5 simple lifestyle changes to lower your blood pressure

From cutting your risk of stroke, kidney disease and even dementia, there’s more than one reason to keep your blood pressure in check. Here’s how to do it.

A third of Australian adults have high blood pressure, or hypertension – a condition that can be a ticking time bomb for your health in potentially fatal ways if left untreated.

But if you believe the latest research, lowering your blood pressure could be as simple as eating more walnuts, making beetroot juice your go-to drink and taking regular saunas.

But do any of those strategies really work?

“The beneficial effects of lifestyle changes and medications on lowering blood pressure have been well known for decades,” says Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute cardiologist and researcher Dr Mark Nolan.

“But this consistent message has sometimes been clouded by sensationalistic descriptions of small trials.

“While it may be reasonable for a few individuals with borderline blood pressure to consider these novel agents, they shouldn’t be a substitute for a healthy lifestyle or medications prescribed by a doctor.”

5 easy strategies to lower and control blood pressure

Dr Nolan stresses that it’s vital to have your blood pressure checked at least once a year from the age of 45 onwards.

“A problem can’t be fixed if you’re not aware that it exists,” he says.

And if you do discover you have high blood pressure, or want to avoid becoming a statistic, the following tips may help.

1. Eat a healthy diet

“Enjoying a healthy, balanced diet that’s high in fruit and vegetables may lower blood pressure by up to 11 mm Hg in people with hypertension,” says Dr Nolan.

As well as aiming for five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit every day, choose reduced-fat dairy products and eat wholegrain varieties of staples like rice, pasta, bread and breakfast cereals.

2. Hold the salt

Salt contains sodium, a mineral that increases the risk of high blood pressure if you eat too much of it – and most Australians do.

While we’re advised to stick to less than 5g of salt, or 2000mg of sodium, a day, most of us consume around 9g.

Because the vast majority of the salt we eat comes from processed foods, as well as swapping these for fresh varieties, look for products that contain less than 120mg of sodium per 100g serve.

“Reducing your sodium intake, by choosing fresh foods over processed ones and using condiments sparingly can lower blood pressure by 3 or 4 mm Hg,” says Dr Nolan.

3. Go slow on the alcohol

While having more than three alcoholic drinks in one sitting will temporarily increase your blood pressure, drinking too much alcohol regularly can lead to long-term high blood pressure.

And the opposite is also true. According to a study published in The Lancet, when people who routinely had more than two drinks a day consciously cut back, their blood pressure fell too.

So experts suggest limiting alcohol intake to no more than two drinks a day, but this could be less if you’ve already been diagnosed with high blood pressure.

4. Achieve a healthy weight

“For every one kilogram of weight loss, there’s an approximate 1 mm Hg drop in blood pressure,” says Dr Nolan.

A few different measures, used in combination, can help you assess where your weight’s at, including calculating your body mass index and taking your waist measurement.

But according to a 2017 study, working out your waist-to-height ratio may give you the best indication.

To do that, divide your waist measurement (in centimetres) by your height (in centimetres), with research showing that a ratio under 0.5 is best for good health.

5. Exercise regularly

“Increasing how much physical activity you do can lower your blood pressure by between 4 and 8 mm Hg,” says Dr Nolan.

So, while physical activity guidelines for adults recommend doing at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days a week, research shows people with hypertension may be wise to make this a daily habit.

Written by Karen Fittall.