By EatingWell Editors
When it comes to “natural” ways to improve blood pressure, sodium restriction snags the spotlight. Most experts agree that limiting sodium is a smart strategy for those looking to lower blood pressure, but why focus on what you can’t—or shouldn’t—have? Shift your emphasis to positive lifestyle changes you can make to improve blood pressure.
1. Nosh on plenty of produce. Fruits and vegetables are low in sodium and rich in potassium, which offsets sodium’s effect on blood pressure. Potassium-packed picks: baked potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, spinach, winter squash, bananas, oranges, cantaloupe, beans and tomatoes.
2. Enhance meals with healthy fats. Substituting some carbohydrates in your diet with sources of healthy fats helps control blood pressure, according to a recent study. Remember to swap, and not add, them in. Think: Nuts instead of croutons—not both—on your salad.
3. Go for whole grains over refined starches. Some studies suggest that whole grains help the body hang on to potassium.
4. Include low-fat dairy in your diet. Calcium plays a key role in regulating blood pressure. Low-fat dairy products offer all the nutrients of full-fat varieties, but without the saturated fat and cholesterol that raise heart-disease risk.
5. Learn to love legumes. Beans, nuts and seeds are rich in magnesium, which contributes to maintaining healthy blood pressure. Aim for 4 to 5 servings (1/2 cup of beans or 1 ounce of nuts/seeds) a week.
6. Savor small amounts of dark chocolate. Studies attest to the blood-pressure benefits of products made with cocoa, which contains antioxidants that activate a substance called nitric oxide that relaxes blood vessels.
7. Move more. Moderate exercise has been shown to improve blood pressure. National guidelines advise 30 minutes of daily moderate activity, such as brisk walking, jogging or cycling.
8. Cultivate inner calm. Studies show that meditation brings blood pressure down—probably by modulating physiological stress responses. You don’t have to sit in the lotus position, say “om” or think spiritual thoughts. Simply tuning in to your breathing—for even 10 minutes—may do the trick. Close your eyes (and the door), turn off the cellphone. Now… breathe.