The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiologists estimate that 46 percent of U.S. adults have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of those, only half have it under control. But there are some lifestyle changes you can make to control hypertension, in addition to taking medication, as you’ll see below.
Hypertension is common in older people because as we age, our arteries harden — called arteriosclerosis — and fatty deposits build up inside them. These factors can cause the systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) to increase. In fact, more than half of Americans age 60 and older have hypertension, and many don’t even know it.
If you’ve been diagnosed with hypertension and take medication for it, you may wonder what other things you can do to help control your blood pressure. Here are a few suggestions:
Lifestyle Changes to Lower Blood Pressure
Changes in the way we live can have a great effect on lowering blood pressure, says Dr. Martha Gulati, chief of cardiology at the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine and editor-in-chief of CardioSmart.org, a publication of the American College of Cardiologists.
“Lifestyle and dietary changes can help control hypertension,” she says. “Quit smoking, reduce your alcohol intake and reduce your stress level.” Losing excess weight, exercising and getting enough sleep, and the right sleep, have positive effects on blood pressure.
“Even sleep apnea has been shown to affect blood pressure by increasing the risk for hypertension. So if your hypertension is not responding to traditional treatment, you may want to get tested for sleep apnea,” Gulati says.
Dietary changes can go a long way toward controlling hypertension. “There is lots of evidence that salt is a factor in high blood pressure,” Gulati says, “and reducing salt intake can dramatically lower blood pressure.”
Likewise, research shows that excess alcohol raises blood pressure, as does caffeine. On the other hand, potassium is known to lower blood pressure, so eating foods rich in potassium, like bananas, pomegranates, sweet potatoes and spinach, can be helpful. Other foods that help lower blood pressure are olive oil, cocoa flavonoids, tea and garlic. You might want to check out the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, or ask your health care provider about it.
Some people take supplements to help lower their blood pressure. These can include potassium, Vitamin C, fiber, Omega 3 fish oil and coenzyme Q10.
Mary Jane Gocher, 78, a retired marketing and promotion manager in New York City, was diagnosed with hypertension 20 years ago. In addition to taking three conventional prescription medicines to control her blood pressure and consuming as little salt as possible, she’s been taking Omega-3 supplements for several years. “I take it because it may lower my blood pressure, reduce triglycerides and reduce plaque in the arteries. My doctor knows I take it, and wants me to take it,” she says.
Alternative Approaches to Treat Hypertension
Besides pharmaceuticals that lower blood pressure and control hypertension, several complementary and alternative treatment methods show promise in controlling hypertension. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, mentions several techniques that may help control hypertension, including meditation, relaxation practices, yoga, slow breathing, biofeedback and Tai Chi.
Gulati says there is strong evidence that yoga, deep breathing, meditation and Tai Chi are beneficial to those with high blood pressure. In a 2016 review of 35 clinical trials titled “Tai Chi Boosts Quality of Life in Patients with Heart Disease,” the American Heart Association found that Tai Chi reduced blood pressure significantly. A 2017 report published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found that blood pressure decreased in subjects who completed six weeks of Tai Chi training.
Christine Emmert, 75, a retired teacher and a writer in Valley Forge, Pa., with high blood pressure, has been practicing yoga for 55 years and meditation “off and on” during that time. “I think yoga and meditation have helped calm me, but the medication really lowered the top and bottom numbers of my blood pressure,” she says.
Biofeedback is a technique people can learn to ease symptoms associated with a variety of health problems, including hypertension, stress, anxiety and chronic pain.
In clinical trials, deep breathing with the use of Resperate, a biofeedback device, has been shown to help patients with hypertension. The machine promotes slow, deep breathing by giving the patient feedback on his or her breathing. Resperate is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for reducing stress and lowering blood pressure.
As always, be sure to work with your health care provider or team. To manage your hypertension, know your blood pressure numbers, ask questions and let your doctor know what complementary methods you’re using to deal with your high blood pressure.
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