By Libby Pellegrini MMS, PA-C
With the current storm of attention-grabbing news headlines, it’s easy to lose track of the biggest threats to your life as an American: heart disease and stroke. These two leading causes of death in the United States are highly connected to high blood pressure, a condition that, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), affects nearly half of adults in the United States.
The omnipresence of high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, can be intimidating. However, you are very much in control of this health parameter, and you can take a number of measures to avoid ever developing the condition.
Check out the following primer on six ways to lower your blood pressure without prescription medication.
Your circulatory system — the network that distributes blood from your heart to your peripheral organs and then siphons blood back to your heart — is one continuous web of blood vessels. Any excess body fat can put pressure on these vessels, making it harder for your heart to pump blood throughout the system and necessitating an increase in blood pressure. Imagine the corollary of inflating a balloon: by pinching the neck of the balloon as you are blowing in air, you narrow the free-flowing stream. This means you have to blow much harder to inflate the balloon than if you left the neck unpinched.
The good news about body weight and blood pressure is that research shows even modest weight loss, classified as less than 5 percent of body weight, can reduce systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) by 23 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) by 9 mmHg. This means that for a person who weighs 200 pounds, it would take less than a 10-pound weight loss to drop blood pressure from 150/90 to 127/81.
Cigarette smoking affects blood pressure by increasing the stiffness of the arteries and activating our sympathetic nervous systems (the fight-or-flight stress response). However, these effects are reversible, and research shows that smoking cessation can reduce blood pressure readings.
There’s other great news, too, when it comes to smoking and general cardiovascular risk: 15 years after you stop smoking, your risk of cardiovascular disease will be the same as that of someone who has never smoked.
Exercising undoubtedly spikes your blood pressure in the short term, but a workout can have a long-lasting positive effect on your baseline blood pressure. Many reviews have examined the impact of exercise on blood pressure. One study, in particular, found that aerobic exercise can lower blood pressure by 5–7 mmHg, and resistance training can lower blood pressure by 2–3 mmHg.
These effects may seem modest, but they rival the effects of prescription blood pressure medication and can still lower your risk of cardiovascular disease by 20 to 30 percent. Better yet, exercising one day a week has been found to be just as effective — or even more effective — than taking prescription medication when it comes to reducing your risk of dying of cardiovascular disease. Don’t delay: lace up those shoes and get going!
Sleep and blood pressure perform a delicate dance. Sleep challenges, such as not getting enough sleep, getting too much sleep, and having trouble falling asleep, have all been shown to drive up blood pressure.
There is a sweet spot, though: research has shown that people who get seven hours of nightly sleep have the lowest risk when it comes to sleep’s effect on blood pressure. Getting less than five hours seems to have the most negative impact. If you are struggling to sleep well at night, make sure to seek help with troubleshooting your shuteye.
Your daily food choices can greatly impact your risk of ever developing hypertension. Experts have honed in on certain foods and dietary regimens that are associated with lower blood pressure.
The DASH, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, plan is one of the easiest and most effective tools at your disposal when it comes to nonpharmaceutical ways to control blood pressure. It is easy to stick with and features the following fundamentals:
- Freely eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Freely eat fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and oils
- Avoid saturated fat, fatty meats, high-fat dairy products, and sugar-sweetened drinks and treats
It can be intimidating to make changes to your grocery list, but ScriptSave® WellRx has you covered with our handy Grocery Guidance. This app combines nutritional science with personalized AI to help you figure out which grocery products are the very best for your lifestyle.
Channeling your inner aura may not only improve your outlook, it may also help reduce your blood pressure. In fact, a recent meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials that was published in the journal Hypertension found that deliberate meditation can meaningfully reduce blood pressure readings. Nontranscendental meditation (i.e., mindfulness meditation) was found to be more effective than transcendental meditation, but both appeared to have a positive impact.
Without a doubt, hypertension is a silent disease whose long-term consequences can be devastating. Luckily, you have control in the fight against high blood pressure, even without prescription medication, and you can get started on the above tips today.
Libby Pellegrini is a nationally certified physician assistant. She currently works in emergency medicine where she sees and treats a broad spectrum of illnesses across all age ranges. She holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University.