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How to Lower Blood Pressure

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2015), approximately 70 million Americans, or 1 out of 3 adults, have high blood pressure. Although genetic background and other unchangeable factors can elevate your risk of high blood pressure, other risk factors are under your control. Changing your diet, getting enough sleep, and engaging in physical activity are good ways to lower your blood pressure and improve your cardiovascular risk.

Know Your Numbers: Understanding Blood Pressure Measurements

The first step in lowering your blood pressure is understanding your blood pressure reading. When you go to the doctor and get your blood pressure measured, there are two numbers to know. The top number is your systolic blood pressure, and the bottom number is your diastolic blood pressure. Normal blood pressure is a systolic pressure under 120 and a diastolic pressure under 80 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury, the unit of measurement for blood pressure) (American Health Association, 2014).

Prehypertension, the phase before your blood pressure is “officially” high, is a systolic blood pressure of 120 to 139 or a diastolic blood pressure of 80 to 89. By the time your blood pressure exceeds a systolic pressure of 140 or a diastolic pressure of 90, you have high blood pressure (also known as hypertension).

Factors that Contribute to High Blood Pressure

There are numerous factors that contribute to high blood pressure. Some of these can be changed by you, while others cannot be changed (such as your age). Unchangeable risk factors for high blood pressure include (Mayo Clinic, 2015):

  • Age. Your risk of high blood pressure naturally increases as you get older.
  • Race. Black people have a greater risk of high blood pressure than whites and should, therefore, take special efforts to lower their cardiovascular risk.
  • Family history. Genetic factors increase your risk of high blood pressure.

Ways to Lower Your Blood Pressure

Although you cannot change your age or your genes, other risk factors for hypertension are under your control. Making the following diet and lifestyle changes can help you lower your risk for high blood pressure:

  • Eat fewer saturated fats and more healthy fats. Not all fats are created equal. The major forms of fat include saturated, trans, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats. Saturated and trans fats are unhealthy fats that cause plaque to develop on your artery walls, restricting blood flow (American Heart Association, 2014). In contrast, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are “healthy” fats that promote efficient blood flow. Eating olive oil, nuts, seeds, fatty fish (e.g., salmon or mackerel), flaxseeds or avocados is a great way to get the healthy fats you need.
  • Improve your sodium-potassium balance. When you eat sodium-rich foods, your body tends to retain fluid. Having more overall fluid increases blood pressure and puts additional strain on your heart (Mayo Clinic, 2015). In contrast, getting enough potassium can balance the amount of sodium in your cells. Thus, you want to eat foods that are high in potassium, such as squash, leafy greens, yogurt, potatoes, and bananas, while reducing high-sodium foods such as processed meals, canned soups, added table salt, and cured meats.
  • Embrace interval training. Aerobic exercise is a great way to get your heart pumping and improve your cardiovascular efficiency. One of the best ways to reduce blood pressure is by engaging in interval training (Karp, 2014). Alternate between high-intensity exercise for one minute followed by low-intensity exercise for one minute, for a total of 20 to 30 minutes total.
  • Quit smoking. Tobacco changes the health of your artery walls, which can increase blood pressure.
  • Get enough sleep. People who are chronically sleep deprived have higher blood pressure (Sheps, 2015). Engage in a consistent bedtime routine and avoid caffeine after noon to help yourself get to sleep.
  • Get more vitamin D. Some scientific evidence suggests that getting too little vitamin D affects the activity of an enzyme in your kidneys that regulates blood pressure (Mayo Clinic, 2015). By increasing your vitamin D intake, the effects may result in a lower blood pressure. Sometimes known as the "sunshine vitamin," your body can produce vitamin D from sunlight. Alternatively, dairy products and non-dairy beverages (e.g., soy milk, almond milk) are often fortified with vitamin D to ensure you get enough.

Recipes to Support the Reduction of Blood Pressure

The recipes below were selected due to their low saturated fat content, their unsaturated fat content, and their healthy ratio of potassium to sodium. For more recipes that may help improve your blood pressure, check out our articles on the DASH diet and on dietary considerations for those with high blood pressure.

Protein Acai Bowl

Protein Acai Bowl Recipe

This delectable breakfast bowl offers a refreshing blend of fruits and superfoods to power you through your day without an excess of sodium or saturated fats; in fact, the bowl offers 25% of the Daily Value (DV) for potassium and a source of heart healthy fats to help support a healthy blood pressure.
Ingredients: Frozen strawberries, almond milk, whey protein powder, acai powder, banana, fresh fruit toppings

Almond Butter

Almond Butter Recipe

Almond butter is a scrumptious spread that can turn even the most mundane heart-healthy breads and crackers into a delectable heart-healthy treat! This butter offers a supply of healthy unsaturated fats without adding much sodium or saturated fat to your plate.
Ingredients: Almonds, coconut oil, maple syrup, salt
Total Time: 45 minutes | Yield: 2 cups

Buckwheat Salad

Buckwheat Salad Recipe

Another well-balanced plate to support your cardiovascular health and to maintain a desirable blood pressure, this superb salad offers a hearty plate that can be enjoyed as a lunch or dinner! Discover the delectable nature of buckwheat with this innovative dish!
Ingredients: Mixed greens, buckwheat, tomatoes, onion, raw pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, salt, black pepper.
Total Time: 15 minutes | Yield: 5 servings

Quinoa Stuffed Peppers {gluten-free}

Quinoa Stuffed Peppers Recipe {gluten-free}

A perfect heart-healthy dinner or hors d'oeuvre, these stuffed peppers are packed with flavor, while a sprinkle of feta cheese offers a full taste without a lot of saturated fat. The plate also contains more than 30% of the DV for potassium!
Ingredients: Quinoa, green bell peppers, canned lentils, fresh spinach, feta cheese, frozen corn (thawed), salt, black pepper.
Total Time: 40 minutes | Yield: 6 259-gram servings (8 half-peppers)

Snacks to Help Control Your Blood Pressure

Below is a small sample of snacks that can help you maintain a healthy blood pressure. You can find additional snack suggestions to support a healthy blood pressure on our heart health, cholesterol, and DASH diet pages.

References

American Heart Association (2014). Know your fats. Retrieved from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/PreventionTreatmentofHighCholesterol/Know-Your-Fats_UCM_305628_Article.jsp

American Heart Association (2014). Understanding blood pressure readings. Retrieved from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/AboutHighBloodPressure/Understanding-Blood-Pressure-Readings_UCM_301764_Article.jsp#.V0m-OfkrLIU

Cassidy, A., Mukamal, K. J., Liu, L., Franz, M., Eliassen, A. H., & Rimm, E. B. (2013, January 15). High anthocyanin intake is associated with a reduced risk of myocardial infarction in young and middle-aged women. Retrieved June 1, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3762447/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). High blood pressure facts. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/facts.htm

Karp, J.R. (2014). Interval training. Shape. Retrieved from http://www.shape.com/fitness/workouts/interval-training-short-workouts-really-pay

Mayo Clinic (2015). High blood pressure risk factors. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/basics/risk-factors/con-20019580

Sheps, S.G. (2015). Sleep deprivation: a cause of high blood pressure? Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/expert-answers/sleep-deprivation/faq-20057959

Vang O., Ahmad N., Baile C. A., Baur J. A., Brown K., Csiszar A., Das D. K., Delmas D., Gottfried C., Lin H., Ma Q., Mukhopadhyay P., Nalini N., Pezzuto J. M., Richard T., Shukla Y., Surh Y., Szekeres T., Szkudelski T., Walle T., Wu J. M. What is new for an old molecule? Systematic review and recommendations on the use of resveratrol. PLoS One. 2011;6(6):e19881.