5 ways to lower your blood pressure

If you’ve been told you’ve got high blood pressure, the good news is that simple lifestyle changes can help you to manage it.

header image - a wooden heart, apple, weight and stethoscope

High blood pressure is also called hypertension. If you are unable to manage your blood pressure and it stays high, it can lead to damaged arteries and increase your risk of heart disease.

There aren’t always obvious signs your blood pressure is high so the best way to find out is to have it checked by your GP, nurse or pharmacist.

Why is our lifestyle so important?

These days our lifestyles consist of less active jobs, a high intake of processed foods and greater stress. These factors can all contribute to increasing our blood pressure and risk of heart disease.

The good news is that there are lots of small steps for those with high blood pressure to modify their lifestyle and manage it with or without medication.

You may decide to focus on one or two changes to begin with. Over time these changes will become easier and part of your normal routine.

Even if you haven't been diagnosed with high blood pressure, following these tips will be good for your heart health.

5 ways to lower your blood pressure - 1. swap to lower salt foods 2. build movement into your day 3.make plants the main part of meals 4. aim for alcohol-free evenings 5.take tike out to relax

1. Swaps to lower salt foods

The sodium in salt raises blood pressure and increases our risk of heart disease and stroke.

Salt is hidden in processed and packaged foods like ready meals, soups, sauces, crackers, bread, breakfast cereals, processed meats and savoury snacks.

Try making swaps to lower salt alternatives. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Smart swaps to lower salt - ham to chicken, chips to unsalted nuts, soy sauce to lemon juice, crackers to veggies sticks

You can also reduce the amount of salt you eat by learning how to read a food label, where you will see salt listed as sodium. Look for the least amount of sodium per 100 grams and compare similar products, i.e. sauces or crackers.

How to read a food label - look for sodium. use the per 100g column to compare similar foods

Read more about eating less salt.

2. Build movement into your day

Every little bit of movement counts. Parking further away from work, the shops or when dropping kids at school is one way you can sit less and build more movement into your lifestyle.

When we looked at the evidence on physical activity and heart health, people with high blood pressure who did regular physical activity were able to reduce their blood pressure (systolic blood pressure by 12.26 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 6.12 mmHg.1

We recommend aiming to do at least 2.5 hours (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity physical activity each week. Moderate-intensity activity makes you breathe harder than normal but still able to talk.

Regularly parking a 5 or 10-minute walk away, getting off the bus a stop earlier or taking the stairs are all ways you can build movement into your day to help you to meet the physical activity recommendations without having to set foot in a gym.

Learn more about being active.

3. Make plants the main part of meals

What you put into your body can make a big difference to your blood pressure.

Whether it’s a snack, breakfast, or dinner meal, we could all do with eating more plant foods. 

Load up your plate with plenty of these plant foods to help manage your blood pressure and nourish your heart:

  • fruits and vegetables
  • beans and legumes, such as chickpeas
  • whole grains like oats and brown rice
  • unsalted nuts and seeds.

Learn more about plant-based, vegetarian and vegan diets.

4. Aim for alcohol-free evenings 

If you drink alcohol and have high blood pressure, you will see an improvement just by drinking less. 

A good place to start is to aim for two or more evenings without alcohol each week. If you have high blood pressure, or you've been diagnosed with a heart condition, you may need more alcohol-free evenings or may need to completely cut out alcohol.

The greatest benefits to blood pressure are seen in people who are heavy drinkers who reduce the amount they drink.2 The association can be seen in people who are healthy, people who have high blood pressure (hypertension) and people with other risk factors for heart disease.

If you think you may be drinking too much or know someone who has a drinking problem, talk to your GP or practice nurse.

For further information visit the Health Promotion Agency’s alcohol.org.nz website.

5. Take time out to relax

Stress can raise your heart rate, and therefore your blood pressure, in the short term. But it hasn’t been proven that stress alone has a long-lasting effect on your blood pressure.

However, the things we tend to do to combat stress, such as eating convenience  foods and drinking excess alcohol, can impact on our blood pressure in the long-term.

One way we can help to manage stress is to take time out for ourselves. 

This will look different for different people and may include:

  • going for a walk
  • listening to a podcast
  • getting time away from your household and doing something for yourself
  • meditation or mindfulness – try an App.

One step at a time

If you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure (hypertension), you may feel overwhelmed and not know where to start with making changes to your lifestyle.

The best changes are the ones that will stick so focus on making one small change at a time. Read more on making lifestyle changes stick

We recommend checking in with your GP, practice nurse or pharmacist regularly to see if the lifestyle changes you have made are helping.

Remember, your doctor may also suggest you take medication to lower your blood pressure. Taking this medication as directed will help lower your chance of having a heart attack or stroke.

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Lily Henderson, NZRD

Lily Henderson, NZRD

National Nutrition Advisor

I am passionate about improving the health of all Kiwis from young through to old. I have enjoyed working in nutrition in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

References

  1. Heart Foundation (2021). Physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and heart health position statement.
  2. Roerecke (2017). The effect of a reduction in alcohol consumption on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lancet. Volume 2, Issue 2, E108-E120.