The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 47 percent of adults in the U.S. suffer from hypertension—more commonly known as high blood pressure—which is defined as readings of more than 130 over 80 (systolic over diastolic).
Although hypertension can be easy to ignore, it can also be a silent killer, leading to devastating strokes and heart attacks. Over time, hypertension can also contribute to the severity of other cardiopulmonary diseases.
There are a number of drugs available to treat hypertension. Unfortunately, many of those have substantial side effects that patients often find unpleasant if not life-disrupting. The good news is that there are many high-impact lifestyle changes you can make to lower your blood pressure and often eliminate the need for powerful drugs.
Simple Heart-Health Strategies
Although the changes that will affect long-term heart health can require a bit of discipline, they pay off in more ways than one. Any heart-healthy lifestyle will lower the risk of other diseases, including serious illnesses like cancer. Those changes will also make you feel and even look better, with more energy and increased mental clarity.
- Right-size weight. This is often the first point of attack in treating hypertension. Carrying unhealthy weight can boost blood pressure in a number of ways, including causing sleep disruptions. As a general rule of thumb, men are at high risk if their waist measurement is more than 40 inches, and women if their measurement is more than 35 inches. However, other factors, such as percentage of muscle to fat, play a role as well. In any case, basic dietary changes to lower caloric intake, front loading your diet with fruits, vegetables, and whole foods, and restricting sodium-dense convenience foods, simple carbs, and sugary processed foods will lead to steady weight loss and incremental improvements in blood pressure.
- Increase activity. Being more active and exercising more frequently for longer is one of the most powerful hypertension-fighting changes you can make. For the biggest impact, focus on aerobic activities like walking, bicycling, swimming, or fast-paced yoga classes. Not only will you improve heart health by increasing cardio exercise, any robust exercise program will likely lower your weight, amplifying the benefits.
- Dial back alcohol and salt. Restricting or eliminating alcohol consumption and being aware of how much sodium you’re taking in (including checking labels for surprising sources) can significantly lower blood pressure and improve overall health as well. Generally, limit yourself to two drinks a day for men and one for women—that includes red wine. Less is better.
- Meditation, biofeedback, and mindfulness. Stress may not necessarily play a key role in your case of hypertension, but it often exacerbates the condition. Taking time out to relax and calm your mind can lower blood pressure and will make you feel more contented. Controlled breathwork can achieve many of the same benefits, and goes naturally with meditation and mindfulness.
Although it’s true for everyone, if you suffer from hypertension it is critical that you avoid smoking. That also means giving up chewing tobacco or vaping nicotine. You should consult your cardiologist or primary caregiver before making any lifestyle changes in response to a hypertension diagnosis. You should also have your blood pressure checked every few months or, better still, use a home monitor to check your numbers more regularly.
Integrate the changes above into your everyday routine and you’ll find that you may not only avoid hypertension drugs, you will also feel better generally. For more information on hypertension, including coverage of new breakthroughs, regularly check the CDC’s “Facts About Hypertension” page.