11 Tips to Help Lower Blood Pressure — Without Medication
Heartmail Spring 2018
APRIL 12, 2018
Lifestyle Changes Can Help Keep Blood Pressure Down
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Since last fall, when the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology lowered the definition of high blood pressure from 140/90 mm/Hg to 130/80 mm/Hg, more people than ever are now diagnosed with hypertension.
We asked clinicians from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s CardioVascular Institute how they advise their patients to keep blood pressure under control. While medication is the right solution for some people, the good news is that lifestyle changes can help reduce — and in some cases replace — the amount of medication needed. It’s a good place to start.
1. Lose 10 Pounds
Weight loss can help decrease the number or doses of medications that are needed to control high blood pressure. Sometimes, a 10-pound weight loss can allow us to remove a blood pressure medication entirely. This can be a great motivating factor, since most patients are very excited to simplify their medication regimen and avoid side effects.
Aarti Asnani, MD, Associate Director, Cardio-Oncology
2. Keep a Food Diary
Eating a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products (such as the DASH diet) while cutting back on foods that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol can significantly lower your blood pressure. One way to stick to a healthy diet is to write down everything you eat. Keeping a diary for even just a week can make people aware of their true eating habits.
Anne-Marie Anagnostopoulos, MD, FACC, General Cardiology
3. Exercise: Every Bit Helps
Regular exercise can lower systolic blood pressure (the top number) by an average of five to seven points, which is comparable to many first-line medications. While patients should aim for 30 minutes of exercise daily, the most important thing to know is that every single step really does count.
Mark Benson, MD, PhD, Director, Cardiovascular Prevention
4. Monitor Blood Pressure at Home
Patients may be rushed and anxious when they’re in the doctor’s office, resulting in higher-than-normal blood pressure readings. Home monitors let patients measure and record blood pressure throughout the day for greater accuracy. Patients can keep a log of their numbers and bring the log and the monitor to their doctor’s appointment to check for accuracy.
Brett Carroll, MD, Director, Vascular Medicine
5. Learn to Read Food Labels & Check Serving Sizes
Diet is important for keeping blood pressure under control. Because nutrition labels can be misleading, I often remind patients to carefully check the serving sizes. It’s very common for a food package to contain more than one serving, which can add up to a lot more sugar, salt and calories than you might expect.
Larissa Engleman, NP, Cardiovascular Medicine
6. Be Aware of Additional Risk Factors
Poor control of other risk factors, such as obesity or diabetes, can make it more difficult to keep blood pressure under control. Regular check-ups can help patients and their doctors to manage overall cardiovascular health.
Andy Lee, MD, Vascular Surgery
7. Reduce Stress
Stress hormones constrict blood vessels and may lead to temporary spikes in blood pressure. Furthermore, stress can lead to unhealthy habits, such as overeating or poor sleep, which can also increase blood pressure. Daily meditation, deep breathing sessions and regular exercise can help control stress.
Shweta Motiwala, MD, Advanced Heart Failure Program
8. Quit Smoking
The bad news is that every cigarette a person smokes has an immediate effect in increasing blood pressure. But the good news is that quitting helps blood pressure return to normal, regardless of a person’s age or smoking history.
Ian McCormick, MD, CVI at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Needham
9. Cut Back on Salt & Add Potassium
It’s well known that high sodium can increase blood pressure. To cut back, I recommend patients avoid adding extra salt to foods, avoid foods such as pretzels where there is visible salt, and cut back on prepared foods such as microwavable meals, canned soups and restaurant meals. High-potassium foods, such as bananas and sweet potatoes, can be substituted to offset the effects of sodium to help keep blood pressure down.
Jordan Strom, MD, General Cardiology
10. Don’t Overdo Alcohol
Three or more drinks in one sitting can temporarily increase blood pressure. Guidelines for moderate alcohol consumption are two drinks a day for men younger than 65, one drink a day for men age 65 and older and one drink a day for women of any age.
Hector Tamez, MD, Interventional Cardiology
11. Communicate with Your Doctor
Always be honest with your clinician about your health and lifestyle, and if you have been prescribed blood pressure medication, be sure to take it consistently. Aerobic exercise is a great way to control blood pressure — I'll also remind patients that they should always check with their doctor before starting a regular exercise program.
Jill Whelan, MD, CVI at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Plymouth