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Blood pressure is measured by the pressure that your blood places on the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood around your body. It consists of two measurements - systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure.
Systolic is the pressure against the walls of your blood vessels during a heartbeat, whereas diastolic is the pressure against the walls of your vessels between heartbeats.1 By UK GP guidelines, the ideal blood pressure reading is between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg. Hypertension is defined as 140/90mmHg or higher.1
Over time, high blood pressure can cause long-term health conditions if left untreated. It damages blood vessels, making them less elastic. This can cause cholesterol to build up and block the blood vessels (also known as atherosclerosis), which may lead to a heart attack.2
The heart itself can also be damaged by high blood pressure. Since it is forced to pump harder and quicker than a healthy heart, it can also cause the heart to become enlarged. This can increase your risk of a heart attack and even heart failure.2
In addition, high blood pressure can also lead to temporary blockages in the vessels that supply blood and oxygen to your brain, which can increase your risk of stroke.2
There are many factors that can contribute to high blood pressure. While some risk factors such as age and genetics are unavoidable, many of the risk factors for hypertension are lifestyle-related. Smoking, excess alcohol intake and high amounts of stress are just a few examples.3
Smoking and alcohol can damage blood vessels by making them less elastic, which can lead to higher blood pressure levels.4 Those who experience high levels of stress are placed at a higher risk of also experiencing high blood pressure.5
While there are a number of risks associated with high blood pressure, fortunately, there are a number of ways to help reduce it naturally. For every 10mm/Hg that your blood pressure drops, your risk of stroke reduces by 27%, your risk of heart failure by 28%.6 So if you're ready to get your blood pressure under control, we have some simple strategies to get you started.
One of the most common ways that your blood pressure can become elevated is due to high stress levels. Implementing some easy stress management techniques is a simple way to counteract the effects of stress on your blood pressure. One study found that individualised stress management interventions reduced blood pressure by up to 6.1mm/Hg.7 There is also research evidence that supports specific techniques, such as mindfulness and meditation.8
One of the simplest ways to reduce blood pressure naturally is through exercise. Many studies have confirmed that aerobic exercise, resistance training and even yoga can help lower blood pressure.9, 10, 11 The good news is that you don't need to be a professional athlete to see results. One study found that just 60-90 minutes of moderate exercise per week for 8 weeks showed a significant reduction in blood pressure.12 Simply choose the form of exercise that you enjoy best and get started.
There are plenty of foods that can benefit the health of your heart and blood vessels. Many of them are found in a Mediterranean diet. Foods such as oily fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil, fruit, vegetables and wholegrains are Mediterranean staples.
Research has found that a Mediterranean-style diet can reduce both systolic and diastolic BP by 1-2mm/Hg, and greater reductions were seen in the long term.13, 14 By simply basing your diet on these foods, you too could see a drop in your blood pressure.
Alongside dietary and lifestyle changes, there are also several supplements that may help to regulate high blood pressure.
Omega-3 fatty acids play a role in supporting normal cardiac function. But omega-3s may also have a beneficial effect on high blood pressure. Studies suggest that omega-3s can cause a small but significant decrease in blood pressure.15 As many people don't consume enough omega-3 through the diet, a supplement is often a better alternative.
Magnesium is considered the 'muscle relaxant' mineral which can have a relaxing effect on blood vessels.16 Two studies found that taking a magnesium supplement may have a small impact on reducing blood pressure.17, 18
By following some of these steps, reducing your blood pressure is easier than you think. Remember to consult with your health practitioner before making any changes to your healthcare plan.
Samantha Gemmell RNutr is a qualified nutritionist and health and wellness writer who has contributed to Australian magazine Women's Health & Fitness.
Find out more about Samantha Gemmell.
Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn't possible, supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.
1PHE (2017). Health matters: combating high blood pressure, Public Health England
2Mayo Clinic (2016). High blood pressure dangers: Hypertension's effects on your body, Mayo Clinic Online
3Mayo Clinic (2018). Secondary hypertension - Symptoms and causes, Mayo Clinic Online
4Mukamal, K.J. (2006). The effects of smoking and drinking on cardiovascular disease and risk factors, Alcohol Research
5Markou, A., et al. (2015). Stress-induced aldosterone hyper-secretion in a substantial subset of patients with essential hypertension, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism
6Ettehad, D., et al. (2016). Blood pressure lowering for prevention of cardiovascular disease and death: a systematic review and meta-analysis, The Lancet
7Linden, W., Lenz, J.W. and Con, A.H., (2001). Individualized stress management for primary hypertension: a randomized trial, Archives of Internal Medicine
8Hughes, J.W., Fresco, D.M., Myerscough, R., van Dulmen, M., Carlson, L.E. and Josephson, R. (2013). Randomized controlled trial of mindfulness-based stress reduction for prehypertension, Psychosomatic Medicine
9Whelton, S.P., Chin, A., Xin, X. and He, J., (2002). Review:aerobic exercise reduces systolic and diastolic blood pressure in adults, Ann Intern Med
10ada Cunha Nascimento, D., et al. (2018). Blood pressure response to resistance training in hypertensive and normotensive older women, Clinical interventions in aging
11Hagins, M., Selfe, T. and Innes, K. (2013). Effectiveness of yoga for hypertension: systematic review and meta-analysis, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
12Ishikawa-Takata, K., Ohta, T. and Tanaka, H. (2003). How much exercise is required to reduce blood pressure in essential hypertensives: a dose-response study, American journal of hypertension
13Davis, C.R., et al. (2017). A Mediterranean diet lowers blood pressure and improves endothelial function: results from the MedLey randomized intervention trial, 2, The American journal of clinical nutrition
14Toledo, E., et al. (2013). Effect of the Mediterranean diet on blood pressure in the PREDIMED trial: results from a randomized controlled trial, BMC Medicine
15Cicero, A.F., Ertek, S. and Borghi, C., (2009). Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids: their potential role in blood pressure prevention and management, Current vascular pharmacology
16Cunha, A.R., Umbelino, B., Correia, M.L. and Neves, M.F., (2012). Magnesium and vascular changes in hypertension, nternational journal of hypertension
17Zhang, X., Li, Y., Del Gobbo, L.C., Rosanoff, A., Wang, J.,Zhang, W. and Song, Y., (2016). Effects of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trials, Hypertension
18Kass, L., Weekes, J. and Carpenter, L., (2012). Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis, European journal of clinical nutrition