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Lowering your blood pressure – what really works?

First there's exercise to think about. Then there's your diet. And what about stress levels? With so many things to consider, managing high blood pressure (hypertension) through lifestyle changes can feel like an uphill struggle.

Here we look at what really works for helping high blood pressure aside from your medicines, and bust a few myths about what doesn’t.

Tips for eating less salt by Bupa UK


  • Cut the salt Cut the salt

    Cutting down on salt has long been seen as an important part of reducing your blood pressure. A review of research found that reducing the amount of salt you eat for four or more weeks significantly reduces your blood pressure. This is true both for people with high blood pressure and those without.

    VERDICT: Buying lower salt foods and limiting how much you add to meals will help lower your blood pressure. You can buy low sodium salts in most supermarkets.

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  • Exercise Exercise

    Exercise is thought to help reduce high blood pressure. In 2011, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) reviewed 17 studies from across the world investigating this link. They found that people with high blood pressure achieved modest reductions through exercise.

    VERDICT: Being more active is likely to be beneficial if you have high blood pressure. But talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise programme if you have high blood pressure or an existing heart condition. He or she will be able to check what exercise is safe and suitable for you.

  • I should cocoa I should cocoa

    This popular hot beverage is rich in flavanols, a plant-derived antioxidant. And there’s some evidence to suggest that cocoa products, including dark chocolate and the drink, could slightly reduce high blood pressure.

    But, don't go chocolate crazy just yet – there are no studies that look at how this affects the risk of heart disease over time. It’s also known that adding sugar to cocoa products appears to reduce any beneficial effects.

    VERDICT: Currently, there's no official advice to drink cocoa, but researchers are recommending more research in the area. If you do drink cocoa, it may help to lower high blood pressure, so long as it doesn’t have a high sugar content. Sadly, chocolate contains vast amounts of sugar.

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  • You booze you lose You booze you lose

    Excessive alcohol consumption has been shown to increase high blood pressure. Several studies have shown that reducing your alcohol intake can help cut your blood pressure.

    VERDICT: If you drink alcohol, do it in moderation. Exact recommendations vary from country to country. In the UK, the advice is to drink no more than 14 units a week.

  • Relaxation Relaxation

    Being stressed is commonly associated with high blood pressure. Could relaxing help reduce your blood pressure? A review of research found that relaxation therapies did reduce blood pressure. However, the researchers were cautious as many studies were of poor quality. Also, none of the studies were long enough to confirm a reduction in heart attacks or stroke.

    VERDICT: Relaxation techniques could help reduce your blood pressure as part of other therapy.

  • Garlic Garlic

    Good for cooking, bad for vampires, garlic is also widely used as an alternative medicine to reduce blood pressure. But, when researchers looked for evidence of its beneficial effects, they could only find two studies involving 87 people to review.

    The two studies appeared to show that garlic may reduce high blood pressure, but overall there wasn't enough data to make firm conclusions. The authors recommend more research in the area.

    VERDICT: The evidence isn't there to be certain, but garlic may help reduce high blood pressure.

  • Conclusion Conclusion

    As you can see, there’s lots of research going on to find out the most effective ways to reduce high blood pressure. While researchers continue to investigate, you can play a vital role in looking after your own health. Eat and drink well, exercise often, and take any medicines your doctor has prescribed for you to help you manage your condition.

  • Resources Resources


    • Hypertension. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), August 2011.
    • Graudal NA, Hubeck-Graudal T, Jurgens G. Effects of low sodium diet versus high sodium diet on blood pressure, renin, aldosterone, catecholamines, cholesterol, and triglyceride. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 11. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004022.pub3
    • He FJ, Li J, MacGregor GA. Effect of longer-term modest salt reduction on blood pressure. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 4. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004937.pub2.
    • Mesas AE, Leon-Muñoz LM, Rodriguez-Artalejo F, et al. The effect of coffee on blood pressure and cardiovascular disease in hypertensive individuals: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr 2011; 94(4):1113–26
    • Ried K, Sullivan TR, Fakler P, et al. Effect of cocoa on blood pressure. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 8. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD008893.pub2
    • Dickinson HO, Beyer FR, Ford GA, et al. Relaxation therapies for the management of primary hypertension in adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2008, Issue 1. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004935.pub2
    • Stabler SN, Tejani AM, Huynh F, et al. Garlic for the prevention of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in hypertensive patients. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 8. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD007653.pub2
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    Produced by Alastair McQueen, Bupa Health Information Team, November 2013.

    This information was updated in January 2016 following revisions to the Department of Health’s guidelines for alcohol consumption.

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