As a nation, our blood pressure is creeping up to its boiling point. According to a 2013 CDC report, nearly 1 in every 3 American adults has high blood pressure—a whopping 67 million Americans. That’s a pretty sobering statistic when you consider that high blood pressure, or hypertension, is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, the first and third leading causes of death in the United States. What’s more, high blood pressure often manifests no symptoms, which is why it has been deemed the “silent killer.”
Now, some good news: Lowering blood pressure is much easier than you think—as easy, in fact, as peeling a banana or petting your dog. Of course, the most sure-fire way to manage blood pressure in the long-run is by avoiding salt, getting plenty of exercise, controlling stress levels and consuming a healthy diet. But when it comes to blood pressure, every little point counts. Below, we highlight 8 simple measures that may help instantly tame your blood pressure.
Go bananas. If you suffer from hypertension, eating more bananas might be your prescription for better heart health. The fruit is bursting with potassium, a mineral that can encourage your kidneys to flush out excess sodium—a known culprit of high blood pressure. A great on-the-go snack, just toss a banana into your gym bag before heading out the door.
Play with the pooch. Spending quality time with your furry friend may curb high blood pressure, studies suggest. For example, a 1999 study out of the University of Buffalo tracked a group of hypertensive New York City stockbrokers and found that subjects who had received either a dog or a cat at the beginning of the study experienced a greater overall drop in blood pressure after six months than non-pet owners. Pets have been shown to lessen anxiety and depression in their owners, two risk factors for high blood pressure. Plus, walking a dog encourages physical activity in otherwise sedentary individuals, another cause of hypertension.
Tune out. Several studies have found that listening to slow-tempo, stress-reducing music can lower blood pressure. In a study presented at the 2008 meeting of the American Society of Hypertension, researchers at the University of Florence in Italy discovered that patients with high blood pressure who listened to calming music for 30 minutes a day experienced a drop in blood pressure. So the next time you feel frazzled at work, pop in your earbuds and listen to your fave calming song—it might keep your blood pressure from surging.
Volunteer. Lending a hand may do a heart good, in more ways than one. According to a 2013 study from Carnegie Mellon University, volunteerism in seniors was associated with a 40 percent reduced risk for high blood pressure, in addition to greater overall psychological wellbeing and physical activity. Why helping others cuts hypertension risk is unclear, but researchers hypothesize that it’s because volunteer activities facilitate social interaction in seniors. “There is strong evidence that having good social connections promotes healthy aging and reduces risk for a number of negative health outcomes,” says Rodlescia S. Sneed, the lead author of the study.
Get a grip. If you have elevated blood pressure, take matters into your own hands—literally. Isometric handgrip exercises—continually squeezing and releasing a ball or athletic gripper with your hand—have been shown to cause a significant decrease in resting blood pressure over time. It’s so effective, in fact, that the American Heart Association has endorsed handgrip exercises as a useful alternative therapy for high blood pressure.
Hug it out. Here’s a reason to give your partner more hugs: In a 2012 Swedish study, a ten-second hug was enough to lower blood pressure levels. Hugging a loved one elicits the release of oxtocin, the “feel-good” hormone, and reduces stress chemicals like cortisol. You can reap the same calming, blood pressure-reducing effects from any form of touch—whether it be a massage or a loving squeeze.
Seek the sun. Soaking up some rays may help lower blood pressure, new studies suggest. According to a recent medical study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology (2014), just 20 minutes of sun exposure may help to reduce high blood pressure by stimulating the skin to release nitric oxide, a compound linked to blood flow. Just be sure to lather on the SPF!
Just beet it. A glass of beet juice a day may keep the cardiologist away. In a2013 study out of Barts and The London School of Medicine in London, men and women who drank beet juice experienced an almost immediate reduction in systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) by about 10 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Beetroot juice is bursting with nitrate, compounds that can help increase blood flow and control blood pressure.