How to Lower Your Blood Pressure Numbers Without Medication

Dr. Natalia Usoltseva Fact Checked
Man taking his blood pressure at home
© Jelena Markovic / Stocksy United

Almost half of adults in America have high blood pressure, a chronic disease that can lead to severe health problems.

Most people find out they have high blood pressure during a check-up with their doctor. As a primary care physician, I see a lot of patients with this condition. I explain to them that doctors refer to it as a “silent killer” because it develops slowly and quietly over time.  

The good news is that if you have high blood pressure, you often can lower it with positive lifestyle changes. Medicine can help, but it isn’t always necessary.  

What is high blood pressure? 

Blood pressure is the force that allows your heart to pump blood to every part of your body. When it’s too high, your heart has to work harder. Before you even know you have high blood pressure, the condition can damage your arteries, kidneys and eyesight and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.  

Doctors measure blood pressure in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). The first (top) number is your systolic blood pressure. It measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. The second (bottom) number is your diastolic blood pressure. It measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats.  

Here’s what the numbers on the blood pressure monitor tell you: 

  • 120/80 mm Hg or lower means your blood pressure is normal.  
  • A top number of 120-129 mm Hg and a bottom number below 80 mm Hg indicates you are at risk for high blood pressure.  
  • A top number of 130 mm Hg or higher and a bottom number between 80 and 89 mm Hg means you have high blood pressure.  

Many factors can raise your blood pressure, including physical inactivity, high salt intake and some medications. Stress can increase blood pressure, too — including the stress of getting your blood pressure checked. If I see a patient with blood pressure above 120/80, I don’t automatically diagnose them with the disease. Instead, I might ask them to return to my office another day so we can recheck it. I might even send them home with a digital blood pressure cuff or 24/7 blood pressure monitor. It’s essential to understand your blood pressure accurately before creating a treatment plan. 

You have high blood pressure. Now what? 

Anyone with high blood pressure can benefit from positive lifestyle changes. For people whose blood pressure  is lower than 130/80, lifestyle changes alone may be enough to bring numbers down to the normal range. The lower your top number, the better your chances of lowering your numbers without medicine. 

If your blood pressure is 140/90 or higher, you may need medicine and lifestyle changes to bring it down.  

Here are healthy habits you can adopt to lower your high blood pressure. 

Eat nutritious food 

Get plenty of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean protein sources, such as chicken and fish. Avoid foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates and fat. A healthy diet can lower your blood pressure by up to 11 points. 

Limit your salt intake 

Less than 2,400 mg of sodium a day is ideal. Research shows that eating a balanced, lower-sodium diet can reduce your blood pressure by two to four points.

Be physically active 

Shoot for at least 5,000 steps a day and 150 minutes a week of vigorous heart-healthy activity, such as swimming, cycling or jogging. Aerobic exercise can take up to five points off your blood pressure.

Do not use nicotine products

Nicotine, the addictive drug in tobacco, stimulates hormones that increase blood pressure. Quitting nicotine products can lower your blood pressure two to four points. 

Limit your alcohol intake 

Women should have no more than one alcoholic beverage a day, and men no more than two a day. Limiting alcohol can knock five points off your blood pressure numbers. 

Maintain a healthy weight  

If you are overweight, getting to a healthy weight can make a big difference. People who lose just 5% of their body weight can reduce their blood pressure by five to ten points. 

These healthy habits are easy to understand but can be challenging to maintain. You may not adopt them all right away, but it’s essential to keep working them into your everyday life. 

Track your progress  

If you are trying to lower your blood pressure, your doctor will ask you to measure it often, perhaps once or twice a day. There are a couple of ways to measure your blood pressure without visiting the doctor’s office: 

  • Visit a blood pressure kiosk machine available in many local grocery stores and pharmacies. 
  • Use a digital at-home device (you can purchase one at local pharmacies or online). 

You won’t see results overnight. But within several weeks, you may see your blood pressure drop. You might also find that you have more energy and sleep better. 

When it’s time to consider medication 

One of the most rewarding parts of my job as an internal medicine specialist is when my patients can control their blood pressure with lifestyle changes alone. It’s exciting to see their hard work pay off.  

Unfortunately, lifestyle changes alone aren’t always enough. Genetics, a family history of the condition, hormonal imbalances or other medical issues can all contribute. If lifestyle changes don’t bring your blood pressure down or your blood pressure is 130/80 or higher, your doctor will likely prescribe medication. 

Blood pressure medicines are safe and effective, with predictable side effects. Finding the right blood pressure medicine for you can take time.

Doctors usually start with ACE inhibitors. Other common blood pressure medicines include beta-blockers to make your heartbeat less forceful, diuretic or water pill that decrease the volume of the fluid in your blood vessels l and alpha-blockers to relax your blood vessels. You may need more than one medication to control your blood pressure. 

Prepare yourself for the long haul 

I wish I could tell you there’s a simple cure. The fact is high blood pressure is a chronic condition. People will need to manage it for the rest of their lives.  

If your blood pressure is higher than 120/80, it’s essential to talk to your doctor and follow their treatment plan. By taking steps now, you can manage your risk, enjoy better health and improve your overall well-being.  

Dr. Natalia Usoltseva is a clinical assistant professor at UW School of Medicine, the physician lead for best practices in population health for UW Medicine Primary Care and the clinical medical director at UW Medicine Primary & Urgent Care at Ballard. She believes in the importance of preventive medicine and strives to provide patients with all the necessary tools for good health. She enjoys hiking, skiing with her husband and children, jogging, and reading modern and classic literature in her spare time.