7 ways you didn’t know you could lower your blood pressure

    Young man checking his blood pressure
    Published: 24 May 2022

    One in three UK adults has high blood pressure. To mark Stroke Awareness Month, we share the clever hacks to help bring your numbers down and lower your blood pressure safely.

    Blood pressure – we hear it talked about a lot, but do you actually know what it is? Measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg), your blood pressure is the force that your heart uses to pump blood around your body. If it gets too high (140/90mmHg or above), the extra pressure on your artery walls can cause damage to your blood vessels and organs, leading to health complications. 

    ‘Having high blood pressure, or hypertension, increases the risk of developing several serious conditions such as cardiovascular disease and strokes,’ says Dr Roshane Mohidin, Vitality GP and Healthcare Pathways and Behavioural Change Manager. It can also cause cognitive decline, kidney failure and damage to your vision, as well as abdominal aortic aneurysm (where the body’s main blood vessel bulges or swells up).

    How can I monitor my blood pressure?

    Around one in three adults in the UK has high blood pressure, with an estimated 5 million undiagnosed. ‘Often there are no signs of high blood pressure as it does not usually cause obvious symptoms,’ says Dr Mohidin. ‘In severe cases, people with high blood pressure can experience blurred vision, chest pains and shortness of breath, while some think there’s a link with nosebleeds and headaches.’ See your GP if you notice any of these symptoms.

    As hypertension can go undetected, Dr Mohidin recommends checking your blood pressure, at your GP surgery, a pharmacy or your workplace health scheme, if they offer it. 

    ‘Some prefer to check their own blood pressure using a home monitor,’ says Dr Mohidin. ‘These can be particularly useful for those who have hypertension so they can monitor their blood pressure and ensure it is well-controlled.’ Some people also find an at-home electrocardiogram or ECG machine useful, which tracks your heart rate and rhythm – and might help you pick up complications due to hypertension, such as thickening of the heart muscle.

    Who is more at risk of high blood pressure?

    The risk of high blood pressure increases as you age, but certain groups of people may also have a higher risk. ‘There are certain behaviours which can increase the risk of having high blood pressure, such as having an unhealthy diet, being inactive, smoking and drinking alcohol in excess,’ says Dr Mohidin. When it comes to your weight, rather than relying solely on your body mass index (BMI), new guidelines encourage people to keep their waist measurement to less than half their height.  

    Other people who should keep an eye on their blood pressure include:

    • Those with certain conditions ‘There are a number of conditions where it is crucial to monitor your blood pressure, such as diabetes and kidney disease,’ says Dr Mohidin.
    • Those who are pregnant ‘Pregnant women should have their blood pressure checked on a regular basis to reduce the risk of developing pregnancy-induced hypertension,’ says Dr Mohidin.

    How to lower blood pressure

    Fortunately, it’s easy to manage your blood pressure. You probably already know a lot of the usual healthy lifestyle tips, such as stopping smoking, reducing salt intake and exercising, which can all help bring your numbers down. And if you’re on medication, you must take it as prescribed. 

    Once you’ve mastered the basics, here are some extra things you can do to help lower your blood pressure.

    1. Prioritise potassium

    As well as cutting your salt intake, which Dr Mohidin notes is important, increasing your intake of potassium can help lower blood pressure. This is because it lessens the effects of salt in your body. Potassium helps balance how much fluid is stored in your body; too much fluid can put added pressure on blood vessel walls.

    Topping up on this vital mineral is simple and aligns with eating a healthy diet. Many foods, such as bananas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, avocados and oranges, are high in potassium.

    2. Take a month off alcohol

    ‘Drinking alcohol in excess is associated with having high blood pressure,’ says Dr Mohidin. If you do drink more than the recommended limit of 14 units a week, cutting down will help, or you can try a month-long detox – research shows that just four weeks without a drink can lower blood pressure. ‘Going alcohol-free for a month is a good step to cutting down and, ultimately, stopping,’ adds Dr Mohidin. 

    3. Catch some Zzzs

    ‘Poor sleep has been found to be associated with a higher risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke,’ says Dr Mohidin. One US study found that just one bad night’s sleep was enough to spike blood pressure the following day. ‘Typically, while we sleep, our blood pressure goes down. It’s a good idea to aim for the recommended seven to nine hours per night.’ If you’re struggling with sleeping, read these tips on how to improve your sleep quality.

    4. Maintain a healthy work-life balance

    According to recent research, those who work long hours are more likely to have high blood pressure, with those clocking up more than 49 hours a week raising their risk of hypertension by 66%. ‘If work-life balance is not right, people are unable to do other activities they enjoy, such as exercise, having spent much of their time in a stressful environment at work,’ says Dr Mohidin. ‘These factors over a sustained period can contribute to a higher blood pressure.’ Make an effort to leave work on time and avoid checking work emails outside hours. You can find more tips on finding a more positive work-life balance here. 

    5. Get social

    Managing stress and managing blood pressure go hand in hand. Stress hormones cause your heart to beat faster and blood vessels to narrow, temporarily increasing blood pressure. While blood pressure usually returns to normal once stressful feelings pass, stress can lead to unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as drinking too much, or cause poor sleep – again, impacting blood pressure.

    ‘Many people socialise with friends and family in order to unwind and, ultimately, de-stress,’ says Dr Mohidin. Studies have also found that physical contact, such as hugging, can help reduce blood pressure. If you needed an excuse to catch up with a loved one, this is it. 

    6. Try reducetarianism

    Rather than completely cutting out meat, which Dr Mohidin notes is healthy in moderation, the reducetarian diet is about merely reducing consumption of animal products for the good of the planet and our health. ‘Swapping some meat in your diet for vegetarian options may lower the amount of saturated fat you consume, which in excess can cause heart disease,’ says Dr Mohidin. Chances are, you’re already doing it, and recent research backs up that a plant-based diet, with some meat and dairy, is still effective in lowering blood pressure.

    7. Aaand, breathe

    We know managing stress can reduce blood pressure, and ‘breathing exercises or practising mindfulness is beneficial in helping people cope with the daily stressors we face,’ says Dr Mohidin. If you want to take it up a notch, a new study shows that a five-minute breathing workout, known as Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training (IMST), can lower blood pressure as well as, or even more than, exercise or medication. IMST involves inhaling through a handheld device that adds resistance to the breath – think of it as dumbbells for your diaphragm.  

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