If you've been diagnosed with hypertension, you might be wondering about ways to lower blood pressure that don't involve drugs. BP meds tend to be a long-term commitment, after all, and sometimes they can have not-so-fun side effects like dizziness, weakness, headache, constipation or diarrhea, and nausea or vomiting.
The good news is that natural ways to lower blood pressure abound. From being more active, to managing your stress levels, to eating the right foods, here are 10 expert-backed options that can help you bring your numbers back into the healthy range.
What Is High Blood Pressure?
Your blood pressure is considered to be in the healthy range if it's lower than 120/80 mm HG.
High blood pressure or hypertension is anything above 130/80, and the higher it is, the more likely your doctor may be to prescribe blood pressure-lowering meds in addition to lifestyle changes, according to the American Heart Association.
Still, lifestyle changes can always play an important role, whether you also have to take meds or not.
Blood pressure above 180/120 is considered immediately life-threatening and requires medical attention. If you get two consecutive readings of 180/120 or higher, five minutes apart, call 911 right away.
Read more: 5 Ways High Blood Pressure Affects Your Body
How to Lower Blood Pressure: 10 Simple Ways
Healthy lifestyle changes can go a long way toward bringing high blood pressure closer to normal. According to a study presented by the AHA in September 2018, that's especially true if your BP falls between 130/80 and 160/99.
Here are 10 solid strategies supported by science.
1. Slash Your Salt Intake
You should keep your sodium consumption below 2,300 milligrams daily if your BP is healthy, and below 1,500 milligrams a day if your BP is high, according to the AHA.
"One of the major reasons excess salt causes blood pressure to rise is because it increases the volume of fluid in the body, which puts extra strain on the heart and kidneys," dietitian Sarah Pflugradt, RD, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
One of the best ways to cut back on salt is by limiting your consumption of processed or packaged foods — and choosing lower-sodium options whenever possible.
"A good rule is to make each meal less than 500 milligrams sodium total," Pflugradt says. "Always check the food label on packages to make sure you stay below that amount."
Relying on salt-free flavorings for cooking — like fresh herbs, spices, citrus and vinegar — can also make a difference.
2. Pay Attention to Potassium
Getting your fill of the mineral may actually help your lower-salt efforts go further. "Potassium can help the body get rid of excess sodium, and this can ease pressure on our blood vessels," Pflugradt says.
How much do you need? If you're trying to lower your blood pressure naturally, aim to get at least 4,700 milligrams of potassium daily, recommends the AHA. Bananas are one good source, but you can also find potassium in sweet potatoes, apricots, avocado, yogurt, grapefruit and leafy green veggies.
Prefer a More Structured Eating Plan?
Find out how the DASH diet (that's Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) can help lower blood pressure.
3. Take a Walk Every Day
Regular aerobic exercise is key for strengthening your heart so it doesn't have to work as hard to pump blood throughout your body. And that can help lower your systolic blood pressure (the top number) by as many as nine points, according to the Mayo Clinic.
And walking is one of the simplest forms of aerobic exercise out there — you can do it anywhere, with zero special equipment.
A healthy goal is to walk for at least 30 minutes most days of the week, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to a February 2019 study published in the journal Hypertension, that amount could produce similar effects to blood pressure-lowering medication, although it's important to note that more research needs to be done in this area.
4. Lose Weight
Being overweight can strain your heart and potentially damage your blood vessels, both of which could contribute to high BP.
"There's a clear association between obesity and hypertension," Emmanuel Moustakakis, MD, director of the coronary care unit at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens and assistant professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
5. Try Hand-Grip Exercises
Squeezing a hand gripper (or tennis ball) for a few minutes every day could lower your blood pressure by as much as six points, found a December 2018 Systematic Reviews analysis of 26 studies.
Try squeezing the gripper with one hand for two full minutes, using about half your full strength, Dr. Moustakakis recommends. Rest for two minutes before gripping with your other hand, and repeat the cycle once more.
6. Find Healthy Ways to Relax
Stress can cause your blood pressure to skyrocket, and over time, that can lead to chronic high blood pressure and do damage to your cardiovascular system.
"Stress raises levels of the hormones adrenaline and cortisone, which disrupt the smooth lining of the blood vessels," explains Sanjiv Patel, MD, interventional cardiologist at MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center.
Meditation, guided imagery, deep breathing and yoga can all be effective, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
In fact, one March 2019 Mayo Clinic Proceedings review of 49 studies found that practicing yoga three times per week along with breathing and relaxation exercises can lower blood pressure by around 11 points.
Want to Start a Yoga Practice?
Here's everything you need to know, including the best poses for beginners.
7. Get Outside More Often
Mother Nature has a serious mood-boosting effect. Spending time in green spaces brings down levels of stress hormones like cortisol and staves off feelings of depression and anxiety — all of which could help improve your blood pressure, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Best of all, you don't necessarily have to trek to the beach or head deep into the woods to reap the benefits. Just being in a space with some trees and greenery could translate to lower stress levels and healthier blood vessels, suggest findings a December 2018 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
8. Take Lots of Breaks From Sitting
Even if you exercise regularly, too much time at your desk or on the couch is bad for your blood pressure, concluded a September 2018 review in Hypertension. The more you sit, the less energy you expend overall. "That leads to an increase in fat storage and stress hormones, which can cause higher blood pressure," Dr. Patel says.
If you're sitting for long periods, set reminders on your phone to get up and stretch your legs every 30 minutes or so, Dr. Patel recommends. Better yet: Find ways to stay on your feet for more of the day. Pace when you're on the phone, or meet your friend for a walk instead of sitting down for coffee, for example.
None of these methods are a substitute for blood pressure medication. If you've been prescribed medication for high blood pressure, talk to your doctor before stopping or changing the frequency of your medication, and ask which lifestyle changes may be most effective for you.
9. Get Enough Sleep
Logging enough shut-eye doesn't just help you feel energized and refreshed — it could also be better for your blood pressure.
People who sleep for five hours or less per night are more likely to have high BP compared to those who snooze for the recommended seven to eight hours, according to a review in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Why? Too-little sleep seems to ramp up the production of stress hormones like cortisol, which over time can drive up blood pressure, per the Mayo Clinic.
10. Go Easy on the Booze
Moderate drinking might lower your blood pressure by around four points, according to the Mayo Clinic. But drinking more won't deliver bigger benefits. And in fact, it could actually make your blood pressure problem worse.
Experts don't fully understand why, but it could be that alcohol increases the constriction of blood vessels and causes the body to retain more sodium, Pflugradt says. So if you choose to drink, stick with no more than one drink a day for women or two for men.
- American Heart Association: "Understanding Blood Pressure Readings"
- American Heart Association: "Lifestyle changes reduce the need for blood pressure medications"
- American Heart Association: "How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure"
- Mayo Clinic: "Exercise: A drug-free approach to lowering high blood pressure"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "How much physical activity do adults need?"
- Hypertension: "Effect of Morning Exercise With or Without Breaks in Prolonged Sitting on Blood Pressure in Older Overweight/Obese Adults"
- American Heart Association: "Managing Weight to Control High Blood Pressure"
- Systematic Reviews: "Resting blood pressure reductions following handgrip exercise training and the impact of age and sex: a systematic review and narrative synthesis"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "5 ways to de-stress and help your heart"
- Mayo Clinic Proceedings: "Yoga as Antihypertensive Lifestyle Therapy: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Sour mood getting you down? Get back to nature"
- Journal of the American Heart Association: "Association Between Residential Greenness and Cardiovascular Disease Risk"
- Hypertension: "Sitting Less and Moving More"
- Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine: "Relationship between Duration of Sleep and Hypertension in Adults: A Meta-Analysis"
- Mayo Clinic: "Sleep deprivation: A cause of high blood pressure?"
- Mayo Clinic: "10 ways to control high blood pressure without medication"