You know that keeping your blood pressure (BP) in a healthy range helps keep your arteries clear and your heart strong. But if you’re like us, go-go-go days make it tricky to squeeze in enough time for exercise, cooking healthy meals and de-stressing. The good news: Keeping a lid on your BP doesn’t have to involve a lifestyle overhaul or pricy prescription medications. These natural blood-pressure hacks keep your levels in check the easy way!
What’s considered a healthy blood pressure reading
Your BP is measured in two ways. The first reading is your systolic blood pressure, or how much pressure is in your arteries when your heart beats. The second number is your diastolic blood pressure. This measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart is at rest. When the two are combined, the systolic reading is presented first, followed by the diastolic reading.
Keeping your blood pressure below 120/80 mmHg is considered healthy. A reading up to 130/80 mmHg is considered prehypertensive. This means that while your blood pressure is above normal, it’s not yet considered hypertension, or high blood pressure. This occurs when your readings are consistently elevated over and above 130/80 mmHg.
Your blood pressures changes slightly minute-to-minute in response to everything from stress to physical activity. Typically, your BP is highest midday when you’re most active, and lowest overnight while you’re asleep. To take an accurate reading, your doctor will place a blood pressure cuff on your arm. As the cuff inflates, it compresses the brachial artery. When it deflates, your artery decompresses and blood flow is restored. The cuff monitors your arterial pressure during this time, delivering readings in about 60 seconds. (Click through to learn why it’s smart to keep a blood pressure cuff at home.)
The benefits of keeping your blood pressure in check
You likely already know that keeping your BP from climbing reduces strain on your heart. But what you may not know is just how big a difference it can make. A study published in the journal Medical Clinics of North America found that when your BP is in a healthy range, it lowers your risk of developing heart disease by 50%.
What’s more, healthy blood pressure improves blood flow to other organs. This means that warding off hypertension reduces your risk of kidney and liver disease by 47%, and your risk of lung disease dips by 28%, according to a study in the journal Biomedical Research International. (Click through for natural ways to improve kidney function.)
What causes elevated blood pressure
For women, a top trigger of hypertension is hormone changes that occur during menopause. Estrogen helps blood vessels stay flexible and open. But as that hormone declines with age, blood-vessel walls can be stiffer. This means your heart has to pump a little harder to keep blood flowing, raising your BP. In fact, research shows that going through menopause can as much as double your odds of developing hypertension.
High blood pressure is so prevalent that more than half of postmenopausal women suffer from it, confirms Barbara DePree, MD, a gynecologist, certified menopause practitioner and director of Women’s Midlife Services at Holland Hospital in Michigan. The major contributing factor: The loss of estrogen makes blood vessels less elastic, and stiffer blood vessels result in higher blood pressure.
Even seasonal variations in the weather and barometric pressure as cooler temperatures move in can constrict your blood vessels. That’s enough to elevate your systolic blood pressure by 10 points. Other common causes of elevated BP readings include a high-sodium diet, lack of exercise and chronic stress. (Click through to see how to reverse the toll chronic stress has taken on your body by using cold water to stimulate your vagus nerve.)
The best natural blood pressure hacks to keep your levels in check
One of the most common hypertension treatments is taking a diuretic, or water pill, which helps your body flush excess sodium. The hitch: It can also lower your levels of the mineral potassium, triggering muscle cramps, headache and fatigue. While prescription medications like beta blockers and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors) can help, they require a trip to your doctor and can be pricey. Plus, these medications can have side effects, which include insomnia, constipation and dizziness. The good news: The following simple, natural hacks lower your blood pressure readings without the need to overhaul your diet or lifestyle.
1. Supercharge your smoothie with beet
Sipping a cup of beet juice or stirring 1 tsp. of beetroot powder into a morning smoothie lowers your diastolic blood pressure by 10 points in as little as 24 hours, according to research in the journal Hypertension. Beets are packed with nitrate, a compound that’s quickly converted into pressure-easing nitric oxide in the digestive tract. Don’t like beets? Drink a cup of OJ at breakfast, then enjoy another glass at lunch or dinnertime too. Research in the European Journal of Nutrition found that people who drank two cups of orange juice daily trimmed 6 points off their systolic blood pressure in 12 weeks. Credit goes to hesperidin, a plant compound in oranges and their juice that thwarts the cell-damaging inflammation that can cause blood pressure to climb.
2. Squeeze a tennis ball
It’s no secret that the workout you get from brisk walking, bicycling or jogging yields blood-pressure benefits. But easy hand-grip exercises are just as effective. In fact, a study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that simple isometric training moves like squeezing a tennis ball slash blood pressure by up to 19 points within eight weeks. Experts explain that flexing muscles in the hands and fingers activates the autonomic nervous system, a branch of the nervous system that helps blood vessels stay open and relaxed. Though people in the study used hand-grip devices, simply squeezing and releasing a tennis ball for 8 minutes three times weekly will also do the trick.
3. Hug a loved one
Or stroke a beloved pet. Research conducted at the University of North Carolina suggests hugging others regularly can keep blood pressure from climbing. In fact, blood-pressure readings were 12 points lower in women who embraced loved ones at least twice daily compared to women who hugged less often. Showing others physical affection spurs the release of oxytocin, a hormone that lowers the stress that can cause blood pressure to spike. (Click through to see how one woman cured her anxiety by hugging a weighted stuffed animal.)
4. Pop your own corn kernels
Remember when your mom used to pop popcorn on the stove? She was onto something! Research in Environmental Health Perspectives suggests popping your own corn kernels cuts your body’s levels of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances used to make popcorn bags greaseproof) by as much as 63%. That’s key since the chemicals disrupt hormones that regulate blood pressure. And in a University of Michigan study, women who harbored lower PFAS levels reduced their odds of developing hypertension by 42%.
5. Take the ‘olive’ supplement
Supplementing with 1,000 mg. of olive leaf extract daily can lower blood pressure by 11 points in two months. That’s an effect that’s comparable to some prescription ACE inhibitors, say researchers reporting in the journal Phytomedicine. Credit goes to olive leaf compounds such as oleuropein and oleacein. These potent compounds blunt the action of enzymes that narrow blood vessels. One to try: NAOMI BP Advanced (Buy from NaomiW.com, $39).
6. Spoon up berry cobbler
One of the most delicious hacks for lowering your blood pressure: enjoying two ½-cup servings of juicy strawberries, raspberries or blueberries daily. Research in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows adding berries, berry puree or cold-pressed berry juice to your daily diet lowers your systolic blood pressure by up to 9 points and your diastolic blood pressure by up to 5 points in eight weeks (even if you don’t make any other changes to your diet or fitness routine). The reason: Berries are packed with polyphenols that boost the production of nitric oxide, a substance that helps blood vessels stay supple.
7. Swap your evening walk for a morning stroll
A morning jaunt around the block lowers your blood pressure all day, suggests research in Hypertension. Just 30 minutes of light morning movement (and brief walking breaks during the day) powers your body to ferry blood pressure–hiking compounds called catecholamines out of your bloodstream. This lowers your systolic blood pressure for at least 8 hours — results the study authors note are on par with antihypertensive meds. “One reason for this dramatic result may be that morning exercise helps counter the normal rise in blood pressure that occurs throughout the day,” explains Kathryn Boling, MD, a family medicine specialist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland.
8. Snuggle up with Fido
It’s no surprise that when you’re tense, cuddling your dog or cat makes you feel better. Now, a study in the Western Journal of Nursing Research reveals that it only takes 15 minutes to experience blood pressure–lowering benefits. Researchers found that a soothing mini cuddle session with your four-legged friend can lower blood pressure by 10%. Credit goes to the reduction in the stress hormone cortisol, which gently slows your heart rate and brings your BP levels down.
9. Try an ancient remedy
Derived from the seeds of an Asian plant known as Nigella sativa, black seed oil has been valued for its health-promoting properties for thousands of years. And a study in Food Science & Nutrition Research reveal taking 500 mg. of black seed oil daily lowers systolic blood pressure by 16 points and diastolic pressure by 11 points in six weeks. A compound called thymoquinone in the oil curbs the production of angiotensin II, a hormone that elevates blood pressure by causing blood vessels to constrict. One to try: Purity Products High Potency Black Seed Oil (Buy from Walmart.com, $19.95).
10. Sip hibiscus tea
Cozying up with a cup of sweet-tart hibiscus tea (hot or iced) tames hypertension. Tufts University researchers found that subjects who drank a cup of hibiscus tea every day for four weeks lowered their systolic BP by up to 13 points and their diastolic BP by up to 6 points. Those are results as good as some pressure-lowering ACE inhibitors. Hibiscus acts as a diuretic to flush excess salt, opens arteries for better blood flow and slows the release of hormones that constrict blood vessels.
11. Cue up a silly video
Permission to ditch your to-do’s in favor of watching a classic I Love Lucy clip or your favorite cute cat videos. Brain chemicals called endorphins released during laughter stimulate the lining of blood vessels to produce artery-widening nitric oxide, according to research in the journal Medical Hypotheses. And a separate study found that people who laughed along with a funny show every two weeks lowered their systolic blood pressure by 5 points in three months.
12. Supplement with garlic
You know it as a pungent spice, but garlic is also potent medicine for your cardiovascular system. A study in Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine found that taking 1,200 mg. of garlic capsules daily worked as effectively as commonly used blood-pressure medications. It lowered systolic blood pressure by more than 8 points and diastolic blood pressure by nearly 6 points in 12 weeks. Garlic contains a compound called allicin that relaxes blood vessels and increases blood flow. Eating garlic provides your body with a dose of allicin too, but capsules offer a far more concentrated dose. One to try: Kyolic Aged Garlic Extract (Buy from Walmart.com, $29.77).
13. Spoon up amaranth porridge
Amaranth, an ancient grain from Mexico, has a mild nutty taste and packs a powerful BP-lowering punch. It’s particularly high in magnesium — 1 cooked cup provides 160 mg., or 50% of your daily magnesium needs. And research in Nutrition Journal shows that for every 100 mg. increase in your daily dietary magnesium intake, your risk of hypertension decreases by 5%.
14. Light a candle
Sure, you know stress causes blood pressure to spike. But cutting it out entirely is easier said than done. An easy workaround: Light a pine-scented candle. Pine’s aroma reduces blood pressure–spiking stress as effectively as taking a walk in nature, according to a study in the International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology. Meanwhile, University of Alabama research found that simply seeing the glow of the flame lowers systolic blood pressure by 6 points and diastolic by 3 points in 15 minutes. The reason: For thousands of years, our ancestors gathered nightly around fires to socialize and relax after a long day. Over time, our nervous systems evolved to associate seeing and hearing a flickering flame with stress-relief.
15. Take a deep belly breath
Taking 10 to 20 minutes three times a week to relax and breathe deeply has a powerful ability to bring blood pressure down. A Harvard study found that inducing a relaxation response lowered subjects’ systolic blood pressure by 10 points and diastolic blood pressure by 5 points in eight weeks. How? It eases the cellular inflammation that causes blood pressure to climb. To activate the response, take “belly breaths.” Simply place your hand on your abdomen, then inhale slowly and deeply through your nose for 2 seconds as you feel your belly expand like a balloon. Then exhale slowly through your mouth for 4 seconds and repeat.
16. Dig into mashed potatoes
A Purdue University study found that eating baked or boiled potatoes daily lowers your systolic blood pressure by 6 points in 16 days — that’s better than a potassium supplement. Researchers credit the unique combination of potassium and other nutrients in the spud with helping the body excrete 33% more pressure-spiking sodium than a supplement alone.
17. Try this wacky tea tip
You might have heard that drinking green tea daily lowers your BP. But University of California Irvine scientists found a smart hack for boosting the blood pressure lowering effects. After brewing your tea, add an ice cube to cool it slightly before sipping. Researchers found tea that’s warm but not steaming (around 95 degrees Fahrenheit) improves the ability of beneficial compounds called epigallocatechin-3-gallate and epicatechin gallate flavonoids in the brew to help blood vessels relax.
18. Tend to your garden
Planting, watering and weeding your garden for 20 minutes daily, five days a week, lowers your systolic blood pressure by 12 points and diastolic blood pressure in less than eight weeks, according to a study in HortScience. Researchers say tending to plants provides a stress-relieving form of exercise that combines the blood pressure–lowering effects of both aerobic and resistance exercise.
19. Get up like a cat
Ever notice how when your cat stands after sitting for a while, he does a satisfying stretch? A study in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health finds adopting this feline stretching habit is one of the best ways to better your blood pressure. When you stretch your muscles, you’re also stretching all the blood vessels that feed them. This reduces arterial stiffness and improves blood flow, significantly lowering your BP. Indeed, the researchers found 30 minutes a day of stretching lowers blood pressure more effectively than exercise.
20. Sip a sunset cocktail
Go ahead and watch the sunset with a glass of red wine or sangria. A study in Hypertension found that drinking two to three glasses of red wine a week lowers systolic BP by up to 3 points and diastolic BP by up to 2 points, thanks to flavonoids that widen blood vessels.
Read on for more ways to keep your blood pressure in check:
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.
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