High blood pressure (aka hypertension) affects 1 in 3 Americans. Medication can help control it, but as with most chronic health conditions, having healthy habits is also important.
“You should always work with your doctor, but lifestyle can play a huge role in managing hypertension at every age,” says Holly Nicastro, Ph.D., M.P.H., program director in the division of cardiovascular sciences at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. That includes not smoking, controlling stress, exercising, and eating the right kinds of foods. In fact, a healthy diet is one of the most powerful tools for lowering your numbers—and may reduce the need for medication.
The DASH Diet
The effect of diet on hypertension has been extensively studied.
“There are many different diets with purported benefits for high blood pressure, but DASH has the strongest base of evidence,” says Stephen Juraschek, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Harvard Medical School who focuses on cardiovascular disease.
DASH, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, includes fruits and vegetables (8 to 10 servings a day), whole grains, beans, nuts, low-fat dairy, lean meat (such as poultry and seafood), and healthy fats. It limits red meat, added sugars, and unhealthy fats.
Research published in 2017 in the journal Hypertension found that people who followed DASH saw their blood pressure drop by more than 4 points systolic and 1 point diastolic within a week.
Not only is DASH high in blood-pressure-lowering potassium, magnesium, and fiber but it also supplies plant compounds that may have a direct effect on blood vessels.
Exercise Your Way to Lower Numbers
Diet isn’t the only nondrug strategy for lowering your numbers. A 2017 review of 53 studies involving older adults, in the Journal of the American Society of Hypertension, found that both aerobic exercise and strength training lowered blood pressure by 5 systolic and 3 diastolic points. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (a level where you can maintain a conversation) on most days and targeting your entire body with weights at least twice a week.
A type of training called isometrics has shown the potential for reducing blood pressure. Traditional strength training involves lifting and lowering weights or otherwise moving your joints during a routine. With isometrics, you maintain one position with the muscles contracted—think planks, wall sits, and holding weights in each hand out to your sides. (Isometrics builds muscle but not as effective as strength training does.)
Read the full article at Consumer Reports