Lowering blood pressure without medication

Photo of a man measuring his blood pressure (BananaStock / Thinkstock)

Constant high blood pressure can damage blood vessels and increase the likelihood of long-term health consequences. It's possible to lower your blood pressure somewhat without using medication.

There are different ways to manage high blood pressure. The aim is always to get blood pressure down to a level that reduces the risk of long-term health consequences. If your blood pressure is only a little too high, it could be worth trying to change some of your habits and generally pay more attention to your health. If that doesn’t lower your blood pressure, medication may be an option.

There's a whole lot of advice about lowering blood pressure on the internet and in other media. It is often claimed that certain diets, acupuncture, teas or special dietary supplements can help to lower blood pressure. But these claims aren't backed up by scientific research.

Only a few methods have been proven to work – so it may be a good idea to focus on what is truly effective:

  • losing a bit of weight,
  • eating less salt, and
  • getting an extra 30 minutes of exercise every day.

Losing some weight

Research has shown that losing some weight can lower blood pressure. The people in the studies lost an average of four kilograms (nearly nine pounds), which reduced their systolic blood pressure by an average of 4 to 5 mmHg, and their diastolic blood pressure by 3 mmHg.

Weight loss was most successful when changes in diet were combined with more exercise. It's important that any changes to your diet can be maintained over the long run. Extreme diets don't help. Even people who aren't that enthusiastic about exercise often find it enjoyable after a while or might even end up finding a sport they like.

Eating less salt

Reducing your salt intake by one teaspoon (about 4 grams) can lower your systolic blood pressure by about 5 mmHg and your diastolic blood pressure by about 3 mmHg.

There's less salt in fresh and unprocessed foods. Salt levels are especially high in convenience foods, potato chips (crisps), canned food, cured or smoked meat and many types of cheese. One small bag of potato chips (50 g) has nearly 1 gram of salt in it, for instance.

The taste may take some getting used to – so it's a good idea to gradually reduce the amount of salt you eat instead of stopping all at once. Eventually it will taste just as good without the salt.

Getting more exercise

Physical exercise and sports have the short-term effect of increasing blood pressure because the heart needs to pump more blood through the body. But over the long term, regular exercise causes blood pressure to fall because the blood vessels are then in better shape and more elastic.

In studies, systolic blood pressure fell by an average of 5 to 8 mmHg in participants who

  • went walking for 30 minutes per day,
  • rode a bicycle for one hour three times a week, or
  • jogged slowly for an hour three times a week.

Quitting smoking

Smoking greatly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and many other medical conditions. So quitting smoking has a lot of health benefits. The same is true of alcohol. It's best to only drink a little.

It's often easier to quit smoking with help. Nicotine replacement therapy and various medications can increase the likelihood of successfully quitting. Even e-cigarettes ("vaping") can help to get by without nicotine or at least to stop using tobacco, which is more harmful.