Exercise helps the heart use oxygen more efficiently, so it doesn’t work as hard to pump blood. Get a vigorous cardio workout of at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. Try increasing speed or distance so you keep challenging your ticker.
2. Breathe deeply
Slow breathing and meditative practices such as qigong, yoga, and tai chi decrease stress hormones, which elevate renin, a kidney enzyme that raises blood pressure. Try 5 minutes in the morning and at night. Inhale deeply and expand your belly. Exhale and release all of your tension. (Try these stress-busting yoga poses to relieve tension.)
3. Pick potatoes
Loading up on potassium-rich fruits and vegetables is an important part of any blood pressure-lowering program, says Linda Van Horn, PhD, RD, professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medical. Aim for potassium levels of 2,000 to 4,000 mg a day, she says. Top sources of potassium-rich produce include sweet potatoes, tomatoes, orange juice, potatoes, bananas, kidney beans, peas, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, and dried fruits such as prunes and raisins.
4. Be salt smart
Certain groups of people—the elderly, African Americans, and those with a family history of high blood pressure—are more likely than others to have blood pressure that’s particularly salt (or sodium) sensitive. But because there’s no way to tell whether any one individual is sodium sensitive, everyone should lower his sodium intake, says Eva Obarzanek, PhD, a research nutritionist at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. How far? To 1,500 mg daily, about half the average American intake, she says. (Half a teaspoon of salt contains about 1,200 mg of sodium.) Cutting sodium means more than going easy on the saltshaker, which contributes just 15% of the sodium in the typical American diet. Watch for sodium in processed foods, Obarzanek warns. That’s where most of the sodium in your diet comes from, she says. Season foods with spices, herbs, lemon, and salt-free seasoning blends. (For more ways to reduce your sodium, see Pass (On) The Salt.)
5. Indulge in dark chocolate
Dark chocolate varieties contain flavanols that make blood vessels more elastic. In one study, 18% of patients who ate it every day saw blood pressure decrease. Have 1/2 ounce daily (make sure it contains at least 70% cocoa).
6. Take a supplement
In a review of 12 studies, researchers found that coenzyme Q10 reduced blood pressure by up to 17 mmhg over 10 mmhg. The antioxidant, required for energy production, dilates blood vessels. Ask your doctor about taking a 60 to 100 mg supplement up to 3 times a day.
7. Drink (a little) alcohol
According to a review of 15 studies, the less you drink, the lower your blood pressure will drop—to a point. A study of women at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, for example, found that light drinking (defined as one-quarter to one-half a drink per day for a woman) may actually reduce blood pressure more than no drinks per day. One “drink” is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of spirits. Other studies have also found that moderate drinking—up to one drink a day for a woman, two for a man—can lower risks of heart disease. “High levels of alcohol are clearly detrimental,” says Obarzanek. “But moderate alcohol is protective of the heart. If you are going to drink, drink moderately.”