pressure is one of the most preventable conditions. But it plays a contributing role in more than 15% of deaths in the United States, according to a new Harvard study. Although it causes no symptoms, high blood pressure boosts the risks of leading killers such as heart attack and stroke, as well as aneurysms, cognitive decline, and kidney failure. 28% of Americans have high blood pressure and don't know it, according to the American Heart Association. If you haven't had yours checked in 2 years, see a doctor. 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.These tips are meant as helpful ideas and are gathered from many sources. Please consult your physician.
Go for power walks: Hypertensive patients who went for fitness walks at a brisk pace lowered pressure by almost 8 over 6 . 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.
Breathe deeply: Slow breathing and meditative practices 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.
Pick potatoes: Loading up on potassium-rich fruits and vegetables is an important part of any blood pressure-lowering program. 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.
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. How far? To 1,500 mg daily, about half the average American intake. (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. That's where most of the sodium in your diet comes from. Season foods with spices, herbs, lemon, and salt-free seasoning blends.
Indulge in dark chocolate: Dark chocolate varieties contain flavanols that make blood vessels more elastic. In one study, 18% of patients who ate it every day saw blood pressure decrease. Have 1/2 ounce daily (make sure it contains at least 70% cocoa).
Take a supplement: In a review of 12 studies, researchers found that coenzyme Q10 reduced blood pressure by up to 17 over 10. The antioxidant, required for energy production, dilates blood vessels. Ask your doctor about taking a 60 to 100 mg supplement up to 3 times a day.
Drink (a little) alcohol: According to a review of 15 studies, the less you drink, the lower your blood pressure will drop, to a point. A study of women at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, for example, found that light drinking (defined as one-quarter to one-half a drink per day for a woman) may actually reduce blood pressure more than no drinks per day. One "drink" is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of spirits. Other studies have also found that moderate drinking, up to one drink a day for a woman, two for a man, can lower risks of heart disease. High levels of alcohol are clearly detrimental, but moderate alcohol is protective of the heart. If you are going to drink, drink moderately.
Switch to decaf coffee: Scientists have long debated the effects of caffeine on blood pressure. Some studies have shown no effect, but one from Duke University Medical Center found that caffeine consumption of 500 mg, roughly three 8-ounce cups of coffee, increased blood pressure by 4 points, and that effect lasted until bedtime. For reference, 8 ounces of drip coffee contain 100 to 125 mg; the same amount of tea, 50 mg; an equal quantity of cola, about 40 mg. Caffeine can raise blood pressure by tightening blood vessels and by magnifying the effects of stress. When you're under stress, your heart starts pumping a lot more blood, boosting blood pressure, and caffeine exaggerates that effect. If you drink a lot of joe, pour more decaf to protect your ticker.
Take up tea: Lowering high blood pressure is as easy as one, two, tea: Study participants who sipped 3 cups of a hibiscus tea daily lowered systolic blood pressure by 7 points in 6 weeks on average, results on par with many prescription medications. Those who received a placebo drink improved their reading by only 1 point. The phytochemicals in hibiscus are probably responsible for the large reduction in high blood pressure. Many herbal teas contain hibiscus; look for blends that list it near the top of the chart of ingredients. This often indicates a higher concentration per serving.
Work (a bit) less: Putting in more than 41 hours per week at the office raises your risk of hypertension by 15%. Overtime makes it hard to exercise and eat healthy. It may be difficult to clock out super early in today's tough economic times, but try to leave at a decent hour, so you can go to the gym or cook a healthy meal, as often as possible. Set an end-of-day message on your computer as a reminder to turn it off and go home. Follow these tips to make your weekends stress-free.
Relax with music: Need to bring down your blood pressure a bit more than medication or lifestyle changes can do alone? The right tunes can help. 28 adults who were already taking hypertension pills were asked to listen to soothing classical, Celtic, or Indian music for 30 minutes daily while breathing slowly. After a week, the listeners had lowered their average systolic reading by 3.2 points; a month later, readings were down 4.4 points.
Seek help for snoring: It's time to heed your partner's complaints and get that snoring checked out. Loud, incessant snores are one of the main symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Many sleep apnea sufferers had high levels of aldosterone, a hormone that can boost blood pressure. In fact, it's estimated that half of all people with sleep apnea have high blood pressure. If you have sleep apnea, you may experience many brief, yet potentially life-threatening, interruptions in your breathing while you sleep. In addition to loud snoring, excessive daytime tiredness and early morning headaches are also good clues. If you have high blood pressure, ask your doctor if OSA could be behind it; treating sleep apnea may lower aldosterone levels and improve BP.
Jump for soy: A study found for the first time that replacing some of the refined carbohydrates in your diet with foods high in soy or milk protein, such as low-fat dairy, can bring down systolic blood pressure if you have hypertension or prehypertension.
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