If you're in your 20s or 30s, you probably don't spend a lot of time thinking about your blood pressure. But what if I told you that most people don't know that their blood pressure is too high until they experience a medical emergency? There are ways to lower your blood pressure starting, like, right now — and they aren't that hard to do.
"With high blood pressure, the vast majority of people, regardless of how high it is, don’t feel anything," Dr. Randy Wexler, a family medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Bustle. "They can walk around that way for years. People often do not have symptoms until things get out of control."
Dr. Wexler says that typically people with a blood pressure of 140 over 90 or higher will be labeled as having high blood pressure. This matters because uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, and other serious medical conditions. If you have a family history of high blood pressure, it's important to get ahead of it by adopting healthy habits in your 20s and 30s.
When it comes to preventing high blood pressure, being proactive is the best protection. Habits that can lower your blood pressure are actually things that can also help you maintain your overall health. While you might think controlling your blood pressure requires medication or drastic lifestyle changes, that's not necessarily true. Some of these tips are common sense recommendations you might already be doing, but there are definitely a few surprises on the list.
Skip The Salt
Some people don't like to salt their food. I am not one of those people. In order to maintain healthy blood pressure, Dr. Wexler says less is more when it comes to salt. This means getting serious about reading labels. "Soup often has a lot of salt, lunch meat has a lot of salt. There’s a lot of hidden salt out there," he says.
One way to decrease your salt intake is to explore the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension eating plan (DASH). "In general, it’s a diet that’s higher in fruits and vegetables, lower in saturated fats, higher in lean meat, preferably not red meat, and high in potassium and magnesium." Most people can’t follow it exactly, he says. "But if you can make positive changes in that direction you can still get some benefit."
Don't Rosé All Day
Alcohol can also contribute to high blood pressure. If you do drink alcohol, Dr. Wexler says there are some guidelines to follow. "For a male it should be no more than two alcoholic beverages a day, and for a female, no more than one." He adds that smoking and vaping should be avoided if you're trying to lower your blood pressure, since nicotine causes your arteries to constrict, which in turn elevates your blood pressure.
Make Time To Meditate
Meditation has been touted as a magical cure for most first-world problems. While you might feel like meditation is oversold, there is actually evidence that adopting a meditation practice can lower blood pressure. NPR reported that Dr. Randy Zusman began adding meditation to his recommendations to lower blood pressure for patients in whom other lifestyle changes and/or medication was unsuccessful. To his surprise, it worked. "Their blood pressure dropped, and they dropped some of their medication," he told Allison Aubrey for NPR Morning Edition. "It was striking."
Eat More Dark Chocolate
OK, now that you know that lower blood pressure means eating less salt, drinking less alcohol, and avoiding all forms of nicotine, you might feel like keeping a healthy blood pressure is synonymous with depriving yourself. Not so, my friendlies. A study published in the journal Canadian Family Physicians found that eating dark chocolate can help maintain healthy blood pressure, and can even lower blood pressure. Enjoy a square or two after your finish meditating.
Melatonin: It's not just a sleep aid. According to the study in Canadian Family Physicians, taking just 2.5 grams of melatonin a day can lower your blood pressure.
Do Isometric Handgrip Exercises
While you probably don't want to do them with a ripe avocado unless you intend to make guacamole, a study published in the journal Circulation found that isometric handgrip exercises reduce blood pressure. You can easily do this with a rolled-up washcloth. Simply hold the cloth, and forcefully clench your fist until it feels fatigued.
Give & Get More Hugs
If you have high blood pressure, get ready to hug it out. According to the Medical Group of South Florida, giving and receiving hugs on the regular from humans and animals alike releases oxytocin. This in turn reduces stress in your cardiovascular system, which can lower your blood pressure.
Sit Up Straight
If you struggle to sit up straight, you're not alone. As a generation of people who spend the majority of their time hunched over computers and phones, perfect posture is like an elusive unicorn. However, according to the Medical Group of South Florida, sitting up straight can lower your blood pressure. "[Slouching] can raise blood pressure as much as 16%," the group said on its website. "Try to imagine a string coming out of the top of your head that you can pull taut whenever you feel yourself begin to slouch."
Overall, maintaining healthy blood pressure is all about making positive lifestyle choices and reducing bad habits. This is especially true for people who are at high risk for developing hypertension. You're likely already doing a lot of these things anyways, so keep it up to keep your blood pressure low in your 20s, 30s, and beyond.