What is high blood pressure (hypertension)?

Blood pressure is the pressure created by your blood being pushed against the inner walls of your arteries. The blood pressure is not a fixed number but normally rises and falls throughout the day. The force arises from the pumping action of the heart, exerted by the blood against the walls of their blood vessels. This causes the stretching of the vessels in response to the force and their subsequent contraction is important in maintaining blood circulation through the circulatory system. So the more resistance blood faces while flowing through the arteries, the higher is your blood pressure. Having high blood pressure is usually an indication that there is a narrowing of your arteries. 

High blood pressure (or hypertension) is considered by experts to be very dangerous because it tends to creep up on a person silently and can suddenly cause a heart attack or stroke. Having high blood pressure can significantly increase your risk of suffering a heart attack and stroke. Even if it does not cause a heart attack, it can still cause damage to your heart. The estimated number of people affected by high blood pressure is staggering – with over one billion people being affected by hypertension around the world. [1]

It is essential to know what your blood pressure numbers are. Blood pressure is measured in mm Hg or millimeters of mercury. Blood pressure is indicated by two numbers. Out of these two numbers, the top number indicates your systolic blood pressure, which is the pressure inside the blood vessels when your heart beats.[2] On the other hand, the number at the bottom is an indication of your diastolic blood pressure, which is the pressure of the blood flowing in the arteries when the heart is resting.[3,4] Having a blood pressure reading of 130/90 mm Hg is considered to be high.[5] 

See: Sample Meal Plan for High Blood Pressure Heart Disease

How can you lower your blood pressure naturally?

What can you do if your blood pressure numbers are high? Fortunately, there are several things you can do to help lower your blood pressure naturally, without needing to take medications. How can you lower blood pressure? And how long does it take to lower blood pressure?

Your lifestyle is the most crucial factor in treating high blood pressure.[6] Here are some specific ones that can help to lower your blood pressure.

1. Lose some weight

There is a close relationship between high blood pressure and being overweight or obese.[7] If you want to know about how to lower blood pressure, then losing weight is one of the most critical lifestyle change you can make for lowering your blood pressure. In fact, even dropping just a small amount of weight can help reduce your blood pressure. It is estimated that you can lower your blood pressure by 1 mm Hg per every kilogram (or 2.2. pounds) of weight you lose. 

As necessary as it is to lose weight, it is also equally important to keep a check on your waistline. This is because having too much of the weight pile on around your waist puts you at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure. 

Research has found that losing just five percent of your body mass can dramatically reduce high blood pressure.[8] You can achieve this weight loss either by following various weight loss diets or by following a strict exercise routine. However, the best way to lose weight and also reduce your blood pressure is by combining a healthy diet with exercise.[9]

2. Exercise

The importance of exercise cannot be stressed enough. If you are thinking about how to lower blood pressure instantly, then exercising is your best bet. Exercising regularly will not only reduce high blood pressure but also make your heart stronger. Exercise also boosts the heart's ability to pump blood more effectively, lowering the pressure in your arteries. This will, of course, lower your blood pressure. 

Research has found that for lowering blood pressure, you should be getting at least 75 minutes of strenuous exercise or at least 150 minutes of moderate to slow exercise per week.[10] You can also break this down to doing moderate to vigorous intensity exercises for at least 40 minutes, three to four times every week.[11]

Some forms of aerobic exercises that can help bring down your blood pressure include jogging, walking, swimming, cycling, or even dancing. Many people opt for high-intensity interval training. This involves doing an intense activity for a specific period and then alternating it with lighter activity to allow the muscles to recover. 

Including strength training exercises, a couple of times in a week can also help. The primary aim should be to get your heart rate up.

 

3. Cut down on your salt intake

Cutting down your salt intake can help lower blood pressure. If you are worried about how long does it take to lower blood pressure, then cutting out salt or at least limiting the quantity of salt you consume will reduce the time it takes to lower your blood pressure. 

Many studies have found that high salt intake is directly related to high blood pressure and heart-related diseases, such as heart attack and stroke.[12,13] Restricting salt intake does not only refer to cutting down on table salt. It also means cutting down on processed foods because these also contain high levels of sodium. Due to the harmful effects of sodium, many public health programs are trying to lower the amount of salt used in the food industry.[14] Some ways you can reduce salt in your diet include:

Avoid adding salt: Even adding one teaspoon of salt means you are adding 2,300 milligrams of sodium into your food. Instead of salt, try to use herbs and spices to flavor your food. 

Eliminate processed foods: There is very little sodium present in natural foods. Sodium is typically added during processing. Eating fewer processed foods will ensure your intake of sodium goes down. 

Read nutrition labels: There are food labels on every box of food you buy. Read these labels carefully and opt for purchasing the low-sodium ones.

Reduce alcohol intake

Limit alcohol intake to no more than 1 to 2 drinks every day. Drinking more than ordinary - one drink for women and two drinks for men--can cause your blood pressure to rise. Additionally, alcohol can cause you to pack on the pounds, which may also result in a rise in blood pressure.

Reduce stress 

Make anxiety reduction a priority. Stressful situations may trigger your blood pressure to go up temporarily. But if you are still stressed, your blood pressure can stay high. Find calming actions you can do daily that will help you alleviate stress. Coloring, walking outdoors, listening to relaxing music, and even taking a hot bath can help you maintain you decrease your stress levels.

 

See: Beginning Meditation to Reduce Stress

How long does it take to reduce blood pressure?

How long does it take?

It is dependent upon how high your blood pressure is, and how competitive the drug treatment is that your physician may be prescribing. Many doctors also begin treatment, not with drugs, but with lifestyle-change recommendations that involve healthy eating and regular exercise on a daily basis.

One diet-and-exercise program that has had success with the lowering of blood pressure and has been reviewed in several studies is the Pritikin Program.


Within three months: Studying men with hypertension who arrived at Pritikin, scientists at UCLA found that over three months, the men had significantly lowered blood pressure to healthier levels. People who arrived in Pritikin residential lifestyle intervention designed to achieve changes in lifestyle that are very extensive in each subject. Those taking hypertension medication left Pritikin two to three weeks after no longer needing their drugs or using their doses significantly reduced.[15]


Another research study by UCLA researchers of 1,117 people with high blood pressure reported within three weeks, systolic blood pressure dropped, on average, 9 percent. Diastolic pressure also dropped 9%. Of those taking blood pressure medication, 55% returned home, leaving without needing medication. Of those that remained, 45% left the Pritikin intervention program with their doses substantially reduced.[16]


See: DASH Diet Treatment for High Blood Pressure

Summary

High blood pressure has today become a common health problem worldwide. While there are many medications for treating hypertension, it is always better to first try out the natural methods of controlling your blood pressure. Controlling your blood pressure by changing your lifestyle towards a healthier one will not only help your blood pressure but also lower your risk of many other chronic health conditions.  Apart from the helpful tips mentioned above, you can also incorporate other healthy changes in your lifestyle to reduce your blood pressure. Cutting down alcohol, caffeine, smoking, managing your stress levels, and increasing your intake of healthy fruits and vegetables are all great steps you can consider for lowering high blood pressure.

See: Ayurvedic Diet

References

1. Kearney, P. M., Whelton, M., Reynolds, K., Muntner, P., Whelton, P. K., & He, J. (2005). Global burden of hypertension: analysis of worldwide data. The Lancet, 365(9455), 217-223.

2. Kannel, W. B. (2000). Elevated systolic blood pressure as a cardiovascular risk factor.

3. Somes, G. W., Pahor, M., Shorr, R. I., Cushman, W. C., & Applegate, W. B. (1999). The role of diastolic blood pressure when treating isolated systolic hypertension. Archives of internal medicine, 159(17), 2004-2009.

4. Haider, A. W., Larson, M. G., Franklin, S. S., & Levy, D. (2003). Systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, and pulse pressure as predictors of risk for congestive heart failure in the Framingham Heart Study. Annals of internal medicine, 138(1), 10-16.

5. Master, A. M., Dublin, L. I., & Marks, H. H. (1950). The normal blood pressure range and its clinical implications. Journal of the American Medical Association, 143(17), 1464-1470.

6. Ruixing, Y., Weixiong, L., Hanjun, Y., Dezhai, Y., Shuquan, L., Shangling, P., ... & Yaju, D. (2008). Diet, lifestyle, and blood pressure of the middle-aged and elderly in the Guangxi Bai Ku Yao and Han populations. American journal of hypertension, 21(4), 382-387.

7. Mertens, I. L., & Van Gaal, L. F. (2000). Overweight, obesity, and blood pressure: the effects of modest weight reduction. Obesity Research, 8(3), 270-278.

8. Earnest, C. P., & Church, T. S. (2016). Evaluation of a voluntary worksite weight loss program on hypertension. Journal of occupational and environmental medicine, 58(12), 1207-1211.

9. Bacon, S. L., Sherwood, A., Hinderliter, A., & Blumenthal, J. A. (2004). Effects of exercise, diet, and weight loss on high blood pressure. Sports Medicine, 34(5), 307-316.

10. Cornelissen, V. A., & Smart, N. A. (2013). Exercise training for blood pressure: a systematic review and meta‐analysis. Journal of the American Heart Association, 2(1), e004473. 

11. Doi.org. (2020). 2013 AHA/ACC Guideline on Lifestyle Management to Reduce Cardiovascular Risk | Circulation. [online] Available at: https://doi.org/10.1161/01.cir.0000437740.48606.d1 [Accessed 5 Feb. 2020].

12. He, F. J., & MacGregor, G. A. (2010). Reducing population salt intake worldwide: from evidence to implementation. Progress in cardiovascular diseases, 52(5), 363-382.

13. He, F. J., Li, J., & MacGregor, G. A. (2013). Effect of longer-term modest salt reduction on blood pressure: Cochrane systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. BMJ, 346, f1325.

14. Mohan, S., & Campbell, N. R. (2009). Salt and high blood pressure. Clinical Science, 117(1), 1-11.

15. CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/about.htm

16. Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/high-blood-pressure/art-20046974

See: Auricular Acupuncture for Relief of Hypertension and Insomnia

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