High blood pressure is a preventable condition—and lowering it without drugs is easier than you think
Do you have high blood pressure? If you're otherwise healthy and in a low-risk group, you may be going undiagnosed. That's the result from a recent study on hypertension, which found that an average 65 percent of those under 40 who have high blood pressure don't have a diagnosis. Older adults, who are more at risk, don't fare much better, with 50 percent undiagnosed.
What's more, one large study shows that half of those who have been diagnosed and are receiving treatment don't have their blood pressure under control.
We all know that chronically high blood pressure can lead to cardiovascular problems, heart disease, and stroke, but that's not all. Another recent study looked at the effects of unregulated blood pressure and found that even slightly elevated blood pressure can prematurely age the brain, causing memory loss, and maybe contributing to early-onset dementia. What's more, that's also true for those who had slightly elevated blood pressure under the age of 40—the exact group that goes undiagnosed at the highest rate.
So what's a person to do? Make a few lifestyle changes to keep those numbers as close to 120/80 (the healthiest rate) as possible.
Meditation can help maintain a calm and focused mind, but one side benefit of that relaxation could also help with blood pressure. When relaxed, the body produces more nitric oxide, which in turn helps blood vessels to open up, reducing the pressure of the blood flowing through.
Research shows that pet owners have lower blood pressure (also: lower cholesterol and heart disease risk), thanks to the anxiety-reducing qualities of an animal companion.
Moderate drinking—one drink for women and men over 65 and two drinks for younger men—can actually help reduce blood pressure. But more than that has the opposite effect, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Perhaps the best known advice for healthy blood pressure is maintaining a low-sodium diet. Follow the USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans: a max of 2,300mg of sodium for healthy, young adults—or 1,500mg a day or fewer for those who are over 50, African-American, or suffering from diabetes or chronic kidney disease.
Eating well is essential to maintaining healthy blood pressure, but even if you live on beans and bananas, extra pounds could harm you. In fact, one Italian study found that hypertension in overweight patients was a secondary condition, caused by excess weight. In other words, once the weight was lost, the high blood pressure went with it.