How to lower your blood pressure
Updated: January 2020
There are lots of ways to achieve lasting reductions in your blood pressure. Some may involve radical changes to your lifestyle; others may be relatively easy.
Exercise can reduce blood pressure
Even small changes in the amount of exercise you take can bring big changes in your blood pressure. That’s because it makes your heart stronger, so it takes less effort to pump the blood around your body, and there’s less outward pressure on the blood vessels. In fact,in some situations, taking up exercise can be just as effective as medication – and it also helps to reduce your weight, making you less vulnerable to hypertension.
Don’t lose heart if you don’t see immediate results – it can take up to three months for your new lifestyle to take effect on your blood pressure. And remember, you’re in this for the long haul: if your blood pressure is to remain at a permanently healthy level, then so must the amount of physical activity you engage in.
And don’t overdo the exercise, either. Start gently, perhaps by walking upstairs to your office instead of taking the lift or getting off the bus a few stops early. Discuss with your doctor if you have existing medical conditions, or you’re over 50, or you feel abnormal discomfort when you engage in more strenuous exercise.
Improve your diet
Less salt, sugar and alcohol. More fruit and vegetables.
Too much salt is bad for you. It’s the single biggest cause of high blood pressure because it contains sodium, too much of which can make your body retain water and thus increase your blood pressure.
The first step you should take is to stop using it in cooking and sprinkling it on food. You’ll be surprised how quickly your palate adapts: food doesn’t need salt in order to taste wonderful. And if you really can’t manage without it, try a low-sodium salt substitute.
That said, only 25 percent of your salt intake enters your body in this way. Most of it is contained in processed foods, sometimes where you’d least expect it, such as bread and breakfast cereals.
Cut down on sugar. Eating too much sugar makes you put on weight, which makes you more susceptible to high blood pressure. Sugary foods create a vicious circle by giving you a short-term energy rush, but are digested quickly, leaving you feeling listless and wanting more of the same.
Most of the sugar you consume is not the stuff you spoon into your morning cup of tea: it’s hidden, in the form of the high-fructose corn syrup contained in most processed foods.
Eat more fruit and vegetables. The good thing about these is that they contain potassium. This counteracts the effects of sodium and makes it easier for your kidneys to filter and excrete water from your bloodstream, thereby reducing your blood pressure. Fruit and veg also contain the vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibre your body needs in order to stay healthy.
Drink less alcohol. Stick to the recommended limits: 14 units a week for men and women. These are the quantities that medical experts believe pose no significant additional health risk – though there’s no safe limit, and even just one drink a day increases the risk of hypertension. The number of units is usually marked on the container.
Most drinking raises your blood pressure temporarily until your liver processes the alcohol out of your body. Persistent heavy drinking can cause more long-term problems by dilating your blood vessels so that your blood pressure increases. It also raises the level of lipids in your bloodstream, hardening your arteries and again increasing your blood pressure.
Alcoholic drinks contain lots of sugar, empty calories that make you pile on the pounds, and being overweight makes you more prone to hypertension.
Keep track on your blood pressure
Monitoring your own blood pressure is a great way to give yourself a psychological boost as you take exercise and control your diet. Many people find technology a big motivating factor, because it allows them to see long-term trends rather than living from day to day.
Connected blood pressure monitors
Bupa (2018). High blood pressure. Retrieved from www.bupa.co.uk/health-information/heart-blood-circulation/high-blood-pressure-hypertension
UK Chief Medical Officers (2016). UK Chief Medical Officers’ Low Risk Drinking Guidelines. Retrieved from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/545937/UK_CMOs__report.pdf