Enough with the guilt—find fun ways to lower your blood pressure
"Never, ever underestimate the importance of having fun” -- Randy Pausch“But it’s hard to have fun when all I do is worry about my blood pressure,” said Ryan, a successful geneticist who after 10 years in school, immediately joined a big company and then got married and had kids. Ryan was very driven, but also a positive thinker, until hypertension started affecting his life. “Everyday I worry about my blood pressure. Do I need to take drugs. Will I have a heart attack. Do I need to quit my job. I can’t stop myself thinking about the consequences and constantly feel guilty that I don't fix my diet or exercise more.”Ryan is not alone. Over one-fourth of American men between the ages of 35 and 44 have hypertension, according to the American Heart Association. As much as we plan to stay forever young and healthy, the reality is we age and have conflicting priorities. For many of us, this means that the older we get, the higher our blood pressure gradually increases. This impacts everything from our ability to play football with our kids (assuming we had the time), to our ability to have sex with our partner.
Keeping your BP out of the danger zone doesn’t have to be only about restraint
There’s good news amid the gloom. Keeping your BP out of the danger zone doesn’t have to be just about restraint. Instead find your perfect -- and perfectly fun -- blood pressure-release valves.
Can dark chocolate lower blood pressure?
A friend of mine likes to say: “If there’s no chocolate in heaven, I’m not going!” It sounds like a whimsical statement, doesn’t it? But you may be surprised knowing that a daily dose of dark chocolate can significantly lower your BP. A study in Italy shows that people who had both pre-diabetes and high BP managed to lower their BP by eating 3.5 ounces of dark chocolate each day for 15 days. Thanks to the nitric oxide and antioxidant compounds found in dark chocolate, they successfully lowered their BP by 4.5 points and their diastolic by 4.2. A sustained improvement of that extent could lower your risk of heart attack by 20 percent over 5 years. (Nitric oxide prompts blood vessels to dilate which lowers blood pressure)
Does music affect blood pressure?
Music is a wonderful way to go for those who have high BP. Listening to 30 minutes a day of music, combined with breathing exercises -- breathing in and out with an inhale/exhale ratio of 1 to 2 -- can relax your vessels as well as lower your BP by more than 4 points after 3 months. Anything with a steady beat would be a great choice. (As an aside check out this this YouTube video of music that slows heart rate, reduces blood pressure, and decreases cortisol stress levels.)
Laughing can lower blood pressure
Whenever you laugh out loud, you’re doing your arteries good. Laughing at a funny movie causes blood vessels to dilate by 22%, according to a study by the University of Maryland. The physical action of laughing causes the tissue forming the inner lining of your blood vessels to expand—increasing blood flow and reducing blood pressure. So maybe it’s time to organize a movie night with a fun movie and dark chocolates. Looking for a great comedy? Check outTommy Boy or Bridesmaids.
Limit your alcohol to help your heart
Just don’t toast more than two drinks per day! Limit your daily intake to two 12-ounce beers, two 5-ounce glasses of wine, or two 1.5-ounce drinks of liquor. Great beer doesn’t have to give you a gut, an epic Saturday night shouldn’t cost you your Sunday, and you never again have to feel guilty about taking the edge off a hard day.
Your dog is your heart's best friend
If you have a dog, pet it and talk to it. A recent study in the journal Science, found that dog owners experienced a dramatic surge of the relaxation hormone oxytocin when their pets gazed into their eyes. It also reduces levels of stress hormones. Bonding with your dog feels good. It can also lower your blood pressure.
Better blood pressure means better sex (and sex can be good for your heart, too)
Craving the calm you get from yoga? Go for an orgasm instead. You feel relaxed after climaxing because you were practically brain-dead while you were doing it. Using scans to measure brain activity, researchers from the Netherlands found that during orgasm, women experience no negative emotions—such as fear, anxiety or stress. When you're in the throes, there's no worrying about the kids' report cards, the weekly grocery list, that new website launch, or the pile of bills on your desk. But it's a chicken-and-egg situation: The only way to reach orgasm is to clear your head of that stuff to begin with. If you are having troubles with Erectile Dysfunction because of High Blood Pressure, you can still get the benefits by cultivating intimacy with your partner. Oxytocin, a hormone associated with intimacy and reduced stress, is released by intimate contact. Work on improving your sex life, and you can improve your blood pressure, too.
How will I know if it's working?
That's where blood pressure tracking comes in. Without routinely monitoring your blood pressure at home, how are you going to know if the chocolate, tunes, jokes, drinks, dog bonding, and sex are actually having a positive effect over time?
Follow the tips above for two weeks, and measure your BP daily using the Hello Heart monitor and app (iOS, Android). Then you'll be able to see if small changes to your daily habits are having a positive impact. Not only will you be having fun, but seeing your blood pressure decrease (or at least stay stable) will be a nice bonus.
Instead of feeling guilty about your blood pressure or focusing on what you aren't doing to control it, find fun ways to increase your activity, lower your stress, and eat healthier. Tracking your blood pressure regularly is the only way to know if the little changes you're making are having an impact. And yes, get a dog, eat more dark chocolate, and have more sex.
Hello Heart is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment. You should always consult with your doctor about your individual care.
1. Gazit T, Gutman M, Beatty AL. Assessment of Hypertension Control Among Adults Participating in a Mobile Technology Blood Pressure Self-management Program. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(10):e2127008, https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.27008. Accessed October 19, 2022. (Some study authors are employed by Hello Heart. Because of the observational nature of the study, causal conclusions cannot be made. See additional important study limitations in the publication. This study showed that 108 participants with baseline blood pressure over 140/90 who had been enrolled in the program for 3 years and had application activity during weeks 148-163 were able to reduce their blood pressure by 21 mmHg using the Hello Heart program.) (2) Livongo Health, Inc. Form S-1 Registration Statement. https:/www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1639225/000119312519185159/d731249ds1.htm. Published June 28, 2019. Accessed October 19, 2022. (In a pilot study that lasted six weeks, individuals starting with a blood pressure of greater than 140/90 mmHg, on average, had a 10 mmHG reduction.) NOTE: This comparison is not based on a head-to-head study, and the difference in results may be due in part to different study protocols.
2. Validation Institute. 2021 Validation Report (Valid Through October 2022). https://validationinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Hello_Heart-Savings-2021- Final.pdf. Published October 2021. Accessed October 19, 2022. (This analysis was commissioned by Hello Heart, which provided a summary report of self-fundedemployer client medical claims data for 203 Hello Heart users and 200 non-users from 2017-2020. Findings have not been subjected to peer review.)