High blood pressure, or hypertension, is called the “silent killer” for good reason. It often has no symptoms, but is a major risk for heart disease and stroke. And these diseases are among the leading causes of death in the United States (1Trusted Source).
About one in three U.S. adults has high blood pressure (2Trusted Source).
Your blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury, which is abbreviated as mm Hg. There are two numbers involved in the measurement:
- Systolic blood pressure. The top number represents the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats.
- Diastolic blood pressure. The bottom number represents the pressure in your blood vessels between beats, when your heart is resting.
Your blood pressure depends on how much blood your heart is pumping, and how much resistance there is to blood flow in your arteries. The narrower your arteries, the higher your blood pressure.
Blood pressure lower than 120/80 mm Hg is considered normal. Blood pressure that’s 130/80 mm Hg or more is considered high. If your numbers are above normal but under 130/80 mm Hg, you fall into the category of elevated blood pressure. This means that you’re at risk for developing high blood pressure (3).
The good news about elevated blood pressure is that lifestyle changes can significantly reduce your numbers and lower your risk — without requiring medications.
Here are 17 effective ways to lower your blood pressure levels:
In a 2013 study, sedentary older adults who participated in aerobic exercise training lowered their blood pressure by an average of 3.9 percent systolic and 4.5 percent diastolic (4). These results are as good as some blood pressure medications.
As you regularly increase your heart and breathing rates, over time your heart gets stronger and pumps with less effort. This puts less pressure on your arteries and lowers your blood pressure.
How much activity should you strive for? A 2013 report by the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Heart Association (AHA) advises moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity for 40-minute sessions, three to four times per week (5).
If finding 40 minutes at a time is a challenge, there may still be benefits when the time is divided into three or four 10- to 15-minute segments throughout the day (6).
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) makes similar recommendations (7).
But you don’t have to run marathons. Increasing your activity level can be as simple as:
- using the stairs
- walking instead of driving
- doing household chores
- going for a bike ride
- playing a team sport
Just do it regularly and work up to at least half an hour per day of moderate activity.
One example of moderate activity that can have big results is tai chi. A 2017 review on the effects of tai chi and high blood pressure shows an overall average of a 15.6 mm Hg drop in systolic blood pressure and a 10.7 mm Hg drop in diastolic blood pressure, compared to people who didn’t exercise at all (8Trusted Source).
A 2014 review on exercise and lowering blood pressure found that there are many combinations of exercise that can lower blood pressure. Aerobic exercise, resistance training, high-intensity interval training, short bouts of exercise throughout the day, or walking 10,000 steps a day may all lower blood pressure (9Trusted Source).
Ongoing studies continue to suggest that there are still benefits to even light physical activity, especially in older adults (10).
If you’re overweight, losing even 5 to 10 pounds can reduce your blood pressure. Plus, you’ll lower your risk for other medical problems.
A 2016 review of several studies reported that weight loss diets reduced blood pressure by an average of 3.2 mm Hg diastolic and 4.5 mm Hg systolic (11Trusted Source).https://0f9666eab89ebf0fdd1e40872e275958.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
A 2010 study compared a low-carb diet to a low-fat diet. The low-fat diet included a diet drug. Both diets produced weight loss, but the low-carb diet was much more effective in lowering blood pressure.
The low-carb diet lowered blood pressure by 4.5 mm Hg diastolic and 5.9 mm Hg systolic. The diet of low-fat plus the diet drug lowered blood pressure by only 0.4 mm Hg diastolic and 1.5 mm Hg systolic (12Trusted Source).
A 2012 analysis of low-carb diets and heart disease risk found that these diets lowered blood pressure by an average of 3.10 mm Hg diastolic and 4.81 mm Hg systolic (13).
Another side effect of a low-carb, low-sugar diet is that you feel fuller longer, because you’re consuming more protein and fat.
Potassium is a double winner: It lessens the effects of salt in your system, and also eases tension in your blood vessels. However, diets rich in potassium may be harmful to individuals with kidney disease, so talk to your doctor before increasing your potassium intake.
It’s easy to eat more potassium — so many foods are naturally high in potassium. Here are a few:
- low-fat dairy foods, such as milk and yogurt
- fruits, such as bananas, apricots, avocados, and oranges
- vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, potatoes, tomatoes, greens, and spinach
Note that individuals respond to salt differently. Some people are salt-sensitive, meaning that a higher salt intake increases their blood pressure. Others are salt-insensitive. They can have a high salt intake and excrete it in their urine without raising their blood pressure (15).
- low-sodium foods
- fruits and vegetables
- low-fat dairy
- whole grains
- fewer sweets and red meats
Most of the extra salt in your diet comes from processed foods and foods from restaurants, not your salt shaker at home (17Trusted Source). Popular high-salt items include deli meats, canned soup, pizza, chips, and other processed snacks.
Foods labeled “low-fat” are usually high in salt and sugar to compensate for the loss of fat. Fat is what gives food taste and makes you feel full.
Cutting down on — or even better, cutting out — processed food will help you eat less salt, less sugar, and fewer refined carbohydrates. All of this can result in lower blood pressure.
Make it a practice to check labels. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a sodium listing of 5 percent or less on a food label is considered low, while 20 percent or more is considered high (17Trusted Source).