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Ways to Lower Your Blood Pressure
If you haven’t checked your blood pressure lately, you should do it now. Almost 30% of Americans have high blood pressure, also called hypertension, but don’t know it.
High blood pressure contributes to 15% of deaths in the US, mainly because it increases your risk of developing heart attacks, strokes and kidney dysfunction. While medication can be very helpful for managing hypertension, these drugs can cause many side effects, including sleeping problems, muscle cramps and dizziness.
Some simple lifestyle changes to reduce your blood pressure can help you to reduce the amount of medication you need, or even avoid it altogether.
1. Drop Excess Weight
The risk of developing high blood pressure increases as you age and as your weight increases. While you can’t change your age, you can aim to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Studies reveal that you can see improvement in your blood pressure levels by losing just 10 pounds.
Even better than checking the number on the scale is paying attention to your waistline measurement. To avoid or improve hypertension, the goal is to keep your waistline below 40 inches if you are a man, and under 35 inches if you are a woman.
Losing weight can also help you breathe better. If you have sleep apnea, which goes hand in hand with high blood pressure, dropping those extra pounds would also be beneficial.
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2. Embrace Healthy Foods
Focus on your diet to lose those extra pounds. Limit or eliminate processed foods, which are high in saturated fats, refined sugar, artificial additives and lots of empty calories. Adopt of healthy diet — the Mediterranean diet has been shown to improve both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. This diet includes plenty of fresh vegetables, some fruits, whole grains, healthy oils, beans, nuts and seeds. There is also a diet specifically designed to lower blood pressure called the DASH diet (DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension).
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3. Limit Your Salt Intake
Keep an eye on your salt intake. Just by cutting down on salt you can improve your blood pressure values by up to 8mmHg. If you follow the Mediterranean diet, you will learn how to replace salt with herbs and spices.
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4. Stay Hydrated
Drink plenty of water, as water alone can help you lose weight. A 2012 study found that people who consumed 2 cups of water before a meal for 12 weeks lost an average of 4.5lbs more than those who did not drink water before meals.
If you don’t like to drink plain water, add a slice of lemon or cucumber to add a nice taste. Coconut water is also a great choice, especially after a workout as it helps replace electrolytes and water lost while exercising.
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5. Get Moving
Exercise helps you to manage your weight, but even more importantly it plays a key role in cardiovascular health. The general recommendation is to work out for 30 minutes each day. Just by using this fitness plan you can lower your blood pressure by 4-9 mmHg, studies suggest.
If you want to avoid boredom, try a combination of exercises. For example you could do high intensity interval training (HIIT), which can be effective even if your workout is only 20 minutes, two or three times per week, and on alternate days do some strength training with weights. Work out with a friend and keep a fitness and diet journal to stay on track.
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6. Don’t Drink Too Much Coffee
Avoid excessive caffeine, as a cup of coffee raises your blood pressure as much as an extra 10mmHg within half an hour of drinking it. Caffeine is hidden in many energy drinks as well as tea and coffee.
There’s no need to skip you’re morning cup of coffee — in fact, there are some health benefits associated with moderate coffee consumption — but consider replacing your second, third and fourth cups with decaf or green tea.
If you need an energy boost you could also have a small piece of dark chocolate, which contains plant chemicals that help maintain the elasticity of blood vessels. Just make sure it’s at least 70% cocoa. One study showed that 18% of people who consumed dark chocolate experienced improvement in blood pressure readings.
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7. Cut Down on the Booze
Limit your alcohol consumption. If your blood pressure is well controlled, it is ok to have an occasional glass of red wine. In fact, in small amounts, alcohol has been shown to help reduce a blood pressure (by about 2–4 mmHg). However, if your blood pressure is poorly managed, or if you can’t drink in moderation — which is considered one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men — then you should completely eliminate alcohol from your diet.
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8. Quit Smoking
If you smoke, quit as soon as possible. Every time you have a cigarette your blood pressure goes up. The good news is that after quitting your blood pressure levels improve, and the risk of getting heart diseases or various cancers are dramatically decreased over the following years.
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9. Reduce Your Stress Levels
Stress is responsible for many health problems, including elevated blood pressure. Stress can make you gain weight, as the stress hormone cortisol plays a role in adding inches to your waistline. Furthermore, if you are stressed you are more likely to eat more, drink alcohol and smoke, which further increases your blood pressure.
Regular exercise can help you feel better physically but also emotionally. Physical activity relieves stress because it causes your brain to release feel good chemicals — dopamine, endorphins, serotonin, etc. — during your workout.
You could also try a few stress management techniques, like deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or tai chi, and keep up with at least one of them on a regular basis. You may also want to keep a journal to understand your stress triggers, so you can take action and avoid them.