Do you know how high your blood pressure is, and why it’s important? Your blood pressure is a measurement of how much blood passes through your body’s vessels, and how much resistance there is when your heart pumps blood through them. High blood pressure – also known as hypertension – often has no symptoms, which is concerning since it’s one of the major causes of heart disease, strokes and heart attacks. Because of this, being aware of your blood pressure level is one way of preserving your own health (many medical aids like Fedhealth offer free blood pressure checks for their members, so it’s worth investigating if you’re covered for this).
So, what can you do if your blood pressure is high? Some of the more well-known advice for lowering it includes making sure you’re at a healthy weight, staying fit and active, not smoking, reducing stress and eating a healthy diet. But there are also other ways of lowering your blood pressure levels that you may not have heard of:
1. Meditate regularly. A 2008 US study* monitored 60 patients who were taking standard medicines to treat high blood pressure. Over three months, patients were taught meditation techniques and agreed to undertake daily meditation sessions. By the end of the three-month period, two thirds of them had lower blood pressure than at the start. According to the doctor running the study, this meditation helps relax the body, which results in an increase of the formation of a compound called nitric oxide, which causes blood vessels to open up and pressure to lower.
2. Do isometric handgrip exercises. It’s the small things that count: a study published in 2013 in Hypertension, a journal by the American Heart Association, found that squeezing a simple spring-loaded handgrip for two minutes several times a week notably lowered blood pressure. The study found that as blood flow returns to the hand after the exercise, blood vessel function is improved, which makes blood flow more efficiently in the body overall.
3. Live a quieter life. A Swedish study conducted by Lund University in 2009 found that daily exposure to a high amount of noise increased the risk of high blood pressure by more than 25%. So, could a high blood pressure remedy be as simple as lowering the noise in your daily life? Using things like noise-cancelling headphones if you’re in a busy city could help with this – though the study also notes that things like smoking and overeating as a result of a stressful life were also contributing factors.
4. Cultivate happiness. A 2017 Eastern European study of over 10 000 adults found a positive correlation between psychological wellbeing and positive lifestyle factors such as being physically active, consuming less alcohol and eating more healthily. In other words, people who have a greater sense of wellbeing are more likely to lead a healthier life in these areas, resulting in lower blood pressure. Cultivating happiness means different things to everyone, but it could be things like having close friends or family in your life, or taking time to do the things that relax and uplift you, rather than add to your stress levels.
5. Eat chocolate. While it’s not a good idea to overdo it on this one, dark chocolate and cocoa powder contain flavonoids, which are plant compounds that have been found to cause blood vessels to dilate. Blood vessels that are more dilated mean that blood flows more easily through them, so your heart doesn’t have to work as hard.
Prevention is always better than cure – which in this case means preventing the diseases that may result from hypertension that are difficult to treat or live with. Being healthier also benefits you in terms of the money you spend on your health, whether it’s saving on chronic medication or medical aid costs, or being able to visit the doctor less because you’re healthier. There’s no doubt that keeping your blood pressure low is an investment in your future health for years to come.
Make sure your blood pressure levels are healthy by checking it on International “Check Your Blood Pressure Day”, coming up on 4th November.