How to Reduce it Naturally
High blood pressure (hypertension) is not a disease in itself, but often causes disease by damaging blood vessels, the heart, and other body organs. Yet two-thirds of Americans have hypertension, and a fifty-five year-old Americans without hypertension has about a 90% chance of developing it. If your systolic blood pressure is 120-139 you are considered at risk for hypertension, and should take remedial action. If it's greater than 140 mmHg, you have hypertension and must take steps to remedy it. Similarly, a diastolic blood pressure of 80-90 places you at risk of hypertension, and a reading above 90 mmHg means you have hypertension. The following is a list of ways to reduce your blood pressure:
- Increase your level of physical activity:
Before beginning an exercise program, it is important to determine if you need a physician‘s clearance. Our Exercise Risk Questionnaire will help you determine whether you are ready to start exercising or whether you need a physician’s clearance to begin.
Exercise has the direct effect of curbing blood pressure and also aids in losing weight, which reduces blood pressure even further. If you are healthy enough to exercise, your goal should be at least 30 minutes of physical activity 5 or more days per week. The preferred exercises are those that are continuous like walking, running, rowing, swimming, and bicycling. However, you will still get benefit from discontinuous forms of exercise like gardening, housecleaning, home-repair, golfing, bowling, tennis, weight-lifting, and softball. The most important thing is to become more active.
Despite the importance of physical activity, it is not advisable to suddenly begin exercising 30 minutes a day if you have been very sedentary. Rather, you should gradually increase the duration and intensity of exercise at a rate that you can handle without excessive strain. Increasing the duration or intensity of exercise too rapidly can lead to problems like stress fractures, tendonitis, muscle tears, and even cardiovascular problems, which would obviously defeat the purpose of becoming more healthy. So be patient. Start exercising if you are healthy enough to do so, and allow yourself time to increase the duration and intensity of exercise as you become more fit. See our physical fitness program guidelines.
- If you carry excess body fat, lose it:
An increasing number of men worldwide have fallen into the overweight and obese categories, based on their body mass index. The fact that there is a steady stream of books and magazines articles on losing weight indicates that people really want to get their weight under control but no single method has provided a definitive answer. If there were a consistently effective and realistic method of losing weight, then it would be rapidly and widely adopted. The number of overweight and obese individuals would plummet, and the market for the vast range of existing weight-loss methods would dry up. Despite the fact that no single weight-loss method has proven effective across the board, the methods below have shown the greatest success:
- Increase your physical activity as described above See our physical fitness program guidelines.
- Take in fewer calories:
Many people have gravitated towards diets that emphasize what you eat instead of how much you eat. This is a big mistake as no “what you eat“ diet has proven effective in the long term. The Atkins (low-carb) diet has proven superior in the short term, but it has been difficult to stick with and, after several months, the net weight loss does not differ from other “what you eat“ diets. So it comes down to eating less. One scientifically-proven method of reducing caloric intake is to use portion-controlled servings including meal replacements to ensure that a daily or weekly caloric limit is not exceeded.
One can prepare portion-controlled meals at home, but it takes a degree of care and attention. To avoid exceeding the target portion sizes, it is best to directly serve a dieter all the food that is to be eaten in a meal rather than letting him take food from serving plates and bowls and dishes. A simple food scale can help in controlling portion sizes. For example, pasta comes in all shapes and sizes so a cup of one shape can have a much different caloric content than a cup of another shape. By weighing the pasta before or after cooking, a calorically-consistent amount can be served.
Many men or whoever cooks for them are not inclined to carefully measure food portions. If that’s the case, they’re better off winging it. A man intent on losing body fat should weight himself every morning right after getting up, which alone has been shown to reduce weight. If he sees a gradual weight loss, he knows he is eating the right amount to progress towards his goal. If not, it’s time to start cutting back on the amount of food he eats.
In addition to controlling the portion sizes of the meals you eat, between meal snacks must be controlled. It is best for most people not to eat any snacks at all and, if you have to eat them, to choose fresh fruits. The best way to avoid eating snack food is to not bring any into the house. Snack foods like pretzels and chips can pack on the calories fast. Caloric drinks can also be a major source of unwanted calories. Soda, beer, and fruit drinks contain a lot of calories with little nutritional value. Pure orange juice has value but should be limited to one glass per day. Milk is good because of its content of calcium, protein, and vitamin D, but is best taken in skim or 1% form because of the potential negative health effects of milk fat.
Eating food with relatively high volume but low calories has been shown to be somewhat helpful in losing weight. High-volume, low-calorie foods are usually high in water and fiber content but low in fats and carbohydrates. Low-sodium, non-creamy soups and salad vegetables with light dressing are good choices. If eaten before the main course, such foods can lessen one’s appetite and reduce consumption of the higher-calorie foods to follow.
Weight loss counseling, classes, and support groups have been shown effective in promoting weight loss. However, most people need long-term support to avoid regaining weight. Fortunately this needn’t be done in person, as there is evidence that support via telephone, e-mail, or internet also serves to maintain weight loss.
The experience of others can help in finding a weight-loss program suitable for you. The National Weight Control Registry compiles information on over 5,000 people who have lost large amounts of weight (average 66 pounds) and have been able to keep it off for an extended time (average 5.5 years). Some lost the weight rapidly and others gradually. About half lost weight on their own and half with the help of counselors, classes, or support groups. A great majority of the weight-losers modified their eating habits and increased their physical exercise, most often by walking. Most of the successful weight-losers eat breakfast every day, weigh themselves at least once a week, and watch less than 10 hours of television a week. They average about an hour of exercise a day. While most of them follow low-fat, low-calorie diets, fats such as olive oil and fish oil should be included in your diet because of their proven health benefits.
- Try the DASH diet: The term DASH comes from a study called “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.“ The study showed that, among the 450 study participants, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and non-fat or low-fat dairy products, but low in cholesterol, fat, red meat, and sweets was most effective in reducing blood pressure.
- Reduce your sodium intake: The National Institute of Medicine has set the adequate intake of sodium for adult males at 1,500 mg/day (slightly less for men over 50) with an upper limit of 2,300 mg/day. Most American men get far more sodium than they need, mostly in the form of sodium chloride, generally referred to as salt. Not everyone is sensitive to sodium, but anyone with higher than optimal blood pressure should try cutting back on sodium to see if that helps. Older people, blacks, and those with high blood pressure in the family are most likely to be sodium-sensitive.
An article in the New England Journal of Medicine (published online Jan 20, 2010) stated that reducing salt intake by 3,000 mg per day would reduce new incidents of coronary heart disease by 60,000-120,000 annually, stroke by 32,000-66,000, and heart attack by 54,000-99,000 and reduce all-cause deaths by 44,000-92,000. All categories of people (e.g. race, age, gender) would benefit. The advantages of sodium reduction would be similar to those of smoking curtailment, obesity reduction, and cholesterol control, and would save the U.S. $10-24 billion in health care costs annually.
While some of our sodium intake comes from the salt shaker, a great majority of it comes from processed foods, especially snack foods like pretzels and chips, canned soups and vegetables, and frozen dinners. Even breads contain a surprising amount of sodium. And, unfortunately, so many of us have gotten so used to high-sodium diets that we crave salty foods. Restaurants are great offenders as they salt their foods to whatever level they think will keep customers coming back. If you read the nutrition labels at fast-food restaurants, you will see that one meal can greatly exceed your recommended daily sodium limit. That does not mean that more upscale restaurants are any better, as they may serve high-sodium food as well. Home cooking is the safest alternative but, if you are inclined to eat out, it is best avoid fast-foods like burgers, pizza, and fries, or limit them to once a week. At waiter-served restaurants, choose foods light on sauces or dressings, and avoid soups.
- Reduce your stress level: Many people in difficult work or family situations may find this difficult to do. However, reducing stress can have a beneficial effect on blood pressure. The most obvious solution is to try to resolve problems at work or home. Try to figure out what you can do to diminish conflicts. If the opportunity exists for exchanging a stressful job for a less stressful one, consider doing so. See what you can do to improve family harmony and don‘t be afraid to compromise. Other means of reducing stress include physical exercise, sports participation, meditation, and relaxation techniques.
- Eat more potassium: To help control blood pressure, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends getting a minimum of 3,500 mg of potassium per day in the form of bananas, cantaloupe, spinach, or yogurt.
- Avoid excessive alcohol intake: No more than 2 alcoholic drinks per day are recommended for men.
- Avoid excessive caffeine intake: Five hundred mg of caffeine per day has been shown to raise blood pressure. An 8 oz cup of home-brewed coffee has about 100 mg of caffeine, but large coffees at Starbucks and other coffee shops can have double to triple that amount. So coffee intake should be limited to keep blood pressure under control.
- Eat adequate amounts of calcium and magnesium: Non-fat or 1%-fat dairy products are your best food sources of calcium. Magnesium is plentiful in fish, green vegetables, nuts, dairy products and whole grains.
- Keep warm: It is not widely recognized that the temperature at which we spend most of our time can affect our blood pressure. As detailed in our blog post, warmer ambient temperatures are associated with lower blood pressures, and the risk of hypertension increases the colder it gets. This effect increases as we age. While all of us cannot or don't wish to move to a warmer climate, it helps to keep warm by avoiding excessive air conditioning in the summer and keeping warm in the winter. If setting the thermostat higher in the winter is too costly or seems wasteful, one should at least dress warmly. Of course, exercise keeps the body warm as well.
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