5 Easy Ways to Lower the Top Blood Pressure Number
Try these tweaks to improve your systolic pressure, ensure an accurate reading, and potentially extend your life.
Lowering your systolic blood pressure
Matthew Cohen for Reader's Digest
In recent years, doctors have increasingly focused on the lifesaving benefits of lowering your systolic blood pressure. (That’s the top number. The bottom number, diastolic blood pressure, tends to fall naturally after age 55.) A 2015 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that volunteers who lowered their systolic pressure to 120 mm Hg had a 25 percent lower risk of heart attack and a 43 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular causes compared with those whose systolic pressure was 140. (Anything below 120/80 mm Hg is considered a normal blood pressure reading.)
Losing weight, eating less sodium, exercising more, and quitting smoking are among the best non-medicinal ways to reduce your systolic blood pressure substantially and for the long term. Your doctor might also prescribe medication. But if you need extra help reaching your goal, these lesser-known tricks can shave off a few points in the doctor’s office and beyond. In some cases, the effects will be temporary but will eliminate artificial inflation, making your readings more medically trustworthy. Try these things right now to lower your blood pressure.
There are two separate issues to consider: One is the right way blood pressure should be measured in order to avoid falsely elevated readings (which is surprisingly common), and another are the changes you can make in your daily habits (like diet and exercise) that can reduce your blood pressure. For example, the next time a nurse tells you to hop up on the exam table so he or she can take your blood pressure, don’t. “When you’re sitting with your feet dangling, you’re almost between sitting and standing. This can affect your reading because your blood pressure is different when you’re standing versus lying down,” says Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at New York University Langone Medical Center and a clinical associate professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine in New York City. Instead, sit in a chair with your back flat against the chair back and your feet flat on the floor (no leg crossing allowed!). Know these secrets that doctors may not tell you about healthy blood pressure.
Support your arm
If your arm is too high or too low during your reading, your heart might have to pump harder to keep blood flowing, which can raise your blood pressure. “Your arm should be positioned at heart level and flat on a table or supported by the person taking your pressure,” says Dr. Goldberg. Try these natural remedies for high blood pressure (and one cool meditation trick).
When you are stressed out, your blood pressure can rise, according to the American Heart Association. Taking deep, healing breaths, however, can curb stress and lower your blood pressure. Here’s how to do it: First, take a normal breath, then take a deep breath slowly through your nose, filling up your chest and belly and now breathe out slowly through your mouth (or nose) and repeat, the group explains.
Nibble dark chocolate
Chocoholics rejoice! A review of 35 studies found that flavanol-rich cocoa products cause a small (2 mmHg) reduction in blood pressure in healthy adults. Here’s what else you need to know about the health benefits of chocolate. However, this doesn’t mean you should eat it before you get your blood pressure taken; in fact it’s best to avoid eating for an hour before you get your pressure measured.
Get a grip
A small study demonstrated that healthy adults who performed just 15 minutes of simple hand-grip exercises three times a week for ten weeks reduced their systolic pressure by almost ten points. Grip strength can actually predict risk for a handful of conditions. But again, this is a lifestyle change that can help lower your pressure overall. It’s best to avoid exercising in the hour before your pressure is taken, to make sure you get an accurate reading.
- New England Journal of Medicine: “A Randomized Trial of Intensive versus Standard Blood-Pressure Control”
- Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director, Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health, New York University Langone Health; clinical associate professor of medicine, the NYU School of Medicine, NYC
- American Heart Association: “Lower Stress: How does stress affect the body?”
- Cochrane Review “Effect of cocoa on blood pressure”
- Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research: “Effect of Isometric Handgrip Exercise Training on Resting Blood Pressure in Normal Healthy Adults”