Oct 11

Blood pressure lifestyle advice? Take it with a pinch of salt.

Today I look at why the conventional wisdom about lifestyle and blood pressure may not be particularly helpful, and what else to bear in mind when taking care of your blood pressure.

I was reading a public post recently from a lady who wanted to know how to reduce blood pressure naturally.  I shouldn’t have been surprised to read that the top answers to her question were:

  1. Lose weight (at no point had she said she was overweight)

  2. Exercise (we don’t know anything about her exercise routine either)

  3. Eat less salt (oh, guess what? We don’t know what her diet’s like).

So, all rather unhelpful, really.  There’s no doubt that being overweight can contribute to hypertension, but if someone isn’t overweight, weight loss hasn’t been shown to help.  And if someone does need to lose weight, how much should they aim for?  The answer may surprise you.

How much weight do you really need to lose to help support healthy blood pressure?

How much weight do you really need to lose to help support healthy blood pressure?

It’s been observed that for every 1kg of body weight lost, systolic blood pressure (the big number) will fall by just over 1 point.  Losing 5-10% of your body weight could decrease your risk of developing diabetes or heart disease significantly.  So, depending on what your blood pressure was to start with, particularly if you don’t yet have high blood pressure, but are pre-hypertensive (see my earlier post to see what this means) a relatively modest weight loss might be enough to bring you into a normal range.

Man doing tai chi

Looking for an exercise to help with blood pressure? Try Tai Chi or Yoga.

You might also be surprised when we take a look at exercise.  Someone with high blood pressure might be tempted to hit the gym or try brisk walking.  However, at least one study has shown that something gentler, specifically Tai Chi, achieves more impressive results than moderate aerobic exercise.  Similarly, isometric exercise, of which yoga is an example, achieves better results than either aerobic exercise or other forms of strength training.  We don’t really know why this is, but I might speculate that these types of exercises are helpful for reducing stress, and that it is that, rather than the exercise itself, which has the biggest effect.


Remember that medication can affect mineral absorption. Look at what you’re taking and get tested if you’re not sure.

I’ve covered salt in a previous post, so take a look here if you’re interested in salt reduction.  You do need to be aware that if you’re on medication to lower your blood pressure, you may need to get your salt levels checked, because the medication you’re taking may reduce your ability to absorb salt from food.  If you find that you’re urinating more frequently than usual this may be an indicator that your salt levels are not what they should be, so ask your GP for a test.  People on blood pressure medication should be checked every 6 months.  Remember that frequent urination may also be an indicator of diabetes, but if you are in a high risk category or above a certain age, the GP will check this as a matter of course.


Are you getting enough potassium in your diet to support healthy blood pressure?

However, salt isn’t the full picture.  Many people in the West have suboptimal levels of potassium in their diet. Potassium and sodium act together to regulate cell communication, and levels of fluid in the body, so both are important.  It’s thought that the ratio of sodium (salt) to potassium may be more important than levels of dietary salt in determining who will develop heart disease.

So, as well as reducing the amount of salt eaten, if that’s appropriate, a person with high blood pressure may also want to consider increasing the amount of potassium they eat.  Increasing your intake of potassium by 780mg or more a day (a medium sized potato or 1 ½ regular-sized tomatoes) could decrease your blood pressure by up to 4.9 millimetres of mercury if your blood pressure is higher than it should be.  In particular, someone looking to improve their dietary potassium might want to consider including the following foods:

Did you know that certain medication, including blood pressure medication, may reduce your absorption of potassium as well as sodium?  We found, for instance, that this is the case with my husband, whose potassium blood levels are very low, even though he loves bananas and we eat quite a bit of beetroot and spinach.  If you’re on regular medication, it’s worth getting these levels checked.

In my final post I’ll be looking at 5 foods which may be useful if you’d like to consider dietary ways of managing your blood pressure alongside what your doctor can do for you.  Stay tuned!

Would you love more energy, glowing skin and a really positive relationship with food?  All this can be yours as part of my ‘Stronger Without Sugar’ challenge.  Find out more here.


Carlson, D. J., Dieberg, G., Hess, N.C., Millar, P.J., & Smart, N.A., (2014).  Isometric exercise training for blood pressure management: a systematic review and meta-analysis.  Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 89(3), 327-334.

Castro, H., & Raij, L., (2013).  Potassium in hypertension and cardiovascular disease.  Seminars in Nephrology, 33(3), 277-289.

Chan, A.W.K., Chair, S.Y., Lee, D.T.F., Leung, D.Y.P., Sit, J.W.H., Cheng, H.Y., & Taylor-Piliae, R.E., (2018).  Tai Chi exercise is more effective than brisk walking in reducing cardiovascular disease risk factors among adults with hypertension: A randomised controlled trial.  International Journal of Nursing Studies, 88, 44-52.

Ndanuko, R.N., Tapsell, L.C., Charlton, K.E., Neale, E.P., & Batterham, M.J., (2016).  Dietary Patterns and Blood Pressure in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.  Advances in Nutrition, 7(1), 76-89.

Sabaka, P., Dukat, A., Gajdoski, J., Bendzala, M., Capmda, M., & Simko, F., (2017).  The effects of body weight loss and gain on arterial hypertension control: an observational prospective study.  European Journal of Medical Research, 22(43). Published online 25 October 2017.

Stockton, A., Farhat, G., McDougall, G.J., & Al-Dujaili, E.A.S., (2017).  Effect of pomegranate extract on blood pressure and anthropometry in adults: a double-blind placebo-controlled randomised clinical trial.  Journal of Nutritional Science, 6(39), 1-8.






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