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Before David Hampshere, 55, started taking medication for high blood pressure, his numbers soared to an unhealthy 150/100 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). For comparison, a normal blood pressure should clock in below 120/80 mm Hg, according to the American Heart Association.
But when Hampshere, a Florida-based real estate investor, lost 80 pounds over a period of nine months, his blood pressure dipped down to normal. With the extra weight gone — and a daily game of pickleball to keep it off — Hampshere’s doctor let him experiment with going off his blood pressure medication. And by Hampshere’s next exam, his doctor agreed the medicine wasn't needed anymore.
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More than 100 million Americans — or nearly half of U.S. adults — have high blood pressure (also called hypertension), which is a leading risk factor for heart disease. And while many are on medication to lower their blood pressure, some 30 million Americans out of that grand total have what’s known as stage 1 hypertension, for which blood pressure–lowering medication is not always recommended. (Stage 1 is when the systolic, or upper, number on a blood pressure reading is between 130 and 139 mm Hg and the diastolic, or bottom, number is between 80 and 89 mm Hg.)
Yet if left untreated, hypertension can lead to heart attacks, strokes, heart failure and kidney disease, particularly among men and people of color, says Kendra Sims, an epidemiologist at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) School of Medicine.
Lifestyle tweaks like losing weight, reducing your salt intake, exercising, limiting alcohol and lowering stress are all effective ways to wrangle hypertension, research shows.
Here are a few more unexpected strategies, though it’s important to note that if you’re on blood pressure medication, you should never stop taking it without consulting your doctor.
1. Train your breathing muscles
High-intensity breathing using a device that creates resistance when you inhale led to lower blood pressure readings over time, according to a new study from the University of Colorado in Boulder.
“We found that 30 resisted inhales per day, five to seven days a week for six weeks, lowered systolic blood pressure by 9 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by 4 mm Hg,” explained study coauthor Daniel Craighead, an assistant research professor in the university’s Integrative Physiology of Aging Laboratory.
The effect is comparable to that of aerobic exercise, such as walking or running — though you’ll want to continue your regular workouts for other health benefits. And this breath training can lower blood pressure as effectively as hypertension medications, researchers have noted.
“If that’s maintained over the long term, that’s enough to decrease the risk for cardiovascular disease by 25 percent,” Craighead says.
High-intensity breathing seems to work by promoting the production of nitric oxide, a heart-helpful compound in the cells that line blood vessel walls, Craighead says. Regular breathing workouts help to expand blood vessels, improving blood flow.
Participants in the study used a device called PowerBreathe, but there are similar devices on the market to get your diaphragm and other breathing muscles in better shape — and to possibly lower your blood pressure.
2. Take 8,200 steps a day
You may have heard that you need to get in 10,000 steps a day for good health, but it looks like 8,200 may be the magic number, according to new research from Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. The study, which included more than 6,000 people with a median age of 57, used electronic health records as well as data from their Fitbit devices to reach this conclusion.