One in three adults has hypertension (elevated blood pressure), which ups your risk of heart attack, stroke and kidney disease. Check out the latest research-backed—and sometimes fun!—ways to lower your numbers.
- Explore your local park. Strolling the grounds for just 30 minutes per week can slash your risk of high blood pressure and depression, per a 2016 study in the journal Scientific Reports. Why? Being in nature motivates us to move more, which boosts cardiovascular health. Plus, the green scene—birds chirping, sun streaming through the trees—helps buffer your body’s stress response, preventing it from staying stuck in fight-or-flight mode.
- Skip the nap. Those who snoozed more than 30 to 60 minutes during the day were 19 percent more likely to have high blood pressure, researchers revealed this year at the American Society of Hypertension’s annual meeting. “During sleep at night, the body releases adrenaline and noradrenaline, which increases blood pressure,” explains study author Wisit Cheungpasitporn. “A nap delivers a second surge of these stress hormones.” (In countries where siestas are the norm, he says, other cultural factors may mitigate the risk.) Bottom line: “It’s better to get enough sleep at night than catch up with a nap.”
- Just add cheese. Is this the best news you’ve heard all week? In a preliminary Italian study, 30 people who suffered from mild to moderate hypertension ate about an ounce of Grana Padano (a hard Italian cheese similar to Parmesan) daily. After two months, compared to a placebo group, the cheese eaters experienced a 6 and 5 point drop in their systolic and diastolic blood pressure, respectively, making it as effective as taking blood pressure medication. Cheese’s fermentation process produces chains of amino acids that may relax blood vessels, researchers say. Find Grana Padano in large or specialty grocery stores—and stay tuned for more cheesy research.
- Get more magnesium. The claim that this mineral helps keep your arteries flexible has been controversial. But a 2016 analysis of 34 trials found that adults taking a 368mg magnesium supplement daily for three months saw a two-point drop in both their systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Talk to your doctor before starting a supplement; in the meantime, add magnesium to your diet by snacking on 1/4 cup of almonds (105 mg) or sunflower seeds (128 mg).
- Hold the spuds. Replacing one serving of potatoes per day (whether baked, broiled, mashed or fried) with non-starchy vegetables reduced hypertension risk by 7 percent, according to a study in The BMJ. Yes, potatoes are rich in potassium, which has known BP-lowering benefits, but they also spike blood sugar levels, which can impair blood vessel functioning. Try subbing Green Giant Cauliflower Crumbles, found in the refrigerator case, which can be easily mashed to a potato-like consistency.
- Get checked for primary aldosteronism. It may be a tongue twister, but you need it on your radar. In people with the condition, adrenal glands overproduce aldosterone, a key hormone that regulates sodium balance. The resulting increase in sodium levels can dangerously boost blood pressure—in fact, primary aldosteronism raises your risk of heart disease more than traditional hypertension. Because it largely goes undiagnosed, new guidelines from the Endocrine Society suggest patients be screened if they have: blood pressure readings over 150/100 taken on three different days, sleep apnea, a family history of early-onset hypertension or hypertension that is resistant to conventional drugs.
- Break out the Bach. In a Dutch study, 120 people were assigned to listen to classical music by Strauss and Mozart, the pop group ABBA or silence for 25 minutes. The classical listeners enjoyed a significant drop in blood pressure, heart rate and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, while the ABBA and control groups did not. Experts theorize that the rhythmic patterns and lack of lyrics in classical music are soothing to the brain. Waltz on!