In addition to determining whether you need medications, which you should discuss with your doctor, healthy lifestyle choices can make a significant difference in reducing high blood pressure. Try incorporating the following changes and habits into your daily life.
1. Lose Weight if You’re Overweight
Weight loss is an important part of reducing high blood pressure, especially for people with obesity, as it’s a strong risk factor for hypertension. Dr. Mehta says people who are overweight can have between a two- to six-fold increase in risk of developing hypertension.
“With less weight, the heart and arteries do not have to work as hard,” says Dr. Desai. “The heart muscle and the muscles in the arteries do not thicken. Thickening can lead to further increases in blood pressure because of reduced give or elasticity of blood vessels.”
Talk to your doctor or registered dietitian about a safe weight loss program that will work for you, or consider trying a support app like Noom. “Even modest weight loss in these patients—4 to 10 pounds—is associated with a significant reduction in blood pressure levels,” says Dr. Mehta. However, a 2013 study of more than 740 people found long-term reductions in blood pressure only persisted with weight loss exceeding 2% of the person’s initial weight.
Regular exercise not only aids in weight loss, but also helps decrease high blood pressure. A 2016 study found blood pressure decreased in the hours after an exercise session regardless of a person’s age, sex and other characteristics. This effect can result in “somewhere between a 10 and 15 mmHg reduction in systolic blood pressure levels,” says Dr. Mehta.
Most doctors recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each day. “Aerobic exercise gets the heart rate up in a gradual and consistent fashion, helps to stretch the heart and arteries, and also increases blood flow to the organs,” says Dr. Desai.
If you can’t do 30 minutes, Dr. Desai recommends at least 15 to 20 minutes a day, five to seven days a week. Some aerobic exercise options include walking, running, swimming, using an elliptical machine, cycling and playing tennis.
3. Decrease Your Salt Intake
“Salt is the enemy of high blood pressure,” says Dr. Desai. When you eat too much salt, it increases the amount of fluid that enters the bloodstream and arteries from the surrounding tissue, which raises the pressure in the arteries.
While you may not have to remove salt from your diet completely, avoid foods very high in salt like chips, French fries, salted nuts, soups, store-bought salad dressings, processed foods and cheese.
4. Avoid Excess Caffeine
Drinking too much coffee or too many energy drinks that contain caffeine isn’t recommended for people with high blood pressure. “Caffeine is a form of adrenaline,” says Dr. Desai. “It constricts the arteries and raises the heart rate, both of which increase blood pressure.”
If you have high blood pressure, ask your doctor whether you need to adjust your morning coffee habit, as Dr. Mehta says high levels of caffeine can worsen blood pressure control. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers the equivalent of four cups of coffee a day (400 milligrams) safe for the general population, but most experts recommend 200 milligrams or less (two cups of coffee) for people with established hypertension, says Dr. Mehta.
5. Drink More Water
Staying hydrated may be an important way to keep your blood pressure reading in a normal range. “When you’re dehydrated, the body produces stress hormones to maintain blood flow to organs,” says Dr. Desai. This response can increase blood pressure.
Meanwhile, a 2015 study found a link between dehydration and high blood pressure, although more research is needed. Reducing your caffeine intake and drinking water regularly are both effective ways to prevent dehydration.
6. Drink Less Alcohol
A large 2019 study conducted by the American College of Cardiology found moderate alcohol consumption, defined as seven to 13 drinks a week, can substantially increase risk of high blood pressure.
Alcohol can increase your body weight, deplete the body of magnesium and potassium, and dehydrate you, according to Dr. Desai. What’s more, alcohol increases stress levels, which cause elevated blood pressure over time as well, he says.
7. Try Blood Pressure Support Supplements
A small study in the International Journal of Hypertension found magnesium supplementation can reduce blood pressure in small amounts. Talk to your doctor before taking magnesium supplements, especially if you have kidney disease. You can also safely incorporate high-magnesium foods into your diet. Dr. Desai recommends foods like leafy green vegetables and unsalted almonds.
Beyond magnesium, research in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology suggests supplements for blood pressure, such as potassium, L-arginine, vitamin C, cocoa flavonoids, beetroot juice, coenzyme Q10, controlled-release melatonin and aged garlic extract may also help reduce blood pressure
8. Avoid Processed Foods
A healthy diet plays an important part in reducing high blood pressure, so many doctors recommend reducing consumption of processed foods. Processed foods are often loaded with sodium and saturated fats, two things people with hypertension want to avoid.
“A good rule of thumb is to have multiple colors of food on your plate,” says Dr. Desai. He recommends eating more berries, bananas, beets, dark chocolate, kiwis, watermelon, oats, garlic, lentils, pomegranates, cinnamon, unsalted pistachios and fermented foods like yogurt.
9. Reduce Stress Through Meditation and Rest
“Chronic stress can lead to chronic elevations in the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline,” says Dr. Desai. “These hormones constrict the arteries and cause weight gain, which further increases blood pressure.”
He recommends reducing stress by using breathing exercises, practicing meditation, completing physical exercise, practicing yoga, logging quality sleep, taking breaks throughout the day, spending time in nature, listening to music and eating a balanced diet.
10. Quit Smoking
“Smoking leads to constriction of the arteries acutely, and long-term use greatly contributes to the development of high blood pressure,” says Dr. Mehta. One study in Hypertension found smoking can cause an immediate but temporary increase in blood pressure. Take the steps you need to quit smoking if you have hypertension.
11. Eat Dark Chocolate
Small amounts of dark chocolate aren’t just tasty—they might help lower blood pressure as well. One large 2010 study found people who didn’t have hypertension and ate more dark chocolate had lower blood pressure than those who ate less dark chocolate.
Dr. Desai notes the dark chocolate should have high amounts of cocoa—aim for at least 70%—and should be low in sugar. “It’s likely that a compound in dark chocolate known as flavonoids releases a substance known as nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels,” says Dr. Mehta.
12. Try the DASH Diet
If you’re unsure how to change your diet to lower blood pressure, Dr. Mehta recommends trying the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, which he says is “the best studied dietary approach to helping with hypertension.” It consists of foods rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber and protein and low in saturated fat and sodium.