There are all kinds of medications for treating high blood pressure, but artificial methods aren’t the only way to keep hypertension levels healthier. These seven techniques have all proven effective to help lower blood pressure, and they’re easy to incorporate into everyday life.
1. Music and meditation.
Researchers at the University of Florence studied adults who were already on medication to try breathing slowly while listening to soothing music for half an hour each day. A week later, average systolic readings were already 3.2 points lower, and dropped by 4.4 points after a month.
Dr. Robert Schneider, who directs the Center for Natural Medicine and Prevention in Iowa, reports that around 600 studies over the past few decades have linked lower blood pressure to transcendental meditation, “a simple mind-body technique that allows you to gain a unique state of restful awareness or alertness." Sitting comfortably with your eyes closed and repeating a mantra, Schneider says, helps you achieve a state of balance that enables your body to repair itself.
2. Walk, don’t work.
When your body uses oxygen more efficiently, your heart has an easier time pumping blood. To improve your oxygen usage, try to work out vigorously for at least half an hour each day -- speed walking, swimming, Zumba, even the treadmill.
Finding that extra 30 minutes in a busy day can be tricky, but one source of extra time might be working fewer hours. In fact, a study by UC Irvine showed that if you spend more than 41 hours a week at your office, your risk of high blood pressure rises by 15%.
However, the Mayo Clinic warns against being a “weekend warrior,” because “Those sudden bursts of activity could actually be risky.” A better method is to engage in moderate activity daily, for just ten minutes at a time.
3. Salt and smoke.
While a healthy level of salt is less than one teaspoon a day, the amount you sprinkle on food is responsible for only about 15% of your sodium intake. To keep sodium from affecting your blood pressure, Dr. Eva Obarzanek of the NHLBI (National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute) recommends avoiding processed foods and using other seasonings like herbs and lemon.
Apart from the other risks of smoking, nicotine can raise your blood pressure. It stays high for an hour after you finish one cigarette, and secondhand smoke has the same effect. But if giving up smoking seems impossible, take heart: you can always replace the cigarettes with -- yes -- liquor or chocolate.
4. Delicious decadence.
Chocolate lovers, rejoice. According to Prevention, one study found that people who ate dark chocolate every day showed an 18% decrease in blood pressure. Look for dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa, and enjoy half an ounce daily -- the flavanols will help increase elasticity in your blood vessels.
While you’re at it, drink a toast to the benefits of wine. A Boston Brigham and Women’s Hospital study discovered that 2-3 ounces of wine (for women, or 5 ounces for men) can actually lower hypertension...even more than avoiding alcohol altogether. While high levels of alcohol “are clearly detrimental,” Dr. Obarzanek says, “moderate alcohol is protective of the heart.”
5. Give yourself a break.
“When you’re under stress,” says Duke University professor Jim Lane, PhD, “your heart starts pumping a lot more blood, boosting blood pressure.” One of the best ways to relieve stress is with a massage. Regular massage therapy helps your body maintain a higher level of relaxation...which helps reduce stress, improve sleep and increase the endorphins that act as a natural mood booster.
Consider a hot stone massage, which allows your professional therapist to reach deeper layers of muscle. The soothing warmth of hot stones can actually help expand your blood vessels, encouraging better blood flow throughout your body.
6. Potatoes and potassium.
If sodium is the Big Bad, potassium is the Great Good. Potassium can help your body eliminate excess sodium, which is why the NHLBI recommends eating at least 3,500 mg every day.
Dr. Linda Van Horn, professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, lists honeydew melon, cantaloupe, orange juice, bananas and raisins as well as kidney beans, tomatoes, peas and potatoes as good sources of potassium. How about fighting high blood pressure with a bowl of chili, a baked potato and a fruit plate?
7. Tea and tai chi.
While debating over whether coffee affects hypertension, researchers generally agree that caffeine may present a risk. However, a Tufts University study of hibiscus tea showed that people who drank three cups daily actually lowered their blood pressure by as much as people taking prescription medicine. The phytochemicals in hibiscus resulted in blood pressure dropping an average of seven points in six weeks.
Tai chi, yoga and qi gong are known to benefit blood pressure, as well. They help reduce stress hormones, which are responsible for the kidney enzyme that increases hypertension. So a half hour of tai chi followed by a cup of hibiscus tea isn’t just a pleasant way to spend a morning -- it’s actually good for your health!
[Laurie Schnebly writes for the Mesa Massage Envy Spa, located off the 60 and Dobson. With a master’s in counseling and 11 years as a therapist, she focuses on issues that affect daily life for people who want to improve their overall health. Take some time to commit to a better balance of health and wellness by scheduling a facial or massage at one of the Phoenix Massage Envy area clinics.]