Is your blood pressure too high? High blood pressure—known as hypertension—is connected to dangerous health conditions such as blood clots, heart attack, and stroke. “Blood pressure management is 70% lifestyle and 30% medications,” says preventive cardiologist Luke Laffin, MD. “If you don’t make lifestyle changes, don’t bother taking blood pressure medications, because they won’t work effectively.” Here are five ways to prevent high blood pressure, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.
There’s a reason people say their blood pressure rises when they’re angry or upset—chronic stress can contribute to high blood pressure, while stress-management can help lower it. “If we’re in a stressful situation, the normal physiologic response is to increase blood pressure,” says Dr. Laffin. “Acute stress can increase your heart rate and rev up your sympathetic nervous system, which, in turn, raises your blood pressure. The body can handle acute changes in blood pressure pretty well. What we’re really worried about is chronically elevated blood pressure.”
Regular exercise is good for your heart—and your blood pressure. “Try getting in a 30-minute workout five or more days a week that raises your heart rate for the duration of the activity,” says clinical exercise physiologist Erik Van Iterson, PhD, MS. “Or try three, 10-minute workouts, five or more days a week.”
Cutting down on salt can help lower blood pressure, doctors say. The American Heart Association recommends salt intake should be no more than 2,300 mg a day, with 1,500 mg being the ideal amount. “Cutting your salt intake is probably the most important way to lower your blood pressure. Studies have shown that a low-sodium diet has the same effect as one and a half to two blood pressure medications,” says Dr. Laffin. “The difference in effect is only a drop of 2 to 3 mmHg. At minimum, we recommend lowering sodium intake by at least 1,000 mg per day. It takes about 10 to 14 days to adjust to a low-sodium diet; then some foods will begin to taste salty.”
Fasting can help lower blood pressure, but speak to your doctor before embarking on drastic dietary changes. “Four of the major risks for heart disease are high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes and weight, so there’s a secondary impact,” says cardiologist and endocrinologist Dennis Bruemmer, MD, PhD. “If we reduce those, we can reduce the risk of heart disease… whenever we prescribe certain diets, including a very low calorie diet and protein-sparing modified fast diet, these require medical supervision. We check blood tests monthly and prescribe potassium supplementation to prevent electrolyte imbalance from occurring.”
Getting the recommended amount of sleep (at least seven hours a night) can help lower blood pressure. “We are just beginning to understand how important sleep is,” says Dr. Laffin. “Getting six to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep a night can prevent high blood pressure and widely fluctuating blood pressure, which we now know is as dangerous as high blood pressure.”