By Danielle Braff, Special to Tribune Newspapers
3:39 PM EDT, September 14, 2011
Getting high blood pressure is the easy part — 76 million Americans already have it. But lowering it back down again doesn't have to be tricky either. Talk to your doctor and see if trying some of these ideas throughout the day can get you back on track.
When you wake: Drink two cups of Greek coffee
The science: A 2010 study by Greek researchers finds that drinking two to three cups of java daily reduces your risk of heart disease by 21 percent and lowers your blood pressure by up to 10 percent. The coffee works by releasing flavonoids and cafestol, which increases your heart's ability to stretch to accommodate more blood flow, said Christina Chrysohoou, study author and cardiologist with the First Cardiology Clinic University in Athens. Keep in mind though, that this kind of coffee can raise your serum cholesterol. Talk to your doctor if this is an issue for you.
Make it work for you: Although American coffee — which has less caffeine — may also do the trick, the study only examined Greek coffee. Brew it at home: Try Loumidis Papagalos Greek Coffee ($13 for 16 ounces at amazon.com).
In the office: Hold your head up
The science: There's a link between your neck muscles and the area of your brain that regulates your blood pressure, said Ian Edwards, author of a recent study focusing on blood pressure and posture. Standing up straight can actually lower your BP.
Make it work for you: If you're sitting in front of a desk all day, you need to make sure it's at the right height for your posture, Edwards said. Put a Post-it note on your computer reminding you to sit up straight. But before you pop on the Post-it, make sure that your computer is at the right height so it will feel more natural to sit straight and work. For most people, making sure your eyes are 2 to 3 inches below the top of the monitor will ensure that you're sitting straight.
On the ride home: Get rid of the noise
The science: European researchers have found that your blood pressure rises when you hear ambient noise — even if you're sleeping and don't think you're noticing the sounds. It's especially bad for anyone living near an airport or highway, says study author Dr. Alexandros Haralabidis. "Noise is considered an environmental stressor," Haralabidis said. "Like other stressors, it may affect the autonomic nervous system and our stress hormones by interfering with our activities, relaxation and sleep."
Make it work for you: Haralabidis suggests wearing earplugs when you sleep or are driving with your windows open. Try Apothecary Products Flents Quiet Please Foam Ear Plugs ($23 for 50 pairs at amazon.com).
Before dinner: Alternate nostrils
The science: A recent study published in the Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback Journal finds that alternating nostrils while steadily breathing significantly lowers diastolic blood pressure, pulse rate and respiratory rate. The study's authors believe it works because each of your nostrils holds its own nerves that reach various areas of your hypothalamus — the area of your brain regulating BP.
Make it work for you: Find a quiet spot in your house, and sit with your neck and trunk erect in a straight line, said Kshitiz Upadhyay-Dhungel, study author and assistant professor of physiology at KIST Medical College in Nepal. Close only your right nostril with your thumb, and slowly exhale and then inhale. Then use your ring finger to close only your left nostril when you exhale and inhale. Continue switching sides and breathing. Make sure you're doing this slowly — take 6 breaths per minute — on an empty stomach, and perform the breathing exercise for 15 minutes each day.
For dinner: Eat lean protein
The science: Eating a diet in which a quarter of your calories come from lean protein reduces your blood pressure, bad cholesterol levels and triglycerides more than a traditional diet, according Johns Hopkins researchers.
Make it work for you: All meals should contain about 30 grams of protein, while all snacks should have about 20 grams, said registered dietitian Susan Kleiner, author of nutrition books including "The Good Mood Diet." One ounce of animal protein contains 7 grams of protein, so you should aim for 3 to 4 ounces of lean protein, such as turkey, tofu, or salmon per meal or snack, Kleiner said.
For dessert: Nibble on dark chocolate
The science: Eating 31/2 ounces of dark chocolate daily for two weeks can lower your systolic blood pressure by 4.5 points, and your diastolic blood pressure by 4.2 points, according to a 2008 study out of Italy. You can thank the flavonoids — or the antioxidant compounds — in the dark chocolate for that sweet treat. Do this every day for five years, and you could lower your cardiovascular risks by 20 percent.
Make it work for you: Stick to dark chocolate containing at least 65 percent cacao, says Dr. Prediman Shah, director of cardiology at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles. The higher the cacao content, the more antioxidants the chocolate will contain.
At the bar: Skip the soda and sugary mixers
The science: This year, a study by researchers from Imperial College in London found that middle-aged people who drank more than one soda a day had higher blood pressure than those who skipped the drink, and their blood pressure continued to rise the more they drank. Soda contains salt, and if more than 2 grams of sodium are ingested, it can contribute to higher blood pressure, said Dr. George Bakris, a specialist in hypertension. Also, high fructose corn syrup — which is found in most sodas — increases oxidant stress which will also hurt your blood pressure, Bakris said.
Make it work for you: If you can't kick your soda habit, stick to diet sodas with low or no-sodium, Bakris said.
Before bed: Tune in to your tunes
The science: Listening to music with a steady beat for 30 minutes daily when combined with slow breathing exercises can lower your systolic blood pressure by 4 points in just three months, according to a recent study out of Italy. It works by connecting you emotionally with the music while slowing down your breathing and calming your body, says Dr. Randall Zusman, director of the hypertension division at the Massachusetts General Hospital heart center, and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Make it work for you: As long as it has a steady beat — anything from Lady Gaga to Franz Joseph Haydn — listen to it while breathing in and out with an inhale-exhale ratio of 1-to-2. Make sure it's music that you enjoy, or else it won't be able to calm your mind.
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