Keep it Down: Controlling Blood Pressure Without Medication

As people get older, it’s common to find blood pressure climbing. In fact, medical researchers argue that most people who live into their elder years will experience high blood pressure at some point in life. I’ve had this experience recently, so I’ve been investigating some of the ways that blood pressure can be tamed.

When blood pressure cannot be controlled through other means, medication is needed. But, many people (including me) would prefer to try other means first. While there are many complex factors that impact blood pressure, there are three primary tips for controlling it.

Monitor what you take into your body.

The things that we bring into the body can have a significant impact on blood pressure. Monitoring this carefully can be key for controlling it.

Intake of stimulants is known to increase blood pressure, at least temporarily. For most of us, stimulants would not be illegal drugs, but things like caffeine and tobacco. Many adults consume caffeine containing beverages on a regular basis. Though it’s  not clear that it has a long term impact on blood pressure, for individuals who are already experiencing issues with blood pressure, it’s a wise idea to keep the use at a minimal level to avoid high spikes in pressure.

Similarly, tobacco use is contraindicated for people with hypertension. And given all of the many other excellent reasons to stop smoking…

Alcohol is a depressant, not a stimulant, but it has been shown to increase blood pressure if consumed at levels beyond moderate use.  So, the key is to keep your level reasonable.  It’s not a problem to have a glass of wine with dinner, or a beer or two during the game.  But, binging or excessive regular drinking are not a good idea.

Sodium intake can be another dietary culprit. If you are like me,  you grew up in a household where salt was a regular addition to almost every meal. My dad was known to salt things so much that you could actually see the salt on the food (love you, Dad). Salt is also present in large quantities in many prepared foods, including soups, gravies, and frozen entrees. While having some salt in the diet is necessary, many of us use too much. Cutting back salt totals, using sea salt for post-cooking, rather than iodized salt, and using other spices instead of salt are all good ways to help reduce sodium intake.

Finally, because weight and blood pressure are correlated, it’s necessary to watch overall intake and observe a healthy diet, with a focus on vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Though the numbers on the scale can be a way to signal how we are doing, it’s a better idea to keep the attention on the health of what you eat (including quantity). Food diaries, hand-written or electronic, work well for some folks. Weight Watchers or other support programs can also be useful.

Get moving.

This isn’t news, but exercise is good for you. It is implicated in blood pressure both in terms of weight control and in heart strength. Both of these factors are associated with decreased blood pressure rates.

So, what counts as “exercise” in this context?

First, remember that anything is better than nothing. If you don’t currently spend much time at all on your feet, then even some light yard work, vacuuming the floors,  or dancing to your favorite songs in the living room are all great.

Second, you don’t have to do all of your exercise at one time. While experts recommend around 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week, it can be in one session per day, two, four, or ten.

Third, just because you don’t like to run or lift weights does not mean you can’t exercise. There is something for everyone. A brisk walk, bicycling to the park, yoga, zoomba, tai chi, swimming, dance class, tennis – all are perfectly wonderful forms of exercise.

Keep your stress level to a minimum.

This one is a big challenge for me, and maybe you too. There are so many factors that can lead to stress that are largely out of our control. But, there are still some things we can do to help manage the level of stress experienced, even if we can’t change the external factors.

While events can be such that they promote stress, we do have some control over the amount of stress we feel, by virtue of how we think about those events. Events take on positive or negative valence based on our assessments of them. Losing a job could be a negative event, because we perceive it as lost income or lost face, but it could also be a positive event that gives time off and provides impetus for making a desired change.

After a challenging event occurs, we can deal with it in many ways. We might manage the issues that must be managed and then move on. Or, we might ruminate over the situation for an extended period of hours, or days, or even weeks. Clearly, that second option will build more stress in our minds and bodies.

We can also take steps to help reduce feelings of stress in the body and mind by eating well, getting adequate sleep, meditating, exercising, and doing yoga. All of these activities have been found to aid individuals in managing and reducing their stress levels.

No one really wants to hear the doctor say, “Your blood pressure is a little high.”  But, realistically, many of us will hear it at some point. Taking steps to fold these lifestyle choices into your daily being now may put off that announcement far longer, and can also help you deal with it when/if it does come. Even if you do require medication for blood pressure management, the more you can work these tips into your life, the amount of medication required may be decreased, and you’ll feel better in other ways as well.

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