Are you one of the approximately one in three American adults with high blood pressure? If so, here are some general guidelines on how to lower blood pressure.
Perhaps it's the stressful job you've had for years — or the stress of finding a job — that's caused your systolic (pressure while heart beats) and diastolic (pressure in between beats) to soar above "140 over 90" (mmHg), the standard benchmark for high blood pressure.
If you're diabetic or have kidney disease, the National Institutes of Health recommends maintaining a blood pressure under 130/80.
Besides stress, other factors can lead to high blood pressure, including:
- Race and ethnicity (African Americans are more susceptible to high blood pressure)
- Age (blood pressure tends to rise with age)
- Unhealthy lifestyle habits like smoking
High blood pressure itself usually has no symptoms, but if left untreated, it could potentially lead to coronary heart disease, kidney failure or stroke. There's a good reason high blood pressure, or hypertension as it's also known, is referred to as "the silent killer."
To lower blood pressure, you'll want to do the following:
- Eat a little dark chocolate
- Drink moderate amounts of alcohol (2 drinks maximum per day)
- Quit smoking
- Take potassium
- Manage stress
You had me at dark chocolate. Really, dark chocolate helps lower blood pressure?
The above list of ways to lower blood pressure is by no means in order of importance. Exercising, meditating and managing stress, and of course, cessation of unhealthy lifestyle choices are paramount to combating high blood pressure.
But, yes, dark chocolate has been clinically proven to help lower blood pressure. In a study published in BioMed Central, researchers compiled over 50 years of clinical trials that measured the effect of cocoa on blood pressure. The conclusion: dark chocolate was more effective in reducing blood pressure than the placebo, especially for those with hypertension or pre-hypertension.
You also had me at "drink alcohol." That lowers blood pressure as well?
A 2001 study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health studied the health of approximately 20,000 Spaniards and found that those who drank moderate amounts of any alcohol enjoyed better overall health. The Mayo Clinic reports that heavy drinkers who cut back to the recommended level of one to two drinks a day may be able to lower blood pressure by a few points. It's probably a good idea, however, to abstain from alcohol if alcoholism runs in your family, or if you are on medication. Ask your doctor if it's safe for you to consume alcohol in moderation.
I hate exercising. Even if I did like it, I don't have time to go to the gym. What should I do?
Exercising makes the heart muscle pump blood more efficiently. Improve your cardiovascular capacity and your heart won't have to work as hard pumping blood. You don't have to run a marathon or train for a triathlon to get your ticker in better shape. If you have to, wake up earlier or come home from work earlier or take a longer lunch break and take a brisk walk.
Walking at a decent pace most days of the week for 30 minutes will significantly improve your cardiovascular health. With your doctor's clearance, try walking up a steep flight of steps one to three times per day. (A good measure of a decent pace: you should be slightly winded while carrying on a conversation.)
Gentle yoga, tai chi and breathing classes all may help to lower blood pressure. You don't have to partake in extreme exercise to lower blood pressure. A University of New Mexico study concluded that although hypertensive individuals were once recommended by the medical establishment to avoid resistance training, moderate levels of it as well as aerobic exercise will reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Ok, I'll give exercise a try. How else can I lower my blood pressure?
Foods and supplements rich in potassium may help lower blood pressure, according to some clinical studies, including a small-scale study at Harvard Medical School. Eliminating or reducing caffeine intake can also help lower blood pressure. If you're on high blood pressure medication, don't quit cold turkey; talk to your doctor first or consult a Naturopath.
Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, California. His blood pressure is slightly elevated because of deadlines.