High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, requires lifelong management. This can include lifestyle changes, like losing weight or exercising more, or it can mean adding in blood pressure medications. Your doctor can help determine your treatment plan based on your family history, gender and race, among other risk factors.
Why it’s important to monitor your blood pressure regularly
Blood pressure can fluctuate based on time and setting. Some people experience what’s known as “white coat syndrome” while others have elevated levels because they rushed to the doctor’s office, recently drank coffee, etc. That’s why it’s important to take a blood pressure reading two to three times in order to get an accurate result.
If you already have high blood pressure, regular monitoring can help you identify a rise in pressure. Any sustained increases or decreases in pressure can help determine your medication plan or alert you of any complications. If you have access to a blood pressure monitor, consider measuring your blood pressure in the morning and again before dinner.
Should I take a blood pressure medicine?
Whether or not you need blood pressure medication is a decision that will ultimately be made between you and your doctor. They will likely take into account risk factors like (gender, family history, sleep apnea, etc.) and look at your blood pressure readings over time. Work with your doctor to determine what's best for you.
How to lower your blood pressure through lifestyle changes
In addition to things like quitting smoking and limiting alcohol, the three main lifestyle factors to consider when lowering blood pressure are: diet, exercise, and stress.
1. Modify your diet
- Limit salt intake to 1 teaspoon (2,300 mg of sodium) per day: a reduction in salt is associated with a decrease in blood pressure, hypertension and risk of premature death due to heart disease.
- Get two to five servings of fruits and vegetables per day: people who consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day have a 12% lower risk of dying from heart disease than those who consume two.
- Eat more potassium, calcium, and magnesium: all three nutrients help regulate blood pressure by helping your body get rid of excess sodium, regulate blood vessels, and produce energy. Need a little help figuring out what to eat? Try the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension).
2. Exercise frequently
- Get at least 150 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity per week: you can break up the recommended time however works best for you. The important thing is that you’re getting your heart rate up. If you don’t own a heart rate monitor, use this rule of thumb: if you can easily carry on a full conversation and exercise at the same time, you probably aren't working hard enough.
- Have “exercise snacks:” incorporate quick bursts of activity throughout the day. Catch your mind wandering and a lull in work? Get up and walk around for a few minutes. The more you can avoid sitting for long periods of time uninterrupted the better.
3. Address chronic stress
- Meditate: feeling anxious and stressed can increase your blood pressure, even for people with normal blood pressure, which is why some doctors have started prescribing meditation as part of a blood pressure treatment plan. Even if it’s just sitting for ten minutes every morning in silence without looking at your phone, hitting the reset button can help you manage your stress throughout the day. Need help starting? Here’s a Netflix series we recommend watching to get you in the right mindset.
- Yoga: have you tried yoga? A lot of us have heard this before. But whether or not downward dog is in the cards for you, gentle movement when you wake up or before going to bed can help lower your blood pressure, at least temporarily. We recommend Yoga with Adrien for beginners.
- Listening to music: during your morning commute or while you get ready for work, make a habit of turning on music. Better yet: turn on something new. A lot of us still listen to the music we loved when we were in high school or college, but studies show that listening to new music has cognitive and emotional benefits.
Note: These recommendations are not a replacement for medical care. Be sure to talk to your doctor about your treatment plan.