High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke and it’s one of the leading causes of death. Most people with high blood pressure have no signs or symptoms, even if blood pressure readings reach dangerously high levels.
A few people with high blood pressure may have headaches, shortness of breath or nosebleeds, but these signs and symptoms aren’t specific and usually don’t occur until high blood pressure has reached a severe or life-threatening stage.
Changing your lifestyle can go a long way toward controlling high blood pressure. Your doctor may recommend you eat a healthy diet with less salt, exercise regularly, quit smoking and maintain a healthy weight.
Try these strategies to reduce the risk of heart disease:
1. Go for power walks
Exercise helps the heart use oxygen more efficiently so it doesn’t work as hard to pump blood. Get a vigorous cardio workout of at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. Try increasing speed or distance so you keep challenging your ticker.
2. Breathe deeply
Slow breathing and meditative practices such as qigong, yoga, and tai chi decrease stress hormones, which elevate renin, a kidney enzyme that raises blood pressure. Try 5 minutes in the morning and at night. Inhale deeply and expand your belly. Exhale and release all of your tension. (Try these stress-busting yoga poses to relieve tension.)
3. Choose potatoes
Loading up on potassium-rich fruits and vegetables is an important part of any blood pressure-lowering program. Aim for potassium levels of 2,000 to 4,000 mg a day. Top sources of potassium-rich produce include sweet potatoes, tomatoes, orange juice, potatoes, bananas, kidney beans, peas, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, and dried fruits such as prunes and raisins.
4. Be salt smart
Doctors are recommending everyone should lower his/her sodium intake to 1,500 mg daily, (Half a teaspoon of salt contains about 1,200 mg of sodium.) Cutting sodium means more than going easy on the saltshaker. Watch for sodium in processed foods, that’s where most of the sodium in your diet comes from. Season foods with spices, herbs, lemon, and salt-free seasoning blends.
5. Indulge in dark chocolate
Dark chocolate varieties contain flavanols that make blood vessels more elastic. Have ½ ounce daily (make sure it contains at least 70% cocoa).
6. Switch to decaf coffee
Scientists have long debated the effects of caffeine on blood pressure. Some studies have shown no effect, but one from Duke University Medical Center found that caffeine consumption of 500 mg—roughly three 8-ounce cups of coffee—increased blood pressure by 4 mmhg, and that effect lasted until bedtime. For reference, 8 ounces of drip coffee contain 100 to 125 mg; the same amount of tea, 50 mg; an equal quantity of cola, about 40 mg. Caffeine can raise blood pressure by tightening blood vessels and by magnifying the effects of stress. When you’re under stress, your heart starts pumping a lot more blood, boosting blood pressure. And caffeine exaggerates that effect.
7. Take up tea
Lowering high blood pressure is as easy as one, two, tea. According to a study from Tufts University, hibiscus tea seems to lower systolic blood pressure. Study participants who sipped 3 cups of a hibiscus tea daily lowered systolic blood pressure by 7 points in 6 weeks on average. Many herbal teas contain hibiscus; look for blends that list it near the top of the chart of ingredients—this often indicates a higher concentration per serving.
8. Work less
Putting in more than 41 hours per week at the office raises your risk of hypertension by 15%. Overtime makes it hard to exercise and eat healthy. Try to leave work at a decent hour—so you can go to the gym or cook a healthy meal—as often as possible.
9. Relax with music
Need to bring down your blood pressure a bit more than medication or lifestyle changes can do alone? The right tunes can help, according to researchers at the University of Florence in Italy. They asked 28 adults who were already taking hypertension pills to listen to soothing classical, Celtic, or Indian music for 30 minutes daily while breathing slowly. After a week, the listeners had lowered their average systolic reading by 3.2 points; a month later, readings were down 4.4 points.
10. Seek help for snoring
Loud, incessant snores are one of the main symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). University of Alabama researchers found that many sleep apnea sufferers also had high levels of aldosterone, a hormone that can boost blood pressure. In fact, it’s estimated that half of all people with sleep apnea have high blood pressure. If you have sleep apnea, you may experience many brief yet potentially life-threatening interruptions in your breathing while you sleep. In addition to loud snoring, excessive daytime tiredness and early morning headaches are also good clues. Treating sleep apnea may lower aldosterone levels and improve your blood pressure.
11. Jump for soy
A study from Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association found for the first time that replacing some of the refined carbohydrates in your diet with foods high in soy or milk protein, such as low-fat dairy, can bring down systolic blood pressure if you have hypertension or prehypertension.
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