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High blood pressure affects millions of Americans, raising their risk for health conditions like heart disease, stroke and heart attack.
You can lower high blood pressure by getting better sleep, exercising and reducing stress.
Your doctor can help you find ways to lower your blood pressure and protect your heart health.
Nearly half of Americans over age 20 have high blood pressure, which is blood pressure above 120 / 80 mm Hg. No matter your age or current health, you can take steps to lower your blood pressure and protect your heart.
Why lowering your blood pressure is important
When your blood pressure is too high, your heart must work harder. Over time, it can make your heart weaker and less able to pump your blood efficiently.
Hypertension also puts stress on the walls of your blood vessels. The walls may become weak, stiff or narrowed. All of this stress on your heart and blood vessels increases your risk for heart attack, stroke, heart failure and kidney disease. Lowering your blood pressure could save your life.
How you can lower your blood pressure
You can start to control high blood pressure today with healthy lifestyle changes. Each of these changes can help relieve stress on your heart and blood vessels so they stay healthier longer.
1. Exercise your heart muscle
Remember, your heart is muscular. It squeezes and pumps blood continuously all day. Cardiovascular exercise gets your heart pumping faster and can help make your heart stronger.
The American Heart Association recommends that all adults get 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week. Moderate exercise means that you are breaking a sweat and moving enough that you can talk, but not sing. During vigorous activity, you cannot talk or sing.
Many different types of physical activity can improve your heart health, including:
- Fast moving sports like soccer, basketball, tennis or pickleball
- Step or water aerobics
Find an aerobic exercise you enjoy and can do regularly to help lower your blood pressure levels.
2. Avoid eating too much salt
Salt (or sodium) makes your body retain fluids. This extra fluid raises your blood pressure. You should try to eat less than 2300 mg of salt per day. You can reduce your salt intake by:
- Avoiding processed foods like cured meats, chips, crackers, frozen meals, prepackaged mixes or sauces, and pickled foods
- Cooking at home where you can control the salt
- Not adding table salt to your meals
- Reading food labels to look for low sodium foods
You can also focus on eating a healthy diet that includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and lean meats.
3. Drink less alcohol
One drink of alcohol, such as a glass of wine or one pint of beer, has little effect on your blood pressure. However, high alcohol consumption can increase your blood pressure long term.
It is not clear why alcohol raises blood pressure. It may affect your stress hormone levels, which in turn increases blood pressure. It may prevent your blood vessels from dilating and constricting properly, which is one way the body controls blood pressure.
Either way, it’s recommended that men limit alcoholic drinks to two a day and women to one a day to lower your risk of heart disease.
4. Take your blood pressure at home
When setting a health goal, you need to know where you’re starting and what your end goal is. By taking your blood pressure at home, you can learn what affects your blood pressure. Is your blood pressure lower after a good night of sleep? Is it lower after a long walk?
Remember, your blood pressure will change throughout the day. Taking your blood pressure reading at the same times each day helps you get a better sense of the progress you are making.
5. Manage your stress levels
Stress hormones like cortisol can raise your blood pressure and keep it elevated. Too much stress can be a risk factor for high blood pressure. To help lower your stress levels, take a good look at what is causing you stress. Is it work? Certain people? Your commute?
Try to find ways to lower your stress with techniques such as yoga, meditation or deep breathing. If you have a friend or family member who is stressing you out, set firm boundaries to protect your mental health. Exercise and good sleep also help lower stress levels.
6. Quit smoking
Smoking has numerous negative effects on your health, including raising your blood pressure. If you smoke, work with your doctor to find ways to quit, whether that’s medications, therapy or support groups. Finding strategies that work for you can help you successfully quit and protect your health.
7. Get higher quality sleep
People who have healthy, regular sleep have lower blood pressure, lower stress and lower weight. As an adult, you should get seven to nine hours of sleep per night for optimal health.
If you have trouble getting enough sleep, you may need to practice better sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene includes habits that promote sleep such as:
● Avoiding caffeine, sugar and alcohol before bed when they can impact sleep
● Creating a sleep routine you do each night
● Getting moderate exercise each day
● Going to sleep and waking up around the same time every day
● Keeping your bedroom dark, cool and quiet
● Removing screens that can distract you or expose you to blue light before bed
These habits help your brain recognize sleep is coming so you can get improved rest.
8. Ask your doctor for help
Your doctor’s goal is to work with you toward better health. They can give you individualized advice on lowering your blood pressure and help you set blood pressure goals. “Achieving a normal blood pressure through lifestyle modification or with medication is one of the single most important factors for a healthy heart, " says Dr. Kolski.
If needed, they can also prescribe blood pressure medication like beta-blockers or diuretics that bring your blood pressure down to healthy levels. Together, you can find a way to protect your heart health and lower your blood pressure long-term.
Dr. Brian Charles Kolski is a nationally recognized cardiologist providing patients at Providence with world class heart care services.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.
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