Lowering blood pressure is crucial for reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, which are the leading cause of death worldwide. Lifestyle changes can significantly impact blood pressure levels and improve overall health. Losing weight, following the DASH diet, exercising regularly, reducing salt and alcohol intake, increasing potassium and protein intake, quitting smoking, managing stress, and taking magnesium supplements are practical ways to lower blood pressure.
High blood pressure (hypertension) is known as a "silent killer"
It often presents without any symptoms but is the main factor leading to cardiovascular diseases (CVD).
CVD is the number 1 cause of death in the US and worldwide, a public health concern of devastating proportions.
Scientists consider hypertension the most important preventable risk factor for premature death, as it affects more than 50% of the global population.
Although the exact cause of hypertension in many cases is unclear, some factors increase the risk, many of which are preventable with lifestyle changes.
If you have hypertension, lifestyle factors can make a huge difference in your quality of life since high blood pressure is a chronic condition that requires lifetime medication therapy.
Lifestyle changes that can lower blood pressure
Your blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury or mmHg. The value describes the force your heart exerts on your arteries.
Your heart should exert less than 120 mmHg during a beat (systolic pressure) and less than 80 mmHg in between beats (diastolic pressure). That's why normal blood pressure is considered 120/80 mmHg.
If one or both of these values are continuously higher and don't return to normal after rest, you may be experiencing hypertension. If you suspect hypertension, visit a licensed medical doctor such as a cardiologist to diagnose you properly.
If left untreated, high blood pressure can damage the arterial walls, speed up the process of atherosclerosis and lead to the formation of thrombi that can cause a potentially fatal heart attack or stroke. The heart may also enlarge, a risk factor for heart failure and long-term disability.
However, you can take steps to lower your blood pressure and minimize the risk of such dreadful complications.
Many scientific studies have proved these modifiable factors to lower blood pressure. Scientists have estimated the exact amount of blood pressure reduction you may experience after making these changes and sticking with them long-term (1).
Here is a quick list:
- Losing weight if overweight or obese - 1 mmHg for every 1 kg of bodyweight reduction
- Following DASH diet (long-term) - 11 mmHg reduction
- Regular exercise - 90/150 mins per week - 4-8 mmHg reduction
- Reducing salt intake down to 3-5g per day - 5 mmHg reduction
- Potassium intake of 3.5-5g per day - 5 mmHg reduction
- Reducing alcohol intake if more than 2 drinks daily - 4 mmHg reduction
- Adequate protein intake - 2.5 mmHg reduction
Other lifestyle changes that you should consider for lowering your blood pressure include quitting smoking, avoiding caffeine and other stimulants, improving your sleep, and fighting stress.
Maintain a healthy body weight
According to the American Heart Association, weight loss is the single most effective nonpharmacological method for normalizing high blood pressure in individuals who are overweight (BMI > 25 kg/m2) or obese (BMI > 30 kg/m2) (2). You can calculate your BMI here.
Thus, if your BMI is above 25 kg/m2, losing weight may help you normalize your blood pressure. For every -1 kg reduction in body weight, you can expect a 1 mmHg reduction in your blood pressure levels.
For example, a meta-analysis that covered data from 4874 participants reported that an average of 5.1 kg (11.2 lbs) weight reduction lowered systolic blood pressure by −4.44 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by −3.57 mm Hg (3).
Exercise every week
Participating in regular exercise can help you lose weight, strengthen your heart, and help reduce your stress levels. The result is significantly lower blood pressure and risk of heart disease.
According to a meta-analysis of 93 trials, which included 5223 participants, any exercise effectively lowers blood pressure as long as it's done consistently over a sufficient period of time (more than 4 weeks) (4).
According to the American Heart Association, the exercise must last at least 30 minutes per session and at least 90 minutes per week.
Both aerobic (cardio) and resistance (using weights) training produced significant benefits in the range of 4-8 mmHg blood pressure reductions. Yet, the benefits were seen only in moderate and high-intensity exercise.
Therefore, you should consider participating in any sport you like, as long as it involves moderate to high-intensity physical activity. Doing a sport you enjoy will help you be more consistent with your efforts.
Stick to a healthy diet
One of the factors that influence your blood pressure levels is the electrolyte balance in your body and, more specifically, the balance between sodium and potassium.
Your diet has a significant impact on that balance since both are essential nutrients that you must take with food for your body to function correctly.
Unfortunately, most people consume 3 or more grams of sodium per day but too little potassium, which leads to water retention and high blood pressure in "sodium-sensitive" individuals.
Many foods, mainly processed ones, have added salt that enhances the product's taste, while potassium-rich foods are less palatable and thus consumed in smaller amounts.
The American Heart Association recommends consuming at least 3.5g of potassium by increasing your intake of potassium-rich foods.
Such foods are primarily fruits (fresh), vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and fish (5). Achieving the recommended intake is estimated to help reduce blood pressure by at least 5 mmHg.
Ideally, your potassium intake should be above 4.5g per day. Supplementation with potassium can be dangerous because your body can absorb the mineral very rapidly and can cause harmful, even potentially fatal, spikes in your serum potassium levels.
On the other hand, experts recommend limiting your sodium intake by at least a gram than you usually consume. This reduction can help lower your blood pressure levels by an additional 5 mmHg (6).
You can cut a third of your sodium intake just by avoiding:
- Deli meat sandwiches
- Burritos and tacos
- Savory Snacks (e.g., chips, crackers, popcorn)
- Pasta mixed dishes
The DASH diet is one of the most popular diets for blood pressure control. Its focus is on increasing your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables while reducing foods rich in sodium, such as highly processed foods.
DASH stands for a “dietary approach to stop hypertension”. Studies estimate that a successfully implemented DASH diet can lead to an 11 mmHg reduction in blood pressure levels on average (7).
Improving protein intake can help achieve an additional 2-3 mmHg reduction in blood pressure. Typically, you should consume at least 1g of protein per kilogram of body weight or up to 1.6g in athletes who aim to maximize muscle recovery.
Limit your alcohol intake or avoid it altogether if possible
According to researchers, reducing your alcohol intake down to "moderate consumption," which is two drinks a day for men or 1 drink a day for women, can lead to a 2-4 mmHg reduction in your blood pressure levels (11).
That is if your alcohol intake was higher than that in the first place. According to most experts, low to moderate alcohol consumption, such as wine rich in antioxidants, may even provide health benefits.
However, newer studies refute such recommendations and reveal that even small amounts of alcohol increase your risk for diseases such as cancer or dementia. At the same time, the health benefits are negligible, if any, even with moderate consumption (12, 13).
Alcohol is a proven carcinogen to humans and has been linked to oral, esophageal, stomach, colon, rectal, and liver cancer (14).
Quit smoking with the help of professionals
Tobacco smoking leads to a short-term increase in blood pressure. However, long-term smoking increases inflammation and oxidative stress levels in the body, contributing to atherosclerosis and hardened arteries.
This process increases peripheral resistance of blood vessels and thus results in high blood pressure.
Research reveals that even in non-smokers, passive smoking can lead to increased blood pressure compared to those not exposed to any (15).
Interestingly, most epidemiological studies report that smoking cessation after long-term tobacco use can increase rather than decrease blood pressure levels (16).
That is because quitting smoking often leads to overeating and weight gain, a significant cause of hypertension.
Quitting smoking is also crucial for improving respiratory health and reducing the risk of lung cancer. Therefore, seek professional help to quit smoking without replacing one bad habit with another.
Reduce your caffeine intake
Some individuals are more sensitive to caffeine than others. For example, people who tolerate caffeine well experience little to no changes in their blood pressure levels after long-term consumption (17).
Yet, caffeine also leads to tolerance, so people who have consumed coffee for years will tolerate its effects much better.
People with high sensitivity to caffeine may experience a short-term spike in blood pressure. If you already have high blood pressure and are not a regular coffee consumer, it may be best to avoid caffeine altogether.
Caffeine-containing drinks can lead to a short-term spike in blood pressure and worsen hypertension. Energy drinks can cause an even higher spike in blood pressure than coffee, so caffeine-sensitive individuals should definitely avoid them(18).
Find a way to manage and reduce stress
Stress is one of the most overlooked causes of high blood pressure. Yet, chronic and acute stress can have detrimental effects on your heart health, and high blood pressure is one of the mediators.
Therefore, finding a way to manage stress can be a life-saver for those with hypertension or another chronic heart disease. Practicing yoga is one of the most popular methods to relieve stress. Research has shown that yoga helps lower blood pressure by 4 mmHg on average (19).
Furthermore, relaxing activities you can do daily, such as listening to your favorite music, have also been shown to reduce systolic blood pressure (20).
Take a magnesium supplement
Magnesium can make a big difference in your efforts to lower blood pressure. Unlike potassium, supplementing magnesium is entirely safe (21). Any excess amount of magnesium is simply excreted by your kidneys.
The effect of magnesium is significant even in non-deficient individuals. Researchers report a 5 mmHg reduction in blood pressure from taking a magnesium supplement (22). In deficient individuals, the effects are even more remarkable - up to 20 mmHg reduction (23).
Keep in mind that some forms of magnesium, such as magnesium oxide, are poorly absorbed and can lead to gastrointestinal irritation such as nausea, cramping, and diarrhea.
Instead, look for more bioavailable options such as Magnesium Bisglycinate, which is well tolerated by the gastrointestinal tract and causes no such symptoms or side effects.
As you can see, there are numerous ways to make changes to improve your blood pressure and reduce the risks of serious illnesses. Lifestyle changes aren’t always easy, but the health benefits will pay off in the long run.
Note: This article is for informational purposes only and not intended for use as medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider before starting any dietary supplement.