Natural Ways to Maintain Optimal Blood Pressure For A Healthy Life
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a serious condition that is a risk factor for several other diseases if left untreated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly half (45%) of all American adults have been diagnosed with hypertension and only about one-quarter of them have their blood pressure under control. However, it's also been estimated that one in five adults don't even know they have high blood pressure.
As hypertension is often called the silent killer because it typically has minimal symptoms and can develop slowly, it's imperative to get checked regularly to ensure you are in the optimal blood pressure range.
This article will explore the causes and consequences of high blood pressure, what the optimal blood pressure is for healthspan and longevity, and ways to lower your blood pressure naturally.
High Blood Pressure: Causes and Consequences
Blood pressure becomes elevated when arteries narrow; this increases the amount of resistance that the blood meets when your heart is pumping it through the arteries.
A blood pressure reading that would qualify for hypertension diagnosis is 130/80 mmHg or higher, which is a change from 2017's recommendation of 140/90 mmHg, according to new guidelines set forth by the American College of Cardiology (ACC).
The first, or top, number is called systolic blood pressure, which is a measure of arterial pressure when the heart beats. The second, or bottom, number is called diastolic blood pressure, which measures arterial pressure between heartbeats.
Typically, there is not one single cause of high blood pressure, as many dietary and lifestyle factors can play a role in its development over the years. Men are more likely to have hypertension than females when in the 45 to 54-year-old age range. However, the prevalence between genders becomes comparable after age 55, as reviewed in the American Journal of Hypertension.
According to the CDC, factors that can lead to high blood pressure include being physically inactive, obesity, and the presence of other health conditions, like diabetes. Other causes include a diet high in salt, drinking alcohol, smoking, and eating a diet low in fruits and vegetables.
Consequences of uncontrolled high blood pressure are far-reaching; it's a risk factor for heart disease and heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, and vision loss. High blood pressure has also been linked to an increased risk of developing cognitive disorders, as discussed in a review published in Current Hypertension Reports.
Since controlling blood pressure has been linked to an increase in lifespan of up to three years, it's important to make sure you're maintaining optimal blood pressure.
What Is Optimal Blood Pressure?
There are five categories for assessing blood pressure levels, according to the American Heart Association:
- Normal/Healthy: <120/80 mmHg
- Elevated/Pre-Hypertension: 120-129/<80 mmHg
- Stage 1 Hypertension: 130-139/80-89 mmHg
- Stage 2 Hypertension: >140/90 mmHg
- Hypertensive Crisis (requiring immediate medical attention): >180/120
However, some research has shown that slightly lower readings should be considered an optimal blood pressure, as the risk of cardiovascular disease doubles for each increment of 20 mmHg systolic and 10 mmHg diastolic above 115/75 mmHg.
A large trial published in November 2015 in the New England Journal of Medicine adds to this evidence. This study, also known as the SPRINT trial, aimed to determine if a more intensive blood pressure treatment (via medication) improved outcomes in individuals with hypertension.
The more intensive treatment targeted a systolic blood pressure of less than 120 mmHg, compared to the older guidelines of targeting below 140 mmHg. The intensively-treated participants saw a 27% risk reduction in all-cause mortality, a 38% risk reduction of heart failure, and a 43% risk reduction of cardiovascular-related mortality. This trial helped to make the changes seen in the 2017 ACC blood pressure guidelines.
However, the treatment group did see more adverse events, including hypotension and acute kidney injury or damage, indicating that perhaps natural strategies may have a role to play when it comes to managing blood pressure.
Tips to Lower Blood Pressure Naturally
Other than using antihypertensive medications, there are some dietary and lifestyle changes that may assist you in your quest to lower blood pressure naturally.
1. The DASH Diet or Meditteranean Diet
Designed to lower blood pressure, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet places an emphasis on fruit, vegetables, dairy, whole grains, nuts, and beans, while limiting red and processed meat, added sugar, salt, and sugar-sweetened beverages. The Meditteranean diet is very similar, with more fish and olive oil added.
A comprehensive review found that the DASH diet was successful in reducing both blood pressure and the incidence of cardiovascular disease; the Meditteranean diet has similar effects. These dietary changes are helpful for reducing blood pressure because of the high fiber and potassium content, with low salt and sugar levels.
2. Maintain Physical Activity and a Healthy Weight
The 2017 ACC blood pressure guidelines advise between 90 to 150 minutes of physical activity per week to reduce the risk of hypertension.
Aerobic exercise appears to have the greatest effect on lowering blood pressure, but any exercise is helpful for overall health and maintaining a healthy weight, which is another lifestyle modification to reduce hypertension.
Some supplements have been studied for their use in supporting healthy blood pressure levels, including:
- Coenzyme Q10
- Vitamin D
- Omega-3 fish oil
- The 2017 American College of Cardiology guidelines recommend maintaining an optimal blood pressure of below 120/80 mmHg for promoting health and reducing mortality.
- Some cases call for a slightly higher blood pressure target of below 130/80-90 mmHg, such as with the elderly population, diabetic patients, and those with chronic kidney disease or on dialysis.
- You can support lower blood pressure levels by eating a Mediterranean or DASH diet, maintaining an exercise routine and a healthy weight, or trying supplements, including magnesium, coenzyme Q10, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, or quercetin.
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