High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is often called the silent killer because it can cause a heart attack, stroke or organ damage without any obvious symptoms.
If you have an advanced stage of hypertension -- around a 160 systolic reading or lower and about 105 or below for diastolic -- your doctor may prescribe medications. Even if your blood pressure is slightly above normal (higher than 120/80), you should speak to your physician. Together, you may be able to work out a few strategies to bring your blood pressure back into the normal range.
Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
1. Exercise --
Some form of mild aerobic exercise -- at least 30 minutes four or five days a week -- is a standard treatment for hypertension. If you're not making a point to do it already, you need to get off your butt and start. You don't have to knock yourself out. Even just brisk walking will be beneficial. A recent study showed that people with moderate hypertension can lower it five to eight points with exercise alone. Exercise also helps relieve stress -- another cardio benefit.
2. Smoking --
Don't do it. Nicotine has an adverse effect on the adrenal glands, causing them to increase blood pressure.
3. Losing Weight --
If you're overweight, even losing just a few pounds can help lower your blood pressure. Start with a modest goal of dropping maybe just 5 or 10 pounds. After that, you can worry about whether you want or need to lose more.
4. Salt --
Many doctors will suggest you greatly reduce or cut out salt intake. But recent studies show that only about 30 to 40 percent of people are salt-sensitive. You can check whether you're one of them by greatly reducing your sodium intake for two or three weeks. After that time, take your blood pressure and see if it's any lower. If it makes a difference, stay on a low-sodium diet but also increase your potassium; there seems to be a relationship between high-sodium/low potassium in diets. You can either take supplements or modify your diet to include more bananas, potatoes, peppers, pears, eggplants or tomatoes.
5. Fiber --
A low-fiber diet will promote hypertension, so make a point of eating several servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Also eat whole-grain cereals and breads.
6. Dark Chocolate --
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that a daily dose of dark chocolate can help reduce blood pressure. The study, headed by Dr. Dirk Taubert of University Hospital of Cologne, found that dark chocolate reduced systolic blood pressure by 2.9 units and diastolic by 1.9 units. "Our study provides sufficient evidence to recommend low amounts of dark chocolate as an addition to a healthy diet," Taubert says. Just keep it to no more than a few ounces a day. And sorry, milk chocolate and white chocolate don't do the trick.
7. Celery --
Celery contains a chemical that relaxes the blood vessels, lowering blood pressure. Four stalks a day should be sufficient. But celery is also high in sodium, so don't eat it if you're salt-sensitive.
8. Garlic --
Garlic has been shown to significantly reduce blood pressure. Eat it as much as possible. But if you don't want to scare friends, family and co-workers away, there are garlic supplements available that don't affect your breath.
9. Calcium and Magnesium Supplements --
The two work together to reduce blood pressure in some people, although medical science still doesn't know exactly how the relationship works. Experts recommend you take calcium and magnesium for about two months, and then see if they seem to reduce your blood pressure. If they do, keep using them.