It may not be possible for a person to lower their blood pressure immediately. However, by changing certain behavioral habits, they may be able to keep their blood pressure down and avoid blood pressure spikes.

About 45% of adults in the United States have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.

People with high blood pressure will have a systolic reading of 130 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or above or a diastolic reading of 80 mm Hg or higher. Systolic blood pressure is the pressure when the heart beats, while diastolic pressure is the pressure between heartbeats.

High blood pressure is a common cause of heart disease, which is responsible for 1 in 4 deaths in the U.S., making it the leading nationwide cause of death.

It can also increase the risk of other complications, such as stroke.

This article outlines the measures that may help a person lower their blood pressure. It then provides information on how to obtain a blood pressure reading and explains the risks of having high blood pressure.

an older man is trying to eat a salad in an outdoor riverbank.Share on Pinterest
Maki Nakamura/Getty Images

High blood pressure is a chronic, ongoing problem for which there is no immediate fix. However, certain behaviors right before a blood pressure reading may affect the reading, causing it to be higher than it would be otherwise.

A person may be able to obtain an accurate, and possibly lower, blood pressure reading by taking these steps:

  • Taking blood pressure correctly: A cuff that is too small or that a person puts over clothing may elevate the reading. A person should not cross the legs or tense the body during the reading.
  • Resting before taking blood pressure: Getting up and walking around immediately before sitting down to take blood pressure can artificially inflate it.
  • Managing stress or anxiety: High stress can elevate blood pressure. Therefore, it is best to try taking blood pressure after getting medical test results, not before. A person can also try taking a reading after meditating or deep breathing.
  • Refraining from smoking: The nicotine in cigarettes can elevate blood pressure for about 30 minutes, so it is best to avoid smoking shortly before a blood pressure test.
  • Emptying the bladder: A full bladder may slightly elevate blood pressure.
  • Remaining quiet: Talking during the reading may cause it to go up.
  • Avoiding caffeine and alcohol: Both caffeine and alcohol may elevate blood pressure, especially when a person drinks to excess. Abstaining on the day of the reading will lead to a more accurate result.

Learn more about how to take blood pressure readings at home.

A nutritious, balanced diet can help a person lower their blood pressure significantly, often without the need for medication. People can try:

  • Reducing sodium intake: Sodium is a major culprit in high blood pressure. As not all high sodium foods taste salty, a person will need to check the labels on food items. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends aiming for 2,300 milligrams or less of sodium per day.
  • Eating less fat: Those looking to reduce their intake of fat should focus on limiting or avoiding trans and saturated fats.
  • Eating less sugar: High sugar foods may elevate blood pressure and cause unwanted weight gain. They may also contain high levels of sodium.
  • Avoiding condiments: A person can consider using herbs and spices instead of condiments, as many condiments are high in sodium.
  • Avoiding red meat: A person should avoid or reduce their consumption of red meats, such as pork, beef, and lamb.
  • Eating a balanced diet: A balanced diet is one that includes a wide variety of whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and low fat proteins, such as grilled chicken or tofu.

Certain supplements may help a person lower their blood pressure.

For example, a 2016 review found that taking potassium supplements may help lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

However, a person should talk with a doctor before trying any new herbal remedy or supplement. They should also only use supplements alongside behavioral changes to get the best results.

Learn about the best supplements for lowering blood pressure.

As well as making dietary changes, a person can consider their beverage choices, which may also contribute to their blood pressure readings.

Caffeine

Caffeine can temporarily raise blood pressure in some people.

Reducing caffeine intake, or eliminating it, may help a person improve their blood pressure readings.

Alcohol

Chronic alcohol consumption, especially at heavy levels, can elevate blood pressure, cause weight gain, and increase a person’s risk of heart disease.

A 2017 meta-analysis found that people who drank more than six alcoholic drinks per day had the greatest reduction in blood pressure if they reduced this intake by 50% or more.

Blood pressure medication, such as beta-blockers or angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors, will help a person lower and maintain their blood pressure. However, a person should always take their medication according to their doctor’s instructions.

Medication may be a good option for people whose blood pressure does not respond to other interventions.

It can also help a person bring their blood pressure into a healthy range while they work on other strategies, such as exercising more, to lower blood pressure over the long term.

Learn about blood pressure medications.

Stress temporarily raises blood pressure. For this reason, a person who feels anxious at the doctor’s office may have a higher blood pressure reading, which is known as white coat syndrome. Chronic stress can also cause persistently high blood pressure.

Techniques to help a person relieve their stress can also help them manage blood pressure.

Some strategies might include:

  • therapy
  • deep breathing
  • avoiding stressful situations, where possible
  • putting strategies, such as better time management, in place to limit known stressors
  • mindfulness meditation
  • yoga

A 2018 study found that mindfulness meditation could lower clinically measured blood pressure within 8 weeks.

Learn about different types of meditation.

Adopting certain behavioral habits can both prevent and treat high blood pressure.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest these tactics for those wishing to prevent or manage high blood pressure:

  • Getting daily exercise: Increasing daily activity — for example, by spending more time walking and less time driving — is beneficial to health. Any activity that elevates the heart rate can help a person lower their blood pressure over time. The CDC advises all adults to aim for at least 2.5 hours of moderate intensity physical activity per week.
  • Maintaining a moderate body weight: The same behavioral factors that can cause a person to gain weight, such as being sedentary or eating too much fat, may also lead to obesity.
  • Managing other medical conditions: Diabetes, kidney disease, and some other medical conditions can cause high blood pressure. Treating these conditions can lower a person’s risk.

According to the CDC, a person should monitor their blood pressure regularly. They can do this at home using a blood pressure monitor.

Before taking a reading, the person should ensure that they have emptied the bladder, adopted a comfortable position, and rested for 3–5 minutes after moving around.

When taking the reading, tips include:

  • sitting in a chair with back support and keeping the back straight
  • keeping the legs uncrossed
  • breathing slowly and deeply
  • taking the blood pressure reading at the same time each day
  • keeping the circumstances consistent — for example, not skipping a meal before a reading one day and then eating a large meal right before the reading the next day
  • wrapping the cuff around the same arm each time
  • elevating the arm to about heart height by supporting it on a table or chair arm

The cuff should include instructions on how to take the reading. It is important to note that although the cuff should be snug, it should not be painful and should not cover the elbow.

Once a person has the reading, they should write it down. They should then wait 2–3 minutes and take another reading on the same arm.

For many people with heart disease, high blood pressure is the first sign. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that high blood pressure may cause no other symptoms, so a person should not assume that they have healthy blood pressure just because they feel fine.

High blood pressure causes the blood to pump through the blood vessels with more force than is necessary. Sometimes, this is due to underlying disease in the arteries, which is itself a risk factor for heart attack and stroke.

High blood pressure can also damage the heart and blood vessels over time, as well as affecting other organs, including the brain and kidneys.

Some risks of high blood pressure include:

Learn about the different blood pressure ranges.

High blood pressure can lead to potentially deadly complications.

Anyone who is using a blood pressure monitor to take readings at home should ensure that they are using it correctly.

It is possible to lower blood pressure, especially in the early stages of elevation, when behavioral strategies may correct the problem.

A doctor can offer advice on the most effective ways to manage blood pressure.