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6 ways to lower your blood pressure

Simple lifestyle changes can make a big difference to your blood pressure. Here we give you some tips to lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.

an image of a dad and his daughters at the park

High blood pressure (hypertension) costs thousands of lives in New Zealand each year. 

There are lots of factors that can cause high blood pressure. Unfortunately, some of them, like family history and age, you can’t change. 

However, the great news is that many other risk factors you can manage through simple lifestyle changes.

And for every 10-point drop in your systolic blood pressure, you reduce your risk of a heart event by 20%. 

Learn more about blood pressure numbers

What changes can I make?

There are lots of small steps you can take to lower blood pressure naturally, alongside any medication you’ve been given by your doctor.

For some people, these changes may be enough to control their blood pressure without starting medication. However, if you’ve been prescribed medication, it’s important that you keep taking that too.

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.  

Either way, if you’ve been told you’ve got high blood pressure, you’ll need to check in with your GP, nurse practitioner (NP) or practice nurse on a regular basis to manage your condition.

1. Swap to lower salt foods

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

There are some foods to cut back on if you have high blood pressure, particularly those high in salt. The sodium in salt raises blood pressure and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

So, avoiding or reducing foods with very high salt levels can help reduce blood pressure.

Processed and packaged foods can be very high in salt. This includes 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.

  • Switch ham to chicken. 
  • Switch chips to unsalted nuts.
  • Switch soy sauce to lemon juice.
  • Switch crackers to veggie 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. 

The recommended amount for adults is no more than 5g of salt per day (2,000mg of sodium). If you have high blood pressure or heart failure, your recommended amount may be less than this. Your healthcare professional can advise what’s best for you. 

Look for the least amount of sodium per 100g and compare similar products.

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

2. Increase activity and exercise to reduce blood pressure

Image of a woman in trainers running on a jogging track, symbolising the start of a new year and healthy goal setting.

Activity and exercise are great ways to reduce blood pressure – and they make you feel good too.

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 everyday activities. 

A review of evidence on physical activity and heart health by the Heart Foundation, found people with high blood pressure who did regular physical activity were able to reduce their systolic blood pressure reading (top number) by 12.26 mmHg and their diastolic blood pressure (bottom number) by 6.12 mmHg.

The Heart Foundation recommends 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 without having to set foot in a gym.

Read more about physical activity 

3. Make plants the main part of meals

an image of a healthy plant based meal which can be used to lower your blood pressure

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

Plant-based foods are excellent for your general health, and some are foods that reduce blood pressure.

Load up your plate with plenty of these foods to manage your blood pressure and look after your heart:

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

The Heart Foundation has more information about plant-based, vegetarian and vegan diets.

Order a free Full o' Beans cookbook
Order a free copy of Eating for a Healthy Heart booklet

4. Cut out alcohol or cut back on alcohol

There’s strong evidence that drinking alcohol increases your risk of high blood pressure, which is a significant risk factor for heart disease. 

There is no safe level of alcohol consumption.  

If you currently don’t drink any alcohol, then don’t start drinking. If you do drink alcohol, it’s better to drink less.  

See the Heart Foundation’s position statement on alcohol for more information.

5. Take time out to relax

A man relaxing while reading a book

Stress can raise your heart rate and your blood pressure in the short-term. 

Plus, the things we often do to deal with stress, such as eating more takeaways and drinking more alcohol, can impact on our blood pressure in the long-term.

One way 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.

Find out more about managing stress.

6. Take any medication as prescribed

If you’ve been prescribed medication by your doctor, take it as recommended. This is one of the most effective ways to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.

If you’re unhappy with your current medication or you’re experiencing side effects, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. There may be alternative medications you can be prescribed. 

Don’t stop taking your medication without talking to your healthcare professional first.

Can you lower blood pressure instantly?

Unfortunately, there are no quick ways to lower blood pressure that will reduce your long-term risk of heart disease or stroke. 

However, making recommended lifestyle changes and taking any blood pressure medication as prescribed are effective ways to reduce your blood pressure and your risk of heart conditions. Medication can make a difference within days and lifestyle changes can work as early as a few weeks.

How to make lifestyle changes that stick

It can be hard to 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. 

Keep taking any blood pressure medication as directed – this lowers your chance of having a heart attack or stroke.

We recommend checking regularly to see if the lifestyle changes you have made are helping.

Regularly monitoring your blood pressure at home, or getting a blood pressure check with your GP, NP, nurse or pharmacist, is a great way to see the benefits your changes are having.

More about high blood pressure
How to monitor blood pressure at home