It might be a jolly time of year for most, but the holidays can be stressful even if you love them. Between keeping the peace at family gatherings, finding the perfect gift for hard-to-buy-for loved ones and prepping your home for a whirlwind of guests – not to mention finishing up your end-of-year projects at work – the holidays offer you a perfect storm of stress-inducing stimuli. Even if you don’t suffer from high blood pressure (hypertension), stress levels can rise this time of year, and you may find your numbers going off the charts as the season winds up. Don’t let annual festivities push you into the red when there are proven ways to lower your blood pressure naturally.
Cut Down on Salt
Sodium is one of the primary contributors to high blood pressure, but you might not realize just how much you’re consuming on a day-to-day basis, especially this time of year. That holiday turkey is packed with natural sodium already, made worse by the fact that it’s probably been commercially brined, seasoned by whoever prepared it and then topped with a salt-laden gravy to boot. If you sprinkle some salt on top as you eat, you’re adding insult to injury. The same goes with other holiday staples like green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and even freshly baked rolls. Commercially prepared baked goods are usually loaded with sodium.
Once you cut back on salt, you’ll start to enjoy the natural taste of food while keeping your blood pressure under control. Make sure to buy low-sodium gravy for your bird, or make it yourself using less salt, and avoid adding table salt to your dishes as you eat. Instead, use fresh herbs as natural flavoring.
A 30-minute daily regimen of exercise will get your blood moving and help to reduce your overall blood pressure. If you work an office job and if you tend to sit around the house a lot, then you are not helping your circulatory system to do what it needs to do. Daily exercise eases the pressure on your heart and allows your body systems to perform correctly. As an added bonus, exercising will help you focus and get things done more efficiently.
Stress causes your kidney to put out more of an enzyme called renin, which raises your blood pressure. The more stress you feel, the more renin gets released into your body and causes all kinds of problems. If you want to lower your blood pressure, then you need to learn to relax. Turn to tried-and-true favorites, like reading or walking around your neighborhood, or invest your time into new activities. Yoga or a martial art can help you learn how to control your emotions, as can meditating or praying depending on your religious affiliations.
If you feel stressed, then remove yourself from the stressful situation and take a deep breath. Deep breathing isn’t just a nice way to get some extra oxygen; it’s an effective way to steady yourself and reduce your stress. Each day you should allow yourself time of your own to clear your mind and keep your blood pressure down.
Lay Off the Booze
You may wonder how you’re supposed to enjoy a holiday office party if you can’t sip on some bubbly, but if your blood pressure is a problem, it’s time to look for alcohol-free beverages instead. In small amounts, alcohol may actually lower your blood pressure, but once you go beyond two drinks a day, you’ll notice a reverse effect.
If you take prescription blood pressure medication, drinking alcohol in excess is a double-edged sword for your BP level. Drinking in excess increases your blood pressure, but it also negates the effects of your blood pressure medicine, which means the more you drink, the less effective your medication will be, creating a vicious cycle of bad news for your health. Whether you take blood pressure medicine or not, keep alcohol consumption to a minimum if you want to enjoy the holidays.
Get Some Sleep
Having high blood pressure can be a bit of a catch-22 because high blood pressure can often make it difficult to fall asleep. But if you want to help your body lower the stress on your heart, then you need to find ways to get a decent amount of sleep every night. For most adults, that’s between seven and eight hours. If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, ask your doctor about short-term natural remedies that could aid in your slumber. Exercise, eating well and destressing after a tough day are also good ways to prepare your brain for better sleep.
Bulk Up on Potassium
Potassium-rich foods offer a twofold benefit to reducing blood pressure. First, potassium lessens the effect of sodium, allowing more of it to pass through your urine. Potassium will also reduce the tension on your blood vessel walls, effectively lowering your blood pressure in the process. And while your mind might automatically jump to foods like potatoes and bananas, there are plenty of other foods you can use to bulk up on potassium, including:
- Lima beans
Most adults should aim to get about 4,700 mg of potassium a day. For reference, half a cup of mashed sweet potatoes has around 475 mg or a tenth of your total daily intake – just make sure you skip the salt and butter when you’re preparing those potatoes. Try plain Greek yogurt as a topping instead, or use cinnamon to sweeten things up.
Stop Smoking – Period
High blood pressure isn’t the only reason to stop smoking, but it’s a good enough reason on its own since, unlike holiday gatherings or high-stress work assignments, smoking isn’t necessary or beneficial. Nicotine has a slew of negative effects on the body, and smoking can cause your blood pressure to spike with every puff of the cigarette. Cut this habit out of your life for good, and reap the benefits of cleaner lungs and lower blood pressure.
Talk to Your Doctor
A great way to become conscious of your blood pressure and the things that affect it is to monitor your levels and discuss your results with your doctor. You can buy a blood pressure cuff for your home that will allow you to track your readings, and you can use it as often as you need without taking a trip to the pharmacy. Check in with your doctor regularly to get advice on how to improve the numbers. For some people, seeing the numbers spelled out makes it easier to monitor and control blood pressure.
High blood pressure can lead to serious problems like heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. Before you decide to try and lower your blood pressure on your own, talk to your doctor to see if you may have an underlying reason behind your elevated blood pressure. Whether your hypertension is the result of genetics or your lifestyle, you should take every step you can to lift the excess pressure off of your heart.