High blood pressure, medically known as hypertension, is the most common of all the conditions of the circulatory system.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define blood pressure as the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries that carry blood from your heart to other parts of your body (1).
A normal blood pressure reading is less than 120/80 mm Hg. It is normal for blood pressure to rise and fall throughout the day, but when your blood pressure remains consistently high for a long duration, you suffer from high blood pressure.
Hypertension is defined in the Merck Manual as the sustained elevation of resting systolic blood pressure (≥ 130 mm Hg), diastolic blood pressure (≥ 80 mm Hg) or both (2).
According to the American Heart Association, about 77.9 million (1 out of every 3) adults in the United States have high blood pressure. It was listed as a primary or contributing cause of death in about 348,102 of the more than 2.4 million U.S. deaths in 2009 (3).
Worldwide, high blood pressure is estimated to cause 7.5 million deaths, about 12.8 percent of all deaths, according to World Health Organization (4).
It is important to keep your blood pressure level normal, as raised blood pressure is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease and an ischemic as well as hemorrhagic stroke, which ultimately leads to death.
High blood pressure is not usually something that you can feel or notice, and it can go undiagnosed as there are usually no symptoms. This is why this condition is known as a “silent killer”, and it’s important you get your blood pressure checked regularly.
If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe medication to lower your levels.
Along with taking medicine, there are many lifestyle tips that can help bring down your blood pressure.
Here are the top 10 ways to control high blood pressure.
1. Lose Extra Pounds
By keeping an eye on your waistline and losing some extra pounds, you can help keep your blood pressure within a normal range. In fact, weight and blood pressure go hand in hand.
Extra body weight puts more strain on your heart and arteries, causing your blood pressure to rise. Being overweight also causes disrupted breathing while you sleep, which in turn raises your blood pressure.
A 2004 study published in Sports Medicine reports that both exercise training and weight loss have been shown to decrease left ventricular mass and wall thickness, reduce arterial stiffness and improve endothelial function (5).
A study published in 2016 in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that weight loss of more than 5 percent significantly reduced workplace hypertension, while gaining weight increased its likelihood (6).
Further, a 2016 review of several studies published in the Cochrane Library reported that weight loss diets reduced blood pressure by an average of 3.2-4.5 mm Hg (7).
To lose weight, a healthy exercise regimen and a well-balanced diet can help a lot. If you are having difficulty losing weight, consult an expert.
2. Exercise Regularly
Regular physical activity – at least 30 minutes most days of the week – is a great strategy to lower your blood pressure.
When you exercise, your heart and breathing rates increase and your heart gets stronger and pumps with less effort. This puts less pressure on your arteries and lowers your blood pressure.
A study published in Blood Pressure in 2013 found that controlled aerobic exercise training reduces resting blood pressure in sedentary older adults (8).
Another 2013 study published in Current Hypertension Reports strongly supports a role for physical activity in the prevention of hypertension.
However, more conclusive evidence regarding the appropriate mode (aerobic, resistance or combined), intensity (HIT, CME or combined) and duration (accumulated bouts or continuous bouts) of physical activity for non-hypertensive individuals is still needed (9).
If you are new to exercise, start with 30 minutes of walking and gradually try other exercises. Some of the best types of exercise for lowering blood pressure include jogging, cycling, swimming or dancing. Strength training also can help reduce blood pressure.
3. Reduce Sodium Intake
Even a small reduction in the sodium, or salt, in your diet can help reduce your blood pressure.
A 2014 study published in Electrolytes & Blood Pressure shows that a reduction of dietary salt intake can decrease the number of deaths from hypertension, cardiovascular disease and strokes (10).
However, a 2016 study by McMaster University found that, contrary to popular thought, low-salt diets may not be beneficial for everyone and may actually increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and death compared to average salt consumption.
Still, experts suggest that people with hypertension who have high salt consumption will benefit by reducing sodium in their diet (11).
As a general rule, limit your sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day. To reduce sodium in your diet, consider these tips:
- Read the nutrition labels on foods and beverages, so you can make informed choices.
- Choose low-sodium alternatives of items you frequently buy.
- Eat fewer processed foods, which are typically high in sodium.
- Use herbs or spices instead of salt to add flavor to your food.
4. Practice Deep Breathing
Deep breathing can help control your blood pressure level. This popular relaxation technique also helps lower your stress level, a factor that contributes to high blood pressure.
A 2005 study published in Hypertension found that slow breathing improves arterial baroreflex sensitivity and reduces blood pressure (12).
Another 2005 study published in Hypertension Research suggests that blood pressure measurement should be done without deep breathing in the office because it lowers one’s blood pressure (13).
- Sit up straight in a comfortable manner.
- Place your hands on your chest and below your rib cage.
- Now, slowly inhale through your nose, so that you feel your stomach move up.
- Next, exhale slowly through your mouth by counting to 5, while keeping your abdominal muscles tight.
- Repeat 10 times, keeping your breathing regular and slow.
- Practice deep breathing for 10 minutes, 2 or 3 times a day.
You can also practice deep breathing while lying down.
5. Quit Smoking
Smoking is not good for your health. If you have not yet found a reason to stop smoking, your high blood pressure level could be it.
Each cigarette you smoke increases your blood pressure for many minutes after you finish.
In the long term, the harmful chemicals in tobacco can increase your blood pressure by damaging your blood vessel walls and narrowing your arteries.
Even secondhand smoke is bad for your blood pressure. A 2012 study published in the Iran Journal of Pediatrics indicates that systolic and diastolic blood pressures are higher in elementary school children who are exposed to cigarette smoke compared to those who are not (14).
It’s time to take steps to quit smoking. Seek help from experts and support from family and friends.
6. Limit Alcohol Intake
Limit the amount of alcohol you drink if you want to manage your blood pressure.
Alcohol can be both good and bad for your health. In small amounts, it can potentially lower your blood pressure, but this protective effect is lost as soon as you cross the limit and start drinking in excess.
Excessive drinking can also reduce the effectiveness of blood pressure medications.
A 2006 study published in Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology & Physiology reports that regular consumption of alcohol elevates blood pressure, the global estimates that the risk for hypertensive disease from alcohol is 16 percent.
The study also says that blood pressure increases approximately 1 mm Hg for each 10 grams of alcohol consumed and is largely reversible within 2 to 4 weeks of abstinence or a substantial reduction in alcohol intake (15).
If you drink, do it in moderation. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, moderate drinking is up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men (16).
7. Reduce Stress
Like a poor diet and excessive alcohol consumption, stress is a known risk factor for high blood pressure. During stress, the body is in a constant fight-or-flight mode. This can give rise to a faster heart rate and constricted blood vessels, which in turn can lead to elevated blood pressure.
Additionally, people are more likely to drink alcohol or eat unhealthy food when under stress, which can negatively affect blood pressure.
A 1998 study published in WMJ reports that although stress may not directly cause hypertension, it can lead to repeated blood pressure elevations, which eventually may lead to hypertension (17).
Later, a 2004 study published in Circulation found that young adults who show a large blood pressure response to psychological stress may be at risk for hypertension as they approach midlife (18).
Again, a 2009 study published in Cadernos De Saude Publica found that individuals who had stronger responses to stressor tasks were 21 percent more likely to develop an increase in blood pressure as compared to those with less strong responses (19).
It is very important to control your stress level to keep your blood pressure level within the normal range. You can manage your stress by recognizing the triggers as well as your relaxation inducers.
Practicing deep breathing, taking a walk, talking to someone, watching a comedy and listening to relaxing music can help reduce stress.
8. Follow the DASH Diet
Following the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet can help a lot in keeping your blood pressure level under control. This diet focuses on whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products, and skimps on saturated fat and cholesterol.
A 2001 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the DASH diet with a low sodium level led to a mean systolic blood pressure that was 7.1 mm Hg lower in participants without hypertension and 11.5 mm Hg lower in participants with hypertension (20).
Another 2001 study published in Hypertension indicates that the DASH diet is an effective first-line therapy in stage 1 isolated systolic hypertension (21).
Also, the National Institutes of Health recommends the DASH diet for people suffering from hypertension (22).
While it is not easy to change eating habits all of a sudden, keep making an effort and soon you will get the results.
9. Have More Potassium and Magnesium
An adequate amount of potassium and magnesium in your diet can significantly help keep your blood pressure under control.
The mineral potassium helps your body get rid of sodium and eases pressure on your blood vessels.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Human Hypertension reports that increased potassium intake, on top of a relatively low-sodium diet, had a beneficial effect on blood pressure (23).
Some potassium-rich foods are leafy greens, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, melons, bananas, avocados, oranges, apricots, milk, yogurt, tuna, salmon, nuts, seeds and beans.
Magnesium is an important mineral that helps blood vessels relax. A diet low in magnesium may lead to high blood pressure.
A 1999 study published in Hypertension reports that a magnesium deficiency is linked to an elevation in blood pressure (24).
Some magnesium-rich foods are almonds, avocados, bananas, beans, pumpkin seeds, tofu, soy milk, cashews, potatoes (with the skin), yogurt, blackstrap molasses, whole grains and green leafy vegetables.
10. Take Garlic
Both fresh garlic and garlic extract can be used to lower blood pressure. Garlic helps relax blood vessels by stimulating the production of nitric oxide, which in turn lowers blood pressure, especially systolic blood pressure.
Garlic also helps improve blood circulation, lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease.
A 2008 study published in BMC Cardiovascular Disorders suggests that garlic preparations are superior to placebos in reducing blood pressure in individuals with hypertension (25).
Eat 2 or 3 raw garlic cloves daily on an empty stomach. If you want to take a garlic supplement, opt for time-released garlic powder tablets.
A 2009 study published in Hypertension Research found that time-released garlic powder tablets are more effective for the treatment of mild and moderate arterial hypertension than regular garlic supplements (26).
When it comes to taking a supplement, always consult your doctor first.
- If your doctor has prescribed medicine to lower your blood pressure, take it on time and in the prescribed dosage.
- Home monitoring of your blood pressure level can help you keep tabs on it and alert you and your doctor to potential health complications.
- Getting the right amount of sleep is important for your blood pressure. Aim to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep daily.
- If you suffer from sleep apnea or snoring, get treated. It can affect your sleep and thus your blood pressure level.
- Listening to soothing music for 30 minutes daily while breathing slowly can also help lower your blood pressure.
- Taking the supplement coenzyme Q10 can help reduce blood pressure. Ask your doctor before taking a supplement.
- Eat healthy high-protein foods like fish, eggs, beans, nuts, chickpeas and cheese.
- Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_bloodpressure.htm. Published June 16, 2016.
- Overview of Hypertension – Cardiovascular Disorders. Merck Manuals Professional Edition. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/cardiovascular-disorders/hypertension/overview-of-hypertension.
- Statistical Fact Sheet 2013 Update: High Blood Pressure. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@sop/@smd/documents/downloadable/ucm_319587.pdf.
- Raised blood pressure. World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/gho/ncd/risk_factors/blood_pressure_prevalence_text/en/. Published February 01, 2015.
- Effects of exercise, diet and weight loss on high blood pressure. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15107009.
- Evaluation of a Voluntary Work Site Weight Loss Program on Hypertension. Journal of occupational and environmental medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27930480. Published December 2016.
- Long-term effects of weight-reducing diets in people with hypertension. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26934541. Published March 02, 2016.
- Controlled aerobic exercise training reduces resting blood pressure in sedentary older adults. Blood pressure. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23550511/. Published December 2013.
- Physical Activity and the Prevention of Hypertension. Current hypertension reports. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3901083/. Published December 2013.
- Dietary Salt Intake and Hypertension. Electrolytes & Blood Pressure : E & BP. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4105387/. Published June 2014.
- Low-salt diets may not be beneficial for all, study suggests. ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160521071410.htm. Published May 21, 2016.
- Slow Breathing Improves Arterial Baroreflex Sensitivity and Decreases Blood Pressure in Essential Hypertension. Hypertension. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16129818. Published October 01, 2005.
- How does deep breathing affect office blood pressure and pulse rate? Hypertension research : official journal of the Japanese Society of Hypertension. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16231755. Published June 2005.
- Relationship between Blood Pressure and Passive Smoking in Elementary School Children. Iranian Journal of Pediatrics. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3564091/. Published September 2012.
- Alcohol is bad for blood pressure. Clinical and experimental pharmacology & physiology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16922819. Published September 2006.
- Drinking Levels Defined. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking.
- Stress and hypertension. WMJ : official publication of the State Medical Society of Wisconsin. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9894438. Published December 1998.
- Blood Pressure Reactivity to Psychological Stress Predicts Hypertension in the CARDIA Study. Circulation. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/110/1/74. Published July 06, 2004.
- Effect of psychological stress on blood pressure increase: a meta-analysis of cohort studies. Cadernos de saude publica. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19347197. Published April 2009.
- Effects on Blood Pressure of Reduced Dietary Sodium and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet | NEJM. New England Journal of Medicine. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM200101043440101.
- DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet Is Effective Treatment for Stage 1 Isolated Systolic Hypertension. Hypertension. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11509468. Published August 01, 2001.
- Your Guide to Lowering Blood Pressure. U.S. Department of Health And Human Services, National Institutes of Health. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/heart/hbp_low.pdf.
- Effects of sodium and potassium supplementation on blood pressure and arterial stiffness: a fully controlled dietary intervention study. Nature News. https://www.nature.com/articles/jhh20153. Published February 12, 2015.
- Effect of Magnesium Deficiency on Blood Pressure and Mechanical Properties of Rat Carotid Artery. Hypertension. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10334795.
- Effect of garlic on blood pressure: A systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Cardiovascular Disorders. https://bmccardiovascdisord.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2261-8-13. Published June 16, 2008.
- Time-released garlic powder tablets lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure in men with mild and moderate arterial hypertension. Hypertension research : official journal of the Japanese Society of Hypertension. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19390538. Published June 2009.