Most people are shocked when they’ve been diagnosed with Hypertension or High Blood Pressure because they have virtually no symptoms. For others, headaches, confusion, irregular heartbeat, chest pains, fatigue or vision changes land them in the doctor’s office to discover blood pressure at dangerous levels.
An alarming number of Americans suffer from high blood pressure. In 2017, nearly half the adults in the United States (45%) were diagnosed and prescribed medication to control its effects.(1) But there’s good news. Immediate lifestyle, diet and exercise modifications can not only get your blood pressure under control, but also reduce and sometimes eliminate the symptoms associated with it.
What is High Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure is simply the pressure of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. It’s when that pressure becomes elevated that we call it high blood pressure, or hypertension. Aside from the commonly known dangers of high blood pressure like heart attack and stroke, other damaging issues like aneurysms, dementia, kidney failure, and fluid buildup under the retina may present themselves. (2)
The Problem with Pills
Pharmaceutical companies have yet to deem beta-blockers or angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors 100% safe. The Journal of the American Medical Association openly admitted in their eighth Joint National Committee (JN-8) that, “Like other antihypertensives, ACEIs and ARBs are not 100% effective nor are they 100% safe.” (3) While these medications offer a quick fix to those struggling with the symptoms associated with hypertension – could they be covering an underlying issue? Besides the fact that the medication itself may not be effective, the use of ACE inhibitors has been linked to renal failure, (4) adding undue stress to possibly already affected kidneys.
The Three Keys to Lowering Blood Pressure
Making changes to our current lifestyle is never easy, especially if we are accustomed to doing things a certain way for years. I always tell my patients that “small changes make a big impact down the road,” so if you are someone who becomes easily overwhelmed with several steps in a process — focus on one step for an entire week and the following week, add another step. Long-lasting sustainable change can only happen with consistency and time (so patience helps!)
Sure, easier said than done. But we aren’t talking about big numbers here. According to the Mayo Clinic, “losing even a small amount of weight if you’re overweight or obese can help reduce your blood pressure. In general, you may reduce your blood pressure by about 1 millimeter of mercury (mm Hg) with every 2.2 pounds you lose.” (5) Did you know losing 2-3 pounds (and keeping it off) is truly as easy as staying hydrated? So much of the foods and drinks we like contain sugar and/or artificial sugar which seriously dehydrate our bodies. Drinking half your body weight in ounces of water daily will not only keep you hydrated but assist your body in the flushing out of toxins, necessary to sustainable weight-loss. My patients who see sustainable results cut out sugar, soda, alcohol and eating after 7pm.
- Regular exercise
Again, a little goes a long way and the key is to be consistent! So make sure you have a type of exercise in mind that you genuinely enjoy and will like doing several times/week. If its walking around your neighborhood, doing an exercise video, riding your stationary bike, etc., whatever you choose — commit to fifteen-twenty minutes/day. Studies show that in 15-20 minutes a day of light to moderate exercise, done five times a week, you can lower your blood pressure by about 5 to 8 mm Hg. For some, this may be the difference they need to avoid medication. Always remember to talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program and make sure it’s something you love doing–like running, cycling, swimming, or dancing.
- Eat a Healthy Diet
It is important to be mindful of what you put into your body on a daily basis. In my article “5 Foods to Start Eating Now if You Have Metabolic Disease”, I outline in detail five foods that are important to eat regularly if you are serious about healing from metabolic disease. But if you are trying to sustainably lower your blood pressure naturally, be sure to keep you diet rich in flavanoids. (6) Be sure to incorporate blueberries, apples, kale, almonds, dark chocolate (and even the occassional red wine!) to keep lower your blood pressure. However, without making any major adjustments, limiting caffeine, alcohol and sugar intake (and if a smoker, quit) will improve your blood pressure, if you do nothing else at all.