High blood pressure is a dangerous condition that can damage your heart. It affects 1 billion people worldwide and if left uncontrolled, it raises your risk of heart disease and stroke.
But there’s good news. There are a number of things you can do to lower your blood pressure naturally, even without medication. Here are 10 natural ways to combat high blood pressure.
1. Walk and Exercise Regularly
Exercise is one of the best things you can do to lower high blood pressure. Regular exercise helps make your heart stronger and more efficient at pumping blood, which lowers the pressure in your arteries. In fact, 150 minutes of moderate exercise, such as walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, such as running, per week can help lower blood pressure and improve your heart health.
Bottom Line: Walking just 30 minutes a day can help lower your blood pressure. More exercise helps reduce it even further.
2. Reduce your Sodium Intake
Salt intake is high around the world. In large part, this is due to processed and prepared foods. For this reason, many public health efforts are aimed at lowering salt in the food industry.
About half of people with high blood pressure and a quarter of people with normal levels seem to have a sensitivity to salt.
If you already have high blood pressure, it’s worth cutting back your sodium intake to see if it makes a difference. Swap out processed foods with fresh ones and try seasoning with herbs and spices, rather than salt.
Bottom Line: Most guidelines for lowering blood pressure recommend lowering sodium intake. However, that recommendation might make the most sense for people who are salt-sensitive.
3. Eat more Potassium-Rich Foods
Potassium is an important mineral. It helps your body get rid of sodium and ease pressure on your blood vessels. Modern diets have increased most people’s sodium intake while decreasing potassium intake.
To get a better balance of potassium to sodium in your diet, focus on eating fewer processed foods and more fresh, whole foods.
Foods that are particularly high in potassium include:
- Vegetables, especially leafy greens, tomatoes, potatoes and sweet potatoes
- Fruit, including melons, bananas, avocados, oranges and apricots
- Dairy, such as milk and yogurt
- Tuna and salmon
- Nuts and seeds
Bottom Line: Eating fresh fruits and vegetables, which are rich in potassium, can help lower blood pressure.
4. Cut back on Caffeine
If you’ve ever downed a cup of coffee before you’ve had your blood pressure taken, you’ll know that caffeine causes an instant boost. However, there’s not a lot of evidence to suggest that drinking caffeine regularly can cause a lasting increase.
In fact, people who drink caffeinated coffee and tea tend to have a lower risk of heart disease, including high blood pressure, than those who don’t.
Caffeine may have a stronger effect on people who don’t consume it regularly. If you suspect you’re caffeine-sensitive, cut back to see if it lowers your blood pressure.
Bottom Line: Caffeine can cause a short-term spike in blood pressure, although for many people it does not cause a lasting increase.
5. Eat Dark Chocolate or Cocoa
Here’s a piece of advice you can really get behind. While eating massive amounts of chocolate probably won’t help your heart, small amounts may.
That’s because dark chocolate and cocoa powder are rich in flavonoids, plant compounds that cause blood vessels to dilate. A review of studies found that flavonoid-rich cocoa improved several markers of heart health over the short term, including lowering blood pressure.
For the strongest effects, use non-alkalized cocoa powder, which is especially high in flavonoids and has no added sugars.
Bottom Line: Dark chocolate and cocoa powder contain plant compounds that help relax blood vessels, lowering blood pressure.
6. Lose Weight
If you’re overweight, losing weight can make a big difference for your heart health. Losing some amount of your body mass could significantly lower high blood pressure. The effect is even greater when weight loss is paired with exercise.
Losing weight can help your blood vessels do a better job of expanding and contracting, making it easier for the left ventricle of the heart to pump blood.
Bottom Line: Losing weight can significantly lower high blood pressure. This effect is even greater when you exercise.
7. Quit Smoking
Among the many reasons to quit smoking is that the habit is a strong risk factor for heart disease. Every puff of cigarette smoke causes a slight, temporary increase in blood pressure. The chemicals in tobacco are also known to damage blood vessels.
Since both smoking and high blood pressure raise the risk of heart disease, quitting smoking can help reverse that risk.
Bottom Line: There’s conflicting research about smoking and high blood pressure, but what is clear is that both increase the risk of heart disease.
8. Cut Added Sugar and Refined Carbs
There’s a growing body of research showing a link between added sugar and high blood pressure.
Having one less sugar-sweetened beverage per day was linked to lower blood pressure. And it’s not just sugar – all refined carbs, such as the kind found in white flour, convert rapidly to sugar in your bloodstream and may cause problems.
People undergoing statin therapy found that those who went on a six-week, carb-restricted diet saw a greater improvement in blood pressure and other heart disease markers than people not on a diet.
Bottom Line: Refined carbs, especially sugar, may raise blood pressure. Some studies have shown that low-carb diets may help reduce your levels.
9. Eat Berries
Berries are packed with polyphenols, natural plant compounds that are good for your heart.
One small study had middle-aged people eat berries for eight weeks. Participants experienced improvements in different markers of heart health, including blood pressure.
Another study assigned people with high blood pressure to a low-polyphenol diet or a high-polyphenol diet containing berries, chocolate, fruits and vegetables. Those consuming berries and polyphenol-rich foods experienced improved markers of heart disease risk.
Bottom Line: Berries are rich in polyphenols, which can help lower blood pressure and the overall risk of heart disease.
10. Eat Foods Rich in Magnesium
Magnesium is an important mineral that helps blood vessels relax. While magnesium deficiency is pretty rare, many people don’t get enough.
You can incorporate magnesium into your diet with vegetables, dairy products, legumes, chicken, meat and whole grains.
Bottom Line: Magnesium is an important mineral that helps regulate blood pressure. Find it in whole foods, such as legumes and whole grains.