Try these tweaks to improve your blood pressure readings and potentially extend your life
IN RECENT YEARS, doctors have increasingly focused on the lifesaving benefits of lowering blood pressure in patients with hypertension. A landmark 2015 study showed that volunteers who lowered their systolic pressure to 120 mmHg (millimetres of mercury, the units used to measure blood pressure) had a 25 per cent lower risk of heart attack and a 43 per cent lowered risk of death from cardiovascular causes, compared with those whose systolic pressure was 140 mmHg.
When measuring blood pressure, for example 120 over 80, the first number measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats –
systolic blood pressure. The second number measures the pressure in your blood vessels between beats – when your heart is at rest. Called diastolic blood pressure, this tends to fall naturally after the age of 55. Losing weight, eating less sodium, exercising more and quitting smoking are among the best nonmedicinal ways to substantially reduce systolic blood pressure in the long term. Your doctor might also prescribe medication. But if you need extra help reaching your goal, these lesser-known suggestions can help lower your reading in the doctor’s office and perhaps even beyond.
SIT PROPERLY Next time a nurse takes your blood pressure, make sure you sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor. “When you’re sitting with your feet dangling from an examination table, 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 cardiologist Dr Nieca Goldberg. SUPPORT YOUR ARM If your arm is too high or too low during your reading, your heart might have to pump harder, 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,” she advises.
BREATHE SLOWLY In a study of more than 21,000 adults in Japan (some with normal and some with high blood pressure), patients who took six deep breaths in 30 seconds while waiting to see the doctor saw a more than three-point drop in their systolic blood pressure compared with patients who didn’t.
Getting in the habit of a daily deepbreathing session can extend these effects. Other studies have found that patients who routinely practice slow breathing had consistently lower blood pressure over an eight- or nine-week period. NIBBLE DARK CHOCOLATE Studies of 856 healthy participants showed that flavanol-rich cocoa products can lower systolic blood pressure by four points in those with hypertension. You would need to consume at least 30mg of flavanols (a form of antioxidant) per day for at least two weeks to see the effects.
Unfortunately, most manufacturers don’t list flavanol content, but in general, dark chocolate and natural unsweetened cocoa powder contain more flavanols than milk chocolate and processed cocoa powder.
GET A GRIP A small study of 204 participants demonstrated that healthy adults who performed just 15 minutes of simple handgrip exercises three times a week for ten weeks reduced their systolic pressure by almost ten points.