How Low Can You Go?
Meditation, yoga, and healthy foods can help you get a handle on hypertension

Hypertension, or persistent high blood pressure, is often referred to as the silent killer because many people don't realize they suffer from it prior to having a stroke or a heart attack. Although no one dies from high blood pressure itself, the health issues it contributes to—stroke, heart attack, and heart and kidney failure—kill hundreds of thousands of people each year.

Medical experts estimate that more than 60 million Americans have high blood pressure. Its causes include obesity; a diet high in sodium; a diet rich in trans or saturated fat; stress; smoking; and overindulgence in alcohol or sugars.

Fortunately, lifestyle changes can lower blood pressure without the use of prescription medications. That's especially true for people with borderline to moderate high blood pressure, which constitutes the vast majority of cases. In fact, more than 160 studies comparing drug and nondrug therapies in the treatment of borderline to mild hypertension showed more favorable outcomes for the nondrug treatments, which included diet, exercise, and relaxation and stress-reduction techniques.

Diet is the place to start. Increasing the amounts of high-fiber fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes in your diet can help decrease blood pressure. These foods offer circulatory support in the form of essential fatty acids, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and vitamin C. They are also naturally low in saturated fats, sodium, and refined, or sugary, carbohydrates, all of which contribute to hypertension. Cooking with sulfur-rich onions and garlic also lowers both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

Office Chair Yoga
This exercise helps ease stress, so try it whenever you need to relax and achieve balance.

1. Sit straight in your chair.
2. Let your arms hang at your sides, palms turned back. Look straight ahead.
3. Inhale through your nose and raise your arms forward and up over your head.
4. Exhale and bring arms down to position in step two.
5. Repeat slowly four to six times until calm.

Additional lifestyle changes make a big difference. Extra weight can be harmful, so exercise is a must. In fact, losing as few as 10 pounds can lower blood pressure by up to 30 percent. Relaxation techniques benefit the body, so be mindful of your breathing and its relationship to stress. Yogic breathing or belly breathing that employs your diaphragm can improve blood pressure. Conversely, shallow, or chest, breathing can lead to sodium retention in the body and raise blood pressure. Meditation, restorative yoga, and the gentle and underrated art of saying no can all be therapeutic for your heart and spirit. The incidence of high blood pressure is indeed sobering, but the opportunity for healing is empowering.

James Rouse, ND, is the creator of Optimum Wellness and The Fit Kitchen, seen weekly on NBC's KUSA television news.