Rates of hypertension in the U.S. might surprise you. Like did you know that roughly 1 out of 3 adults over the age of 20 has high blood pressure? According to the American Heart Association, nearly 1 out of 6 people with high blood pressure don’t even know they have it.
What is High Blood Pressure?
Before you tackle how to lower high blood pressure, it’s important to understand exactly what causes it and what the dangers of high blood pressure are. Blood pressure in general is the force at which blood is pumping through your circulatory system (veins, arteries, etc). A normal blood pressure reading is around 120/80 with that top number (systolic pressure) representing the force at which your blood is moving when the heart pumps, and the bottom number (diastolic pressure) representing the force at which your blood is moving when the heart is at rest between beats.
When your blood pressure readings start to climb over 120/80 you are considered pre-hypertensive, and once they top 140/90 regularly, you are considered hypertensive, or you have high blood pressure. Why does blood pressure rise in some people?
Myriad factors can lead to hypertension, namely those which lead to the narrowing and constricting of blood vessels as well as the weakening of the heart muscle. Smoking, excessive drinking, being overweight, lack of physical activity, plaque buildup on artery walls, and a poor diet high in sodium are primary risk factors for developing high blood pressure. Left untreated, an increasing force of blood can lead to blood vessel damage, heart attack, stroke, and heart disease.
How Is High Blood Pressure Treated?
While hypertension can be treated through pharmacological aids, it is both completely preventable and treatable with a healthy diet and regular exercise. Consuming foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats can help you keep your heart, brain, and organs strong as well as prevent unwanted and dangerous weight gain. Avoiding processed foods that contain loads of salt and sugar also plays an important role.
Combined with regular exercise that delivers a cardio, aerobic, and strength training workout, lifestyle changes like diet can be your ticket to tackling hypertension for good.
How Can Yoga Help?
Exercise that benefits your health doesn’t have to be exhausting, hardcore, high-intensity running or sports play. In fact, yoga practice is a consistent source for low-impact moderate-intensity exercise that, when combined with a healthy diet, can help reverse high blood pressure.
Yoga as Exercise: Researchers in India recently shared study results which revealed a link between routine yoga practice and both decreased blood pressure levels and decreased overall body mass index. Participants who practiced yoga for 1 hour each morning for a month experienced reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings compared to a control group that did not do yoga.
Yoga as Motivation: Staying inspired to prioritize your own health, whether that means skipping the ice cream and opting for fresh fruit for dessert, or making sure you hit the gym everyday, takes serious willpower. The mindfulness-cultivating nature of yoga practice makes it a prime activity for helping shape your own mind-body awareness as well as strengthening your own self-discipline. Key principles of yoga which you carry with you off the mat can influence everything in your life from your diet to your relationships, health and more.
Yoga as Stress Reliever: It’s true that stressful situations which cue the body to produce cortisol (the stress hormone) can temporarily elevate blood pressure. Chronic stress, however, is known to lead to behaviors which might also put you at longer term risk for high blood pressure like eating a poor diet, avoiding exercise, drinking alcohol, and smoking.
New results from a 2017 meta-analysis analyzing mindfulness-based stress reduction unveiled key findings between regular practice and real stress-related physiological benefits. 42 studies were analyzed and showed that interventions including yoga asanas were associated with reduced levels of waking cortisol and evening cortisol, as well as ambulatory systolic blood pressure and resting heart rate.
Yoga as Stretcher: Boosted flexibility, greater coordination, and spinal alignment are all natural benefits of regular yoga practice, however, did you know that becoming stretchier might help lower risk for high blood pressure? Arterial stiffness, or the loss of elasticity in your artery walls can actually cause the blood in your body to have to be pumped with higher force, leading to hypertension. Researchers have found that flexibility in your own muscles might reduce arterial stiffness and thus fight high blood pressure. For example, a 2016 study showed how hot yoga (Bikram) ameliorated arterial stiffness in overweight and obese individuals no matter their BMI.
When it comes to addressing and managing high blood pressure, self-monitoring at home is the number one action you can take, even before diet and exercise. Just like you might track a high fever with the best ear thermometer, tracking high blood pressure at home with a digital monitor will help you stay on top of your baseline numbers so you can set goals and work towards getting healthier in a smart way. Couple self-monitoring with a healthy diet and routine yoga practice, and you’ll be equipped to fight back against high blood pressure for good.