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10 ways to lower your blood pressure without medication

Making changes to your lifestyle will help give you a healthy head start in life

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Aerobic exercises such as walking, jogging, cycling or swimming can sustain the reduction of blood pressure for up to 24 hours after the exercise session.

CAN you lower your blood pressure without taking medication? The answer is yes.

If you have abnormally elevated blood pressure (BP) or hypertension, you may want to consider non-pharmacological measures initially rather than commencing on drug therapy immediately. Here are 10 ways to lower your BP without taking medication.

1. Exercise

It has been shown that after a single session of moderate intensity aerobic exercise of a duration of 10 minutes or more, the BP can be reduced by 5 to 7 mmHg in people with high blood pressure. The good news is that this BP reduction can be sustained for up to 24 hours after the exercise session. This BP reduction is termed as post-exercise hypotension or PEH.

The exercise should preferably be 30 minutes a day or a total of 150 minutes or more of exercise per week. Evidence shows that PEH benefits occur more with aerobic exercises such as walking, jogging, cycling or swimming as compared to dynamic resistance training using weights or resistance machines. In terms of exercise intensity, it should be at least be the equivalent of brisk walking which would increase your heart rate and breathing but does not make you feel out of breath.

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2. Cut salt intake

There is strong evidence that reduction of salt or sodium intake will result in a reduction of blood pressure. For those with high BP, they should not take more than 2,400 mg of salt per day which is equivalent to about 1 teaspoon of table salt. If the salt intake can be further reduced to 1,500 mg per day, there can be as much as 7 mmHg reduction in the systolic blood pressure and 3 mmHg in the diastolic blood pressure. The reduction in salt intake not only decreases the blood pressure but it is also associated with reduction in cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.

3. Weight reduction

Studies in diverse populations have consistently shown a nearly linear relationship between body mass index and systolic and diastolic BP. Data from the long term US Framingham Heart Study estimated that about three-quarters of high BP in men and two-thirds of high BP in women can be ascribed to excess weight gain. The increased fat accumulation in the abdomen in obese individuals can result in an increase in the pressure within the abdomen to as high as 40 mm Hg. This not only results in compression on the kidney but also increases the pressure within the kidney and the kidney vessels. These changes have been associated with the development of high blood pressure and chronic kidney disease.

It has been shown that keeping your BMI below 25 kg/m2 is effective in preventing the development of high blood pressure. It is estimated that a weight reduction of about 10 kg can potentially reduce the systolic blood pressure by 5 to 20 mmHg.

4. Stop smoking

There is some controversy about the impact of smoking in blood pressure. Nevertheless, it is known that smoking causes various adverse cardiovascular problems and acts synergistically with high blood pressure to increase the risk of heart artery disease, heart attacks, sudden cardiac death, and stroke. Hence, for those with hypertension, smoking cessation is advocated.

5. Treat obstructive sleep apnoea

In recent years it has been shown that obstruction of the upper airway during sleep, a condition termed as obstructive sleep apnoea or OSA, may actually contribute to elevation in BP , poor control of hypertension and even hypertension that is resistant to drug therapy.

OSA leads to poor sleep quality and a sleep duration of less than or equal to five hours per night has been shown to significantly increase risk for hypertension in patients 60 years of age or younger. Treatment of OSA may improve the blood pressure control.

6. Eat potassium-rich foods

It has been shown that potassium can decrease both the systolic and diastolic BP possibly by causing the body to remove more salt in the urine and by relaxing the walls of the blood vessels. However excessive potassium supplements can be harmful and is generally not encouraged by doctors. Hence, instead of taking potassium supplements, the American Heart Association advises that eating potassium rich foods may help to manage the blood pressure. These foods may include dried apricots, spinach, tomatoes, avocados, mushrooms, prunes or a fat-free yoghurt or milk.

7. Eat magnesium-rich foods

Review of trials on magnesium supplementation concluded that consumption of 300 mg of magnesium a day can cause a modest reduction of diastolic BP but has no significant impact on the systolic BP. However, excessive consumption of magnesium from supplements may cause diarrhoea. There are currently no known adverse effects of magnesium intake from food. It is best to get magnesium from foods that include dark leafy green vegetables, nuts, unrefined grains and legumes.

8. Consume cocoa

An analysis of more than 30 studies on cocoa have shown that consumption of cocoa was associated with about 2 mm Hg lowering of both systolic and diastolic BP. Hence the consumption of dark chocolate or cocoa products can be beneficial and this benefit is mediated through chemical compounds in the cocoa products called flavanols and it is believed that the blood pressure lowering of these chemicals are related to their ability to widen the blood vessels through a chemical called nitrate oxide.

9. Take folate supplement

Studies have shown that the intake of folate, which is a type of Vitamin B, among patients with high blood pressure or hypertension may reduce the risk of stroke and aid in stroke prevention in patients with hypertension. Hence, for those with high blood pressure, consumption of folic acid may help to reduce the risk of stroke.

10. Reduce stress

While researchers are not certain about the relationship between stress and the development of hypertension, they are clear that stress can cause significant transient elevation of blood pressure. It is possible that long-term stress can result in frequent, temporary spikes in blood pressure that can damage the blood vessels, heart and kidneys. Stress management includes getting sufficient sleep, adopting relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga, widening your social circle by participating in support groups or classes, improving on time management, resolving stressful situations amicably, caring for yourself by doing the things you enjoy and asking for help when you need it.

These 10 ways to lower your blood pressure can make a difference to your life. Research has shown that a reduction in systolic blood pressure of 5 mmHg can reduce death from stroke by about 14 per cent, death from heart disease by 9 per cent and death from all causes by 7 per cent. Recent data show that lowering blood pressure to ideal targets reduced the risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and cardiovascular death by 25 per cent. So, if your blood pressure is high, these lifestyle measures can help you to lower your blood pressure and give you a healthy head start in life.

  • This series is produced on alternate Saturdays in collaboration with MWH Heart, Stroke & Cancer Centre

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