6 ways of lowering blood pressure with lifestyle adjustments

Excerpt: Hypertension is the most common reason for Canadians to visit a doctor and it increases the risk of stroke, heart attack and kidney failure. Most people with high blood pressure have no symptoms, so it’s important to check your blood pressure at least annually. To help lower high blood pressure to the normal range, eat healthy foods, limit salt intake, be physically active, reduce stress and drink alcohol in moderation.

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is the most common reason for Canadians to visit a doctor and for taking medication,* reports the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

The prevalence of high blood pressure increases with age and about half of Canadians over 65 have hypertension,* according to Heart & Stroke Foundation (HSF). High blood pressure can lead to narrowing of the arteries, if untreated, and significantly increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure, and peripheral vascular disease,* says HSF.

High blood pressure symptoms

Hypertension is called the “silent killer” because most people with high blood pressure have no symptoms,* says the American Heart Association. Some people with hypertension, however, may experience symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, vision problems, or shortness of breath,* according to Government of Canada. HSF recommends having your blood pressure checked annually, or more often, if you have high blood pressure,* since the condition is silent.

Aim for normal blood pressure

A normal blood pressure reading is below 140/90, which means a systolic blood pressure (top number) below 140 mm Hg (millimetres of mercury) and diastolic blood pressure (bottom number) below 90 mm Hg,* according to HSF. Readings in the normal range of 121-139/80-89 are considered medium risk and 120/80 low risk.*

If you have high blood pressure or want to prevent it, small lifestyle changes can help lower blood pressure and possibly avoid, delay or reduce the need for medication and its potential side effects:

  1. Enjoy a healthy, low-fat diet. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grain foods, proteins such as legumes, nuts, fish, poultry and lean meats, and lower fat dairy products,* advises HSF.

  2. Consume less salt. Eat fewer packaged, processed, ready-to-eat and take-out foods,* suggests HealthLink BC. Flavour foods you prepare with herbs and salt-free spices, vinegar, lemon, lime, garlic, ginger and onion.*

  3. Be physically active. Doing 30 to 60 minutes of moderate intensity activity, such as walking, dancing or swimming, 4 to 7 days per week is effective in lowering blood pressure,* according to Hypertension Canada.

  4. Maintain a healthy body weight. Shedding even 5 extra pounds can lower blood pressure,* says Mayo Clinic.

  5. Ease stress. Practice relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga or breathing awareness each day to relieve chronic or acute stress,* says Hypertension Canada.

  6. Drink alcohol in moderation. Enjoy a glass of wine or beer with dinner, but limit consumption of alcohol to one drink a day for women and two a day for men,* advises Mayo Clinic.

*The following sources provide references for this blog, in order of appearance:
1. Public Health Agency of Canada. “Hypertension facts and figures.” (2010), online: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/chronic-diseases/cardiovascular-disease/hypertension-facts-figures.html
2. Heart & Stroke Foundation. “Get your blood pressure under control.” (2015), online: https://www.heartandstroke.ca/-/media/pdf-files/canada/health-information-catalogue/en-get-your-blood-pressure-under-control-v21-web.ashx?la=en&hash=20493566724F3F87387717A720D49F60521C1CF2
3. American Heart Association. “What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?” (2016), online: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/why-high-blood-pressure-is-a-silent-killer/what-are-the-symptoms-of-high-blood-pressure
4. Government of Canada. “Signs and symptoms of high blood pressure.” (2017), online: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/heart-health/high-blood-pressure/signs-symptoms-high-blood-pressure.html
5. Heart & Stroke Foundation. “Healthy eating basics.” (2018), online: https://www.heartandstroke.ca/get-healthy/healthy-eating/healthy-eating-basics
6. HealthLink BC. “Lifestyle steps to lower your high blood pressure.” (2018), online: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthlinkbc-files/lower-your-blood-pressure
7. Hypertension Canada. “What’s new? 2017 Hypertension guidelines for the management of hypertension.” (2017), online: https://hypertension.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/HTN_Whats_New_2017_EN.pdf
8. Mayo Clinic. “Blood pressure medication: Still necessary if I lose weight?” (2019), online: https://hypertension.ca/hypertension-and-you/managing-hypertension/what-can-i-do/
9. Hypertension Canada. “Hypertension & You: What can I do?” (2018), online: https://hypertension.ca/hypertension-and-you/managing-hypertension/what-can-i-do/ ,
10. Mayo Clinic. “10 ways to control high blood pressure without medication.” (2019), online: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/high-blood-pressure/art-20046974