How To Lower Blood Pressure

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Person getting blood pressure checked by healthcare provider

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High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a common condition that affects as many as one in three adults. It can contribute to atherosclerosis (hardening of your arteries) and increase your risk of conditions like heart disease and stroke.

Your risk of hypertension increases with age. You have a 90% chance of developing it during your lifetime. Fortunately, you can lower your blood pressure and help prevent it with lifestyle modifications like eating well, exercising, and prioritizing sleep.

What Is Considered High Blood Pressure?

When your heart beats, blood pumps through your arteries to the rest of your body. Blood pressure is the measurement of how hard your blood pumps against your artery walls. If your blood moves at a higher than normal pressure, you have hypertension (high blood pressure).

A blood pressure reading consists of two numbers:

  • Systolic blood pressure: This is the top number (or first number), which measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats.
  • Diastolic blood pressure: This is the bottom number (or second number), which measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats.

A blood pressure reading of 130/80 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) or higher is considered high. These guidelines are based on 2017 guidelines from the American Heart Association. Prior to this update, a reading of 140/90 mmHg was considered high blood pressure.

If your blood pressure is between 120/80 mmHg and 129/80 mmHg, then you have elevated blood pressure. This means you are at a greater risk of developing hypertension in the future unless you take steps to lower your blood pressure.

Both numbers in a blood pressure reading are important. However, for people 50 years and older, systolic pressure provides the most accurate diagnosis of high blood pressure. Your chances of developing high blood pressure increase when you reach the age of 55. Two-thirds of people aged 65 and older have high blood pressure.

American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Guidelines
Blood Pressure Category  Systolic Pressure Diastolic Pressure 
Normal  less than 120 mmHg less than 80 mmHg 
Elevated  120–129 mmHg less than 80 mmHg 
High Blood Pressure  130 mmHg or higher 80 mmHg or higher 
Information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Effects of High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure can affect your health in a variety of ways. For example, it affects how your blood vessels function, and it can cause damage to important organs like your heart, brain, kidneys, and eyes.

Hypertension decreases the elasticity of your arteries, meaning the arteries stiffen. This decreases the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart and can lead to heart disease. It can also cause angina (chest pain), a heart attack, and even heart failure.

Other possible effects of high blood pressure include:

  • Stroke
  • Poor cognitive function and dementia later in life
  • Kidney disease

Things You Can Do To Lower Your Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is sometimes called the "silent killer" because it can occur without any symptoms. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to lower your blood pressure. You can take an active role in reducing your blood pressure by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, avoiding smoking, and practicing stress reduction techniques.

Get Regular Physical Activity

One of the most important things you can do to prevent or control high blood pressure is to stay physically active. This doesn't require a significant time investment. Just 30 minutes of moderate-level physical activity most days of the week will help you reach the recommended 150 minutes per week. You can also support heart health by including more vigorous activity, as well as two days of resistance training (strength training), each week.

Research consistently demonstrates that physical activity has a positive impact on your heart health, reducing both systolic and diastolic blood pressure by as much as 5 mmHg to 7 mmHg. There's even some evidence that you may experience an immediate reduction in blood pressure after exercise that can persist for nearly 24 hours. This is known as post-exercise hypotension.

Physical activities you can add to your routine include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Cycling and arm cycling
  • Sports like tennis and pickleball
  • Fitness classes like water aerobics, yoga, dancing, and rowing
  • Household maintenance like cleaning, gardening, and raking leaves

If you are not currently exercising, or you are thinking of trying something new, talk to a healthcare provider first. They can evaluate your medical history and your fitness level and determine which types of exercise might be a good fit for you.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Your food choices can have a significant effect on your blood pressure. While many dietary approaches—including the Paleo diet and the Mediterranean diet—can help reduce hypertension, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is the eating program most frequently recommended for reducing blood pressure.

The DASH diet was developed following a 1997 study by the National Institutes of Health. The goal of the study was to find a way of eating that could help prevent or reduce high blood pressure. The DASH diet includes:

  • Limiting sodium intake to about 1500 milligrams (mg) per day
  • Eating mostly fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, and whole grains
  • Limiting sugar-sweetened food and beverages

This eating approach is generally beneficial for most people, but research has repeatedly shown that it's particularly effective at reducing blood pressure. It may also help reduce LDL cholesterol and reduce other cardiovascular risk factors.

Manage Your Stress

Chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure. Stress causes repeated blood pressure elevations and can stimulate your nervous system to produce hormones that increase blood pressure. For this reason, finding ways to reduce your stress levels can help lower your blood pressure.

Stress management techniques include:

  • Mindfulness
  • Meditation
  • Deep breathing
  • Walking
  • Reading a book
  • Journaling
  • Watching a funny show
  • Listening to music

There's also some evidence that Tai Chi can reduce stress and blood pressure. A 2020 review found that Tai Chi was better at lowering systolic and diastolic blood pressure than other exercises or antihypertensive drugs. However, the authors note that more research is needed to confirm how Tai Chi affects blood pressure.

Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

Poor sleep can have a direct impact on your heart and blood pressure. For example, experiencing frequent sleep disruptions can lead to higher blood pressure. Research indicates that you are particularly at risk for high blood pressure if you are between the ages of about 45 to 65 and experience sleep disruptions.

It's important to get the recommended hours of sleep each night. Adults should aim for at least seven hours of quality sleep on a regular basis, ideally on a consistent schedule. It's also important to address any sleep issues—particularly snoring and sleep apnea, which have been associated with hypertension.

Take Your Medications as Directed

There are a number of different approaches to controlling and managing high blood pressure through medication. If your healthcare provider prescribes a medication, take it exactly as they prescribe.

Take the prescribed dose at the prescribed time(s), and don't stop taking the medication before talking to your healthcare provider. Some medications may cause adverse reactions if you suddenly stop taking them.

Here are the primary classes of blood pressure medications used to treat high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association:

  • Diuretics
  • Beta-blockers
  • ACE inhibitors
  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Alpha-blockers
  • Alpha-2 Receptor Agonists
  • Combined alpha and beta-blockers
  • Central agonists
  • Peripheral adrenergic inhibitors
  • Vasodilators

Don't Smoke and Limit Alcohol Intake

Smoking and alcohol use have long been linked to a number of health conditions, including high blood pressure. For example, the nicotine in cigarettes causes your blood vessels to narrow and your heart to beat faster, which raises your blood pressure.

Alcohol consumption also increases your heart rate and elevates your blood pressure. Though this is particularly after heavy drinking, moderate drinking can also affect blood pressure.

Talk to a healthcare provider if you think you would benefit from quitting smoking or reducing alcohol consumption. They can equip you with the tools you need to make a change. They also can connect you with counselors or treatment programs if needed.

Work With a Healthcare Provider

When it comes to managing your blood pressure, one of the most important things you can do is to partner with a healthcare provider.

Many people do not know they have high blood pressure. It's important to get your blood pressure checked at least once a year. It's also valuable to learn how to check it yourself at home.

A healthcare provider can continually monitor your blood pressure and provide you with resources and tools to help keep your numbers within a healthier range. They can also prescribe medications if needed. Together, you can decide on the best approach for you.

Taking a proactive approach can help you reduce and prevent high blood pressure. As a result, it can also help reduce your risk of a heart attack, stroke, and other serious health conditions.

A Quick Review

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a condition that occurs when your blood pumps hard against your artery walls. Hypertension can lead to serious health conditions including heart disease, kidney disease, and blindness. For this reason, it's important to take steps to lower your blood pressure.

As well as taking any prescription medications, you can reduce your blood pressure with lifestyle changes like eating a healthy diet, engaging in physical activity, and reducing stress. Work with a healthcare provider to ensure you are doing everything you can to keep your blood pressure within a healthy range.

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20 Sources uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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