Lifestyle plays an important role in treating your high blood pressure. If you successfully control your blood pressure with a healthy lifestyle, you might avoid, delay or reduce the need for medication.
Here are 18 lifestyle changes you can make to lower your blood pressure and keep it down.
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1. Lose extra pounds and watch your waistline
Weight loss is one of the most effective lifestyle changes for controlling blood pressure. Losing even a small amount of weight if you’re overweight or obese can help reduce your blood pressure. In general, you may reduce your blood pressure by about 1 millimeter of mercury (mm Hg) with each kilogram (about 2.2 pounds) of weight you lose.
- Men are at risk if their waist measurement is greater than 40 inches (102 centimeters).
- Women are at risk if their waist measurement is greater than 35 inches (89 centimeters).
2. Exercise regularly
Regular physical activity — such as 150 minutes a week, or about 30 minutes most days of the week — can lower your blood pressure by about 5 to 8 mm Hg if you have high blood pressure. It’s important to be consistent because if you stop exercising, your blood pressure can rise again.
If you have elevated blood pressure, exercise can help you avoid developing hypertension. If you already have hypertension, regular physical activity can bring your blood pressure down to safer levels.
Some examples of aerobic exercise you may try to lower blood pressure include walking, jogging, cycling, swimming or dancing. You can also try high-intensity interval training, which involves alternating short bursts of intense activity with subsequent recovery periods of lighter activity. Strength training also can help reduce blood pressure. Aim to include strength training exercises at least two days a week. Talk to your doctor about developing an exercise program.
3. Eat a healthy diet
Eating a diet that is rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products and skimps on saturated fat and cholesterol can lower your blood pressure by up to 11 mm Hg if you have high blood pressure. This eating plan is known as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.
- Keep a food diary. Writing down what you eat, even for just a week, can shed surprising light on your true eating habits. Monitor what you eat, how much, when and why.
- Consider boosting potassium. Potassium can lessen the effects of sodium on blood pressure. The best source of potassium is food, such as fruits and vegetables, rather than supplements. Talk to your doctor about the potassium level that’s best for you.
- Be a smart shopper. Read food labels when you shop and stick to your healthy-eating plan when you’re dining out, too.
4. Reduce sodium in your diet
The effect of sodium intake on blood pressure varies among groups of people. In general, limit sodium to 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day or less. However, a lower sodium intake — 1,500 mg a day or less — is ideal for most adults.
To decrease sodium in your diet, consider these tips:
- Read food labels. If possible, choose low-sodium alternatives of the foods and beverages you normally buy.
- Eat fewer processed foods. Only a small amount of sodium occurs naturally in foods. Most sodium is added during processing.
- Don’t add salt. Just 1 level teaspoon of salt has 2,300 mg of sodium. Use herbs or spices to add flavor to your food.
- Ease into it. If you don’t feel you can drastically reduce the sodium in your diet suddenly, cut back gradually. Your palate will adjust over time.
5. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink
Alcohol can be both good and bad for your health. By drinking alcohol only in moderation — generally one drink a day for women, or two a day for men — you can potentially lower your blood pressure by about 4 mm Hg. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.
But that protective effect is lost if you drink too much alcohol.
6. Quit smoking
Each cigarette you smoke increases your blood pressure for many minutes after you finish. Stopping smoking helps your blood pressure return to normal. Quitting smoking can reduce your risk of heart disease and improve your overall health. People who quit smoking may live longer than people who never quit smoking.
7. Cut back on caffeine
The role caffeine plays in blood pressure is still debated. Caffeine can raise blood pressure up to 10 mm Hg in people who rarely consume it. But people who drink coffee regularly may experience little or no effect on their blood pressure.
To see if caffeine raises your blood pressure, check your pressure within 30 minutes of drinking a caffeinated beverage. If your blood pressure increases by 5 to 10 mm Hg, you may be sensitive to the blood pressure raising effects of caffeine. Talk to your doctor about the effects of caffeine on your blood pressure.
8. Reduce your stress
Chronic stress may contribute to high blood pressure. More research is needed to determine the effects of chronic stress on blood pressure. Occasional stress also can contribute to high blood pressure if you react to stress by eating unhealthy food, drinking alcohol or smoking.
If you can’t eliminate all of your stressors, you can at least cope with them in a healthier way. Try to:
- Change your expectations. For example, plan your day and focus on your priorities. Avoid trying to do too much and learn to say no. Understand there are some things you can’t change or control, but you can focus on how you react to them.
- Focus on issues you can control and make plans to solve them. If you are having an issue at work, try talking to your manager. If you are having a conflict with your kids or spouse, take steps to resolve it.
- Avoid stress triggers. Try to avoid triggers when you can. For example, if rush-hour traffic on the way to work causes stress, try leaving earlier in the morning, or take public transportation. Avoid people who cause you stress if possible.
- Make time to relax and to do activities you enjoy. Take time each day to sit quietly and breathe deeply. Make time for enjoyable activities or hobbies in your schedule, such as taking a walk, cooking or volunteering.
- Practice gratitude. Expressing gratitude to others can help reduce your stress.
9. Monitor your blood pressure at home and see your doctor regularly
Home monitoring can help you keep tabs on your blood pressure, make certain your lifestyle changes are working, and alert you and your doctor to potential health complications. Blood pressure monitors are available widely and without a prescription. Talk to your doctor about home monitoring before you get started.
Regular visits with your doctor are also key to controlling your blood pressure. If your blood pressure is well-controlled, check with your doctor about how often you need to check it. Your doctor may suggest checking it daily or less often. If you’re making any changes in your medications or other treatments, your doctor may recommend you check your blood pressure starting two weeks after treatment changes and a week before your next appointment.
10. Get support
Supportive family and friends can help improve your health. They may encourage you to take care of yourself, drive you to the doctor’s office or embark on an exercise program with you to keep your blood pressure low.
If you find you need support beyond your family and friends, consider joining a support group. This may put you in touch with people who can give you an emotional or morale boost and who can offer practical tips to cope with your condition.(1)
11. Go for power walks.
Hypertensive patients who went for fitness walks at a brisk pace lowered pressure by almost 8 mmHg over 6 mmHg, found the study. Exercise helps the heart use oxygen more efficiently, so it doesn’t work as hard to pump blood.
12. Breathe deeply.
Slow breathing and meditative practices such as qigong, yoga, and tai chi decrease stress hormones, which elevate renin, a kidney enzyme that raises blood pressure. Try 5 minutes in the morning and at night for low blood pressure. Inhale deeply and expand your belly. Exhale and release all of your tension.(2)
13. Pick potatoes.
Loading up on potassium-rich fruits and vegetables is an important part of any blood pressure-lowering program, says Linda Van Horn, PhD, RD, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Aim for 2,000 to 4,000 mg of potassium a day, she says.
Top sources of potassium-rich produce to achieve low blood pressure include sweet potatoes, tomatoes, orange juice, potatoes, bananas, kidney beans, peas, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, and dried fruits such as prunes and raisins.
14. Be salt smart.
Certain groups of people — the elderly, African Americans, and those with a family history of high blood pressure — are more likely than others to have blood pressure that’s particularly salt (or sodium) sensitive. But because there’s no way to tell whether any one individual is sodium sensitive, everyone should lower sodium intake, says Eva Obarzanek, PhD, a research nutritionist at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. How far? To 1,500 mg daily if you want low blood pressure. That’s about half the average American intake, she says. (Half a teaspoon of salt contains about 1,200 mg of sodium.)
Cutting sodium means more than going easy on the saltshaker, which contributes just 15% of the sodium in the typical American diet. (For more ways to reduce your sodium, see 6 simple ways to lower your salt intake.) Watch for sodium in processed foods, Obarzanek warns. That’s where most of the sodium in your diet comes from, she says. Season foods with spices, herbs, lemon, and salt-free seasoning blends.
15. Indulge in dark chocolate.
Dark chocolate varieties contain flavanols that make blood vessels more elastic and increase the chances of low blood pressure. In one study, 18% of patients who ate it every day saw blood pressure decrease. Have half an ounce daily, and make sure it contains at least 70% cocoa.
16. Take a supplement.
In a review of 12 studies, researchers found that coenzyme Q10 reduced blood pressure by up to 17 mmHg over 10 mmHg.
17. Drink (a little) alcohol.
According to a review of 15 studies, the less you drink, the lower your blood pressure will drop — to a point. A study of women at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, for example, found that light drinking (defined as one-quarter to one-half a drink per day for a woman) may actually reduce blood pressure more than no drinks per day.
One “drink” is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of spirits to achieve the goal of low blood pressure. Other studies have also found that moderate drinking — up to one drink a day for a woman, two for a man — can lower risks of heart disease. “High levels of alcohol are clearly detrimental,” says Obarzanek. “But moderate alcohol is protective of the heart. If you are going to drink, drink moderately.”
18. Switch to decaf coffee.
Scientists have long debated the effects of caffeine on blood pressure. Some studies have shown no effect, but one from Duke University Medical Center found that caffeine consumption of 500 mg — roughly three 8-ounce cups of coffee — increased blood pressure by 4 mmHg, and that effect lasted until bedtime. For reference, 8 ounces of drip coffee contain 100 to 125 mg of caffeine; the same amount of tea, 50 mg; an equal quantity of cola, about 40 mg.
Caffeine can raise blood pressure by tightening blood vessels and by magnifying the effects of stress, says Jim Lane, PhD, an associate research professor at Duke and the lead author of the study. “When you’re under stress, your heart starts pumping a lot more blood, boosting blood pressure,” he says. “And caffeine exaggerates that effect.” If you drink a lot of joe, pour more decaf to protect your ticker with low blood pressure.