Bring down your blood pressure

Patsy Westcott / 17 January 2017 ( 11 May 2017 )

High blood pressure levels can increase your risk of heart disease, stroke and dementia, so here’s how to keep things in check.



The good news is, alongside tried-and-tested methods, such as exercise, losing weight and quitting smoking, there are lots of innovative and simple ways to lower BP in the short and long term.   

What’s raising your blood pressure?

Why is high blood pressure dangerous?

Excessive BP (usually defined as 140/90mmHg or more) can damage the cells of the arteries’ inner lining, thickening and stiffening the arteries, and forcing your heart to work harder.

This creates a host of potential problems, including stroke, kidney failure, dangerous heart rhythms, angina, heart attacks, heart failure, disease of the peripheral arteries serving the limbs and erectile dysfunction.

Recent research from the George Institute for Global Health in Sydney found that people aged 30-50 with high BP had a 26% greater risk of developing vascular dementia (caused by reduced blood supply to the brain) between the ages of 51 and 70.

Blood pressure numbers and measurements explained

How do you know if you’ve got high blood pressure?

Hypertension is a silent syndrome. You can’t tell you have it (except perhaps at a late stage when some people experience headaches or dizziness). High BP is undiagnosed in an estimated seven million Brits.

What’s causing your dizziness?

As well as having it checked regularly by a medical professional, experts advise getting into the habit of keeping an eye on your BP yourself.

Visit reputable online sites or your chemist to buy an affordable upper-arm cuff home monitor (look for one that’s approved by the British Hypertension Society, http://bhsoc.org/).

How to monitor your blood pressure

Get intensive blood pressure treatment

Common anti-hypertensive medications, such as ACE inhibitors and angiotensin-II receptor blockers, can have side effects such as headaches and dizziness, so many people stop taking them.

But last year’s SPRINT (the US-government-led Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial) revealed that not only is it vital to persevere with drug therapy, but new, more intensive programmes are particularly effective.

The study compared an aggressive treatment regime that involved using as many drugs as necessary to drive systolic (upper reading) BP down to 120mmHg with a looser regime to reach the more usual 140mmHg. Rates of heart attack, heart failure and stroke fell by a third.

5 new blood pressure treatments

Drink tea

A Chinese study of 6,589 men and women aged 40-75, published recently in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, found that regular tea drinking helped to protect arteries against stiffness, a key factor in high BP.

Plant chemicals, known as flavonoids, in tea are believed to improve arteries’ elasticity. Oolong or black tea without milk or sugar offered the most protection.

10 blood-pressure lowering lifestyle changes

How dancing may help blood pressure

A Brazilian study of high-blood-pressure sufferers, with an average age of 62, found that attending a dance class three times a week for three months led to a marked decline in BP.

Dances included bolero, samba, merengue, rock’n’roll, salsa and the Brazilian dance forro, but any dance that includes bouts of fast and slow activity should do the same trick. By pushing up the heart rate then letting it recover for a short time, the activity improves the condition of the lining of your arteries.

Inspired? Your easy guide to getting into dancing

Bespoke control

A groundbreaking implant that can be tailored to the needs of individuals is available in more and more NHS hospitals. Designed for the estimated one in 25 people with resistant hypertension (a severe form of high blood pressure that can’t be controlled with medication), the Barostim Neo™ – slightly larger than a £2 coin – is placed beneath the collar bone with a connecting wire implanted outside the carotid artery. It electrically activates the body’s own natural blood-pressure-regulating mechanisms.

Nibble a cube of cheese

A recent Italian study found that a daily 30g (1oz) serving of Grana Padano, a hard, full-fat aged cheese a bit like Parmesan, lowered mild-to-moderate high BP. The secret is thought to lie in small molecules (peptides) produced by fermentation that act like the BP-lowering drugs ACE inhibitors.

10 blood pressure-lowering foods

Blood pressure instant fixes

Listen to some Mozart or Strauss

Mozart lowered the systolic (upper) BP reading by 4.7mmHg in a German study, while Strauss reduced the diastolic (lower) reading by 2.9mmHg.

How music benefits your health

Rhythmic sighing

Rhythmic sighing, once every 50 seconds between normal breaths, helps lower BP, according to a 2015 US study.

Smile

A University of Kansas study found that even a fake smile reduces heart rate in tense situations. Time to switch on the Christmas comedies.

How laughter helps your health

Turn up the thermostat

If the weather outside is frightful, throw an extra log on the fire and put another jumper on. Heat widens the blood vessels.

Why you should take extra care of your heart when it’s cold

Squeeze a stress ball

Try it for ten seconds, then release. It’s thought this activity moderates the chemoreceptor reflex, a part of the nervous system that regulates BP.

What stress does to your health

A version of this article was published in the December 2016 issue of Saga Magazine.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.