Q: How can I lower my blood pressure without taking medication?
A: Lifestyle modifications are the first line of treatment to lower blood pressure and decrease complications from hypertension.
Even if you’re already on medication for hypertension or prehypertension, you can benefit from simple changes in diet, exercise and daily choices.
But lifestyle modifications should be used in conjunction with medications, if your provider has already prescribed them.
Hypertension is defined as an elevated blood pressure on at least two separate readings; normal readings vary depending on your age and other health conditions.
In 2014, guidelines were established that recommend treating blood pressure in these circumstances:
- Blood pressure higher than 150/90 in patients 60 and older
- Blood pressure higher than 140/90 in patients younger than 60
- Blood pressure higher than 140/90 in patients with diabetes
Prehypertension is defined as blood pressure between 120/80 and 139/89. Your healthcare provider will help you set a reasonable goal for your blood pressure.
Hypertension is known as the “silent killer” because there are no symptoms. If it is left uncontrolled, it can cause kidney damage, atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease and vision loss.
Elevated blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and even sexual dysfunction.
Diet: To lower blood pressure, make these changes in your diet:
- Limit sodium (salt) intake to 1,500 mg daily (if you have prehypertension) and 2,300 mg daily to prevent hypertension.
- Limit alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women (one alcoholic drink = 12 ounces of beer, four ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits or one ounce of 100-proof spirits).
- Eat plenty of healthy vegetables and reduce the amount of red meat you consume.
- Limit processed foods and sodas, which can contain high amounts of sodium (check nutrition labels).
Weight control: Losing just 10 pounds can lower blood pressure. Aim for a normal BMI (body mass index) of 25 or less. Managing your weight starts with routine physical activity.
The American Heart Association recommends 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity three to four times per week. It can reduce your systolic blood pressure by four to nine points, on average.
Smoking cessation: The nicotine in cigarette smoke raises your blood pressure and heart rate, narrows and hardens arteries and makes your blood more likely to clot.
If you smoke, talk to your healthcare provider about quitting.
If you want to keep your heart healthy and reduce your blood pressure, you must make healthy choices a part of your daily routine.
Tracy Cobb, FNP-BC, is a board-certified family nurse practitioner who sees patients at Memorial Health University Physicians’ Legacy Center practice.