The very first thing your primary care doctors at The Medical Group of South Florida do when you come in for a visit is check your blood pressure. That’s because high blood pressure can cause heart attacks and strokes, and rarely produces detectable symptoms in sufferers until it has done serious damage. Other associated illnesses can include kidney disease, blindness, and dementia.
If it’s even slightly high, we will recommend you take appropriate steps to lower it, such as adhering to the DASH diet (fresh vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, low salt, and low-fat dairy), losing weight, stopping smoking, exercising, and reducing stress. If those non-medical approaches don’t achieve the necessary results, we will prescribe medication.
But there are other, less conventional methods to help keep those figures under control.
Here are a few.
1. Isometric handgrip exercises. An American Heart Association study found that squeezing a spring-loaded handgrip for two minutes, over a period of 12 to 15 minutes three times a week, can help lower blood pressure. Why? The study found that blood flow returns to your hands after the isometric exercise, improving blood vessel function. Another study reported in the journal Hypertension found this exercise produced a 10% drop in both systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number) readings when practiced six times a day, five days a week for four weeks.
2. Cutting back on sugar. We’ve talked before about the negative effects of sugar on heart disease. Here’s a more specific fact about its impact on blood pressure: Sugar can raise blood pressure even more than salt, as numerous studies have confirmed since 2014.
3. Giving and getting as many hugs as you can. It turns out that physical contact with another human being—or with even animals—releases the hormone oxytocin, which dampens stress and sympathetic nervous system activity in your cardiovascular system.
4. Living in quiet. A study at Lund University in Sweden found that daily exposure to noise that is above 64 decibels—the same amount of noise made when brushing your teeth—raises your risk of high blood pressure 90%. If you can’t get away from noise (for example, if you live near a busy highway), try noise-canceling headphones or earplugs, when feasible.
5. Breathing better. Slow, deep breathing has been shown repeatedly to lower blood pressure by lowering stress hormones. Try to take 10 minutes daily to stop, relax your shoulder muscles, and breathe slowly. The correct breathing technique will cause your belly to expand, while your chest barely moves. Check this by placing one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen until you learn to breathe this way naturally.
6. Getting (a little) sunshine. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh confirmed previous studies that found that subjects exposed to UV light experienced a significant drop in blood pressure, apparently because the sun’s rays convert nitrate stored in your skin to nitric oxide, a compound that helps blood vessels retain their elasticity. Of course, you should never spend more than 10 minutes a day in the sun without sunscreen, because of the risk of skin cancer.
6. Sitting up straight. Research has shown that slouching can affect the spinal nerves that help keep blood pressure under control. This simple bad habit can raise blood pressure as much as 16%. Try to imagine a string coming out of the top of your head that you can pull taut whenever you feel yourself begin to slouch.
If you are taking medication we’ve prescribed to lower blood pressure, NEVER stop without checking with us. But meanwhile, these are some of the ways you might be able to lower blood pressure naturally.