The guidelines on what “healthy” blood pressure is are all over the place. For decades, “normal” blood pressure was accepted as whatever your age was plus 100. So a twenty-year old was expected to have a BP no higher than 120/80. A forty-year old, 140/90. And if you were 60, a top number of 160 was considered perfectly acceptable. But medicine changes its mind more often than most of us change our socks, and today some doctors are trying to push blood pressure lower and lower.
Many consider a BP of 140 “high” and prescribe drugs no matter what your age. And a growing number want to “aggressively” treat anything higher than 120/80, often using three or more drugs in the effort. This is not a good thing. Not only is there no evidence showing that aggressive treatment like this lowers your risk for heart disease, the side effects from the drugs can be profound.
And here’s what no one is telling you: most people can lower their blood pressure quite effectively—without taking drugs. Because high blood pressure, like diabetes and heart disease, usually results from our crazy 21st century lifestyle. And with lifestyle-related “diseases,” the cure of course is to change your lifestyle. So here are 10 things that will help lower your blood pressure—naturally, without the toxic effects of pharmaceutical drugs.
Take a walk
It’s advice we hear in relation to nearly every chronic disease: exercise more. That makes many of us give up before we even start—we imagine sweaty, painful hours at the gym. Expensive memberships that put a hole in our budgets. Time we just don’t have. So we tell ourselves we’ll start tomorrow. Or next week. Or next month. But tomorrow never comes.
What no one is telling us is that you don’t have to hit the gym. All you have to do is go for a walk. A 30-minute walk every day can not only lower your blood pressure, it can cut your risk of heart disease. It can help lower your stress levels. Help you lose weight. There are a million reasons to go for a walk each day, and keeping your blood pressure in check is just one of them.
Get enough sleep
You probably already know that lack of sleep is bad for your brain. It makes you gain weight. It makes you more likely to develop diabetes. It raises your cholesterol and it even changes your DNA. So it shouldn’t be surprising that getting enough sleep is important to keeping your blood pressure within normal range. Most Americans get seven hours or less of sleep per night, which is far less than what our bodies actually need. Getting seven to nine hours—or seven to eight, if you’re over 65—can work wonders for your health, including your blood pressure.
Have a massage
Swedish massage—the gentle, relaxation-type massage you find in many spas—has long been known to have an effect on circulation and blood pressure. Although studies are thin on the ground because massage is still considered “alternative medicine,”, the evidence supports this idea. Research has shown that Swedish massage can indeed lower blood pressure and that the effect can last up to 3 days. And regular massage helps reduce your stress levels, another important tool for lowering your blood pressure.
Change the way you eat
The standard American diet is a sure-fire way to develop high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and all the other ills of the modern age. Ultra-processed and refined, the bulk of American food is high in sugar, carbs, calories and additives. What it’s missing is what your body really needs: nutrition.
Some of the very nutrients our bodies need to regulate blood pressure are lost in food processing. Switching from processed food to real, fresh, home-cooked meals provides many trace minerals missing from the average diet. And studies have found that simply switching to a low-carb diet can reduce blood pressure considerably.
Every few years a study showing that acupuncture is an effective high blood pressure treatment comes out. The study will make a small splash, then be promptly forgotten as Big Pharma pushes doctors to prescribe their potions instead. In fact, a 2001 study not only showed that acupuncture was an effective treatment, it even explained how and why it works. It recommended acupuncture as a standard treatment. So if your doctor is pushing you to take drugs, acupuncture might be a good alternative.
Cut your stress levels
Stress invokes the fight-or-flight response, raising your heart rate and your blood pressure. Chronic stress keeps your body in a constant state of preparation to run or fight, constricting blood vessels and keeping your blood pressure high. Practicing stress management can not only reduce your blood pressure, it can cut your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Have a drink—but not too many
Alcohol is one of those things where the dose makes the poison. A little alcohol can actually lower your blood pressure—significantly. Too much, however, can raise it. For women and for men over 65, one drink per day is the magic number. A single drink can reduce BP. For men under 65, 1-2 drinks is acceptable. Beyond that, the benefit is lost.
Watch your waist
Blood pressure tends to increase along with your weight, and if you carry the extra pounds around your waist the problem gets even bigger. Studies have shown that whatever your weight, losing just 10 pounds can lower your blood pressure. And there’s good news—all the suggestions above will also help you lose weight.
Add these foods to your diet
A study earlier this year found that eating a tablespoon per day of Grana Padano cheese—an Italian cheese similar to parmesan or romano—lowered blood pressure as effectively as conventional blood pressure medication, only with no side effects. Other foods that are helpful in reducing blood pressure are beets, which are high in nitrates; fatty fish such as salmon, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids; pomegranate juice, flaxseed, and hibiscus tea.
On top of its other health effects, smoking constricts blood vessels, which raises blood pressure. If you smoke, stop. Switching to an e-cig can be very helpful for smokers who’re trying to quit.
Blood pressure is a controversial subject right now, and no matter what you may be told, there’s no real consensus on what “healthy” blood pressure is or whether “prehypertension” should be treated.
High blood pressure, like type 2 diabetes, is a lifestyle disease. But drugs will always be Big Medicine’s first option—because no one makes money from exercising more and eating better. So if your doctor is pushing you to take high blood pressure drugs, try changing your lifestyle first. Your body—and your wallet—will thank you.