Blood pressure is a measure of the pressure of the blood flowing through your arteries, and is usually written as two numbers. The top number, known as the systolic pressure, is the pressure exerted on your arteries during your heartbeat; the bottom number, also called the diastolic pressure measures the pressure experienced by your arteries ‘at rest’ or between heartbeats.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, can cause many health problems if left uncontrolled. Arteries can harden and become narrower, disrupting blood flow to major organs; this can lead to pain, disability, and even death. Some of the potential problems caused by high blood pressure are: heart attacks and strokes, kidney failure, dementia, vision loss, obstructive sleep apnea and trouble sleeping, bone loss, and sexual dysfunction. Your doctor has good reason to pester you about keeping your blood pressure in a healthy range.
Some of the common and most well-known measures to correct high blood pressure are by reducing salt intake, limiting alcohol consumption, losing weight, and taking medications. These can seem annoying or daunting, which helps to explain poor patient compliance.
While it’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle in general—and not just for the sake of your blood pressure—there are some options for controlling blood pressure which are often overlooked, and frankly, a lot more fun than thinking about how much salt you’re eating. Here are three examples to get you started:
#1: Go Sunbathing
Vitamin D deficiency is very common, and several studies have linked it to high blood pressure. Taking a supplement is quick and easy—and is helpful in case of a severe deficiency—but it can’t match sunlight for cardiovascular health. UV energy in sunlight triggers Vitamin D production in your skin, and is the main source of this vitamin for most people. But that’s not all.
Your body stores a compound called nitrate in your skin; when your skin is exposed to UV light, nitrate is converted to another chemical, called nitric oxide, which helps expand your blood vessels. This dilation effect lowers blood pressure even before your body has a chance to start making Vitamin D.
About twenty minutes of sunlight daily is a good dose, and it can be obtained while relaxing, or combined with a walk or other outdoor activity for even more power. For the UV rays to do their job, sunlight will need to shine on exposed skin. As always, you should be mindful of your skin, and keep it protected with sunblock while spending time outdoors.
#2: Make Time for Your Furry Friends
Physical contact—such as hugging and petting a dog or a cat—causes beneficial hormonal changes such as lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increasing the amount of oxytocin produced in the body. Spending just 3 minutes petting your dog can lower both your heart rate and blood pressure for an hour afterward. Spending time with a pet has been shown to be even better for stress relief and blood pressure reduction than human contact and conversation. This may be because pets offer a level of loyalty and unconditional love that even the most devoted spouse would be hard-pressed to match: whatever happens, you won’t hear your dog criticizing you for leaving your dirty socks out or failing to listen as it talks all about its day.
If you’re allergic or live in a place that doesn’t allow pets, don’t worry; you can get the same blood pressure-lowering effect by visiting a zoo and looking at the animals. One study found a significant effect, with blood pressure dropping by 6-8 percent.
No time for the zoo? There’s hope for you yet. Benefits have been measured from looking at animals in virtually any way you can manage—the birds flying outside your window and even pictures of cats on the Internet are good for your health. The benefits are not only for blood pressure but also for many health issues.
#3: Learn an Instrument
A study in the Netherlands revealed that musicians have lower blood pressure than non-musicians due to the activation of somatosensory nerves (used to measure sensations, such as warmth or pressure, which are not confined to a single sensory organ).
As with animals, though, music is good in pretty much any way you can get it. If you don’t have the time, money, or talent to plan an instrument yourself, listening to a song—especially if it’s classical music—is a good substitute. Slow music is better for this purpose in general; studies noted that music played at fast tempos raises blood pressure, though for some reason the effect is less marked in musicians compared with non-musicians. For best effect, you can also pause the music from time to time, as this decreased the heart rate and blood pressure to levels even lower than at the beginning.
You may have noticed that the methods for reducing blood pressure discussed above have something in common: they make you feel good. Hormonal and neurological explanations have been found for the specific cases, but the implication is that anything which reduces stress is going to be good for you. So bask in the sunshine, listen to the music of birds or of your own making, enjoy the silky feel of your dog’s fur. Don’t feel that you need to limit yourself to the tactics in this article, either: experiment and find the things that help you relax and give you a sense of well-being. Savor a cup of hot tea or a piece of dark chocolate. Enjoy your life.
If you’d like another great read on health, I suggest checking out Daniel’s Diabetic Miracle article I’ve written for you. It relates to how modern food can be causing this disease and some simple tips to follow to ensure you fight diabetes from plaguing you.
About the Author
Anthony Alayon is a best selling fitness author who is a regular contributor to Natural Muscle Magazine. His work has been feature in Bodybuilding.about.com (New York Times Co.), Bliss Magazine, Bodybuilding.com, Labrada,com and many more. He studied accounting at the University of South Florida.
To learn more about him, check out his web site at www.HealthReporterDaily.com
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- Allen, Karen, Barbara E. Shykoff, and Joseph L. Izzo Jr. (2001) Pet Ownership, but Not ACE Inhibitor Therapy, Blunts Home Blood Pressure Responses to Mental Stress. Hypertension. 2001; 38: 815-820