Simple lifestyle changes can go a long way to lower blood pressure. When they don’t, blood pressure-lowering medications usually can.
1. Get moving - Regular physical activity is known to lower blood pressure. It also supports good heart health as we age and helps combat stress.
Too busy to exercise? Simply taking more steps every day can pay off. Consider buying a pedometer – a device that clips onto your belt that counts the number of steps you take – and try to walk more than 10,000 steps a day (that’s about four miles!). It sounds like a lot, but it’s easier than you might think. Build exercise into your daily routine. For example, park farther away from the store, take the stairs instead of the elevator, go for a brisk 10-minute walk during your lunch hour.
2. Focus on nutrition - What you choose to put into your body can affect the way it works, fights disease and stays healthy. It can also influence blood pressure levels. Try to eat a diet low in saturated fats and packed with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products.
3. Put down the salt shaker - Consuming lots of salt can boost your blood pressure readings, so try to cut it out of your diet. Limit your sodium intake to no more than 2,400mg a day (about the amount in a teaspoon); your doctor may advise even less depending on your blood pressure level. Most dietary salt comes from packaged and processed foods and eating out. When you cook, use spices and herbs for flavour instead of reaching for the salt shaker.
4. Watch your portions - You probably remember the familiar saying “your eyes are bigger than your stomach.” Not watching portion sizes is one way we can get into trouble – by eating too many calories and gradually packing on the pounds. Don’t fill your plate or eat more than you need to. If you eat meat, make sure it is no bigger than the size of a pack of cards.
5. Shed excess pounds - Losing just 10 pounds (if you need to) can make a big difference in your blood pressure readings. Trimming down has a host of other health benefits too. If you are very overweight or obese, try to lose two pounds a month over the next six months.
6. If you are prescribed medicine for high blood pressure, take it every day. Your medication won’t work unless you take it as directed. Always let your doctor know of any side effects you experience or if you can’t afford your medication. Never stop, skip or change the amount (dose) of medication without talking to your doctor first.
7. Check your blood pressure as often as your doctor recommends. If you don’t have a home blood pressure cuff, free blood pressure machines have started popping up in many local drug stores and even some grocery stores. Keep an eye out for one, roll up your sleeve and check your blood pressure numbers. Your blood pressure fluctuates, so you should check it on several different occasions.
8. Cut back on alcohol or don’t drink at all. Men should not consume more than two drinks a day; women should only have one. If you smoke, stop.
9. Breathe easy - High and prolonged levels of stress can up your blood pressure. It can also lead to depression and anxiety. Anything that can help you to relax – for example, meditation, yoga, stress management, pacing and setting limits – may help lower blood pressure.
10. Get enough sleep - Sleep deprivation can leave you zapped of energy. It can also affect your health. Your body is thought to regulate hormones – including stress hormones – and repair injuries to the body as you sleep. If you are having difficulty sleeping through the night, talk with your doctor about how to get more rest.