Posted: Feb 16, 2017 12:09 AM MST
Updated: Feb 16, 2017 12:09 AM MST
Researchers say more evidence suggests keeping your blood pressure below 120 to lower the risk of a heart attack or stroke. With February marking American Heart Month, here are eight simple ways to lower your blood pressure.
1. Medicate: For some people, being physically active and leading a healthy life isn't enough to get down to the 120 mark. These people, possibly because they are genetically predisposed to high blood pressure, may need to take more blood pressure medication. The most common, according to Dr. John D. Bisognano, professor of medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center, are the "ABCDs": ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and diuretics. Typically, patients who need more than one medication would take one from each of these classes.
2. Lose weight: Weight loss can lower blood pressure about as much as taking a single blood pressure medication. Research suggests that losing about 9 pounds could reduce systolic blood pressure by 4.5 points, and one study found that maintaining weight loss of about 7 pounds for a year could even bring it down by 11 points.
3. Exercise: Along with weight loss, exercise is probably the best way to lower blood pressure without the possible side effects of medication. It makes arteries more flexible and better able to dilate, which directly reduces systolic blood pressure. The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association recommend 2½ hours a week of medium intensity physical activity, such as jogging, swimming and dancing. One study found that 10 weeks of moderate exercise, such as walking and cycling, for an hour three times a week reduced systolic blood pressure in sedentary older adults by 5 points.
4. Don't binge drink: High blood pressure is another reason not to binge drink. Studies suggest that alcohol reduction interventions can reduce systolic blood pressure by about 4 points among people who consume between 30 and 60 drinks a week. The American Heart Association recommends that women stick to an average of one alcoholic drink a day and men to two.
5. Snack on chocolate: Not every tasty treat is bad for your blood pressure. Research suggests that people who ate more dark chocolate over a period of two to eight weeks had lower systolic blood pressure by about 2 points. Antioxidants in cocoa, called flavanols, may help dilate arteries.
6. Scale back the salt: One of the most important dietary changes some people can make to lower blood pressure is reducing salt intake. Many of us consume 9 to 12 grams of salt a day, but the American Heart Association recommendation is 3 or 4 grams. In one study, scaling back daily salt levels from 8 grams to 4 grams was associated with a drop of 6.7 points in systolic blood pressure.
7. Eat more fruits and vegetables: Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH, was developed by the National Institutes of Health and has been voted one of the best overall diets. The DASH diet is high in fruits, vegetables and fiber, and low in sodium. It may further reduce systolic blood pressure by about 3 points compared with a regular low-sodium diet, according to a trial of DASH. However, a drawback of the DASH diet is that it's high in carbohydrates. This can stimulate the appetite and make it harder for people to lose weight. If you are trying to lose weight and lower blood pressure, diets such as Zone and South Beach, which balance carbs with protein and fat, may be easier to stick with for six months or so.
8. Meditate: It may not come as a surprise that meditation practices that aim to improve focus and reduce anxiety may also lower your blood pressure. An analysis of studies of transcendental meditation using a short mantra found it could reduce systolic blood pressure by nearly 5 points more than those who did not meditate or used other relaxation techniques.