DEAR DOCTOR K: Is it possible to get off blood pressure-lowering medication through diet and exercise?
DEAR READER: Yes, it is. I’ve seen many patients commit to lifestyle changes and get off blood-pressure medicines entirely. More often, I’ve seen that a commitment to a healthier lifestyle allows people to greatly reduce how much medication they take, even though they still need some medicines to control their blood pressure.
While many people, myself included, would like to not have to take medicines at all, being able to reduce the dose is a big deal. Many of the side effects of medicines are reduced or eliminated by reducing the dose.
Regular exercise is one of the best ways to reduce high blood pressure. Still, it’s important to talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise program. If you are taking certain blood pressure medications, you may have to take extra precautions when you exercise. For example, thiazide diuretics slightly lower blood volume, so you may be more prone to dehydration with exercise.
Aerobic exercise, which boosts your heart rate and breathing, is best for lowering blood pressure. Aim to do 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity activity on most days of the week. Brisk walking, jogging and swimming are all good activities. Try to work up to 60 minutes a day.
Some resistance training is fine, but don’t strain. Do more repetitions at lighter weights to prevent temporary blood pressure spikes.
Good nutrition can also help lower blood pressure. A blood pressure-friendly diet includes plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains; several servings daily of low-fat dairy products; some fish, poultry, dried beans, nuts and seeds; and minimal red meat, sweets and sugary beverages. Limit your salt intake to no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day.