How to Lower Diastolic Blood Pressure

When you get your blood pressure checked, it’ll give you two numbers: the systolic blood pressure and the diastolic blood pressure. Diastolic blood pressure is the number at the bottom of a blood pressure reading. For example, a standard blood pressure is 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mmHg). The “80” is your diastolic blood pressure.

Your diastolic blood pressure is the amount of force your heart exerts on the walls of your arteries (blood vessels) in between heartbeats when your heart is relaxed. Healthcare providers consider a normal diastolic blood pressure to be 80 mmHg. A number higher than 80 could signify a high diastolic blood pressure.

Having a high diastolic blood pressure, especially in combination with a high systolic blood pressure, increases your risk of heart disease. Fortunately, there are several lifestyle changes, medications, and therapies that can help you lower your diastolic blood pressure and reduce your risk of complications.

Lifestyle Changes

Studies show that a variety of heart-healthy lifestyle changes can lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure—thereby also reducing your risk of heart disease.2 The American Heart Association recommends the following four lifestyle practices that can lower blood pressure, reduce heart disease, and help manage weight, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels.

Exercising

Getting regular exercise and physical activity throughout the week can help lower your diastolic blood pressure. In one review, people who exercised most days of the week had a diastolic blood pressure of 5 to 6 points lower than those who did not participate in physical activity.

Experts recommend exercising for at least 30 minutes a day for five days a week. To help you reach this goal, it’s beneficial to choose physical activities you enjoy. These activities may include walking, dancing, playing tennis, swimming, or biking. Adding workouts to your daily schedule and exercising with loved ones can also help you stay motivated.

Eating a Heart-Healthy Diet

Another way to lower diastolic blood pressure is to eat a heart-healthy diet. A few dietary styles (like the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet) have been found to lower blood pressure. These diets focus on eating more fiber and potassium and choosing food groups like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, low-fat dairy, and skinless poultry and fish. You can also modify these diets to include traditional and cultural foods that you enjoy.

Try to limit processed foods and foods that can contain excess salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats. If your blood pressure is a concern for you, talk to your healthcare provider about getting a referral to a nutritionist. They can help you understand how to read ingredient labels and develop a meal plan that works best for your needs.

Quitting Smoking

Using nicotine, such as smoking cigarettes and vaping can cause blood pressure spikes.6 Smoking is a serious risk factor for heart disease. That said, quitting smoking can help reduce blood pressure and lower your risk of heart-related complications. Quitting smoking cold turkey isn’t always easy. If you need additional support with this habit, it may help to talk to your healthcare provider or reach out to a mental health professional who specializes in substance use.

Getting Good Quality Sleep

Studies shows that not getting enough sleep or getting poor quality sleep increases your risk of heart disease.7 During sleep, your systolic and diastolic blood pressure are lower. Not getting enough sleep or having an inconsistent sleep schedule can contribute to adverse health effects, including high blood pressure.

For a restorative sleep schedule, aim to get at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. If you’re experiencing sleep problems or have symptoms of a sleep disorder, contact your healthcare provider to learn more about your symptoms and to see if you’re at risk for a condition such as obstructive sleep apnea or insomnia. Your provider can help you find treatments that improve sleep, and thus, lower your diastolic blood pressure.

Medications

While lifestyle changes are a great way to manage blood pressure at home, sometimes you may need a medication to pair with the modifications you’re making. Certain medications can lower your blood pressure, but also reduce the risk of experiencing heart disease and stroke. Some commonly prescribed blood sugar medications include: Whelton PK, Carey RM, Aronow WS, et al. 2017 ACC/AHA/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/AGS/APhA/ASH/ASPC/NMA/PCNA Guideline for the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults: A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice GuidelinesHypertension. 2018;71(6):e13-e115. doi:10.1161/HYP.0000000000000065

  • Diuretics (water pills) such as Thalitone (chlorthalidone) and Aquazide (hydrochlorothiazide)
  • ACE-inhibitors like Zestril (lisinopril) and Verelan (verapamil)
  • Angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) including Cozaar (losartan) and Diovan (valsartan)
  • Calcium channel blockers, which may include Norvasc (amlodipine) and Adipine (nifedipine)

It’s important to take any blood pressure medications that your healthcare provider prescribes to you as directed. Try to also take the medication(s) at the same time each day without missing doses.

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

While complementary medicines don’t replace conventional medical treatment, they can play some role in lowering your diastolic blood pressure. Consider the following treatment options:

  • Relaxation techniques: Deep breathing, meditation, and visualization can all help relax your body and lower your blood pressure11
  • Yoga: A review found that people who did yoga three times per week lowered their diastolic blood pressure by approximately 6 mmHg over time12
  • Omega-3 fatty acid supplements: One study showed that people who took an omega-3 fatty acid supplement (such as fish oil tablets) each day had lower diastolic blood pressure
  • Garlic supplements: While the evidence is mixed, some studies suggest that garlic supplements may help lower diastolic blood pressure10
  • Green tea extract: In the short term, green tea extract might help lower overall blood pressure levels

Keep in mind: supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If you are interested in trying an herbal supplement, talk to your provider to see if they are safe for you.

How to Check Your Blood Pressure at Home

High blood pressure is known as the “silent killer” because it doesn’t always cause symptoms, but can still be detrimental to your heart health. If you have high blood pressure or are at risk for hypertension, checking your blood pressure at home can be a good way to keep track of it.

To take your blood pressure at home, make sure you have a blood pressure device that properly fits your arm. Do not eat, smoke, exercise, or drink caffeine in the 30 minutes before checking your blood pressure, as these can all affect your blood pressure. It’s also important to go to the bathroom and empty your bladder before you check your blood pressure.

After resting quietly for about five minutes, it’s time to take your blood pressure. Sit in a chair with your feet and back supported, and relax your arm on a table so it’s at the same level as your heart. Fit your blood pressure cuff over your bare arm (not over a sleeve). Then follow the instructions on your blood pressure device to obtain a proper reading. Keep track of the results in a journal or the notes app on your phone so you can easily show your results to your provider at your next appointment.

For reference, the chart below explains what your blood pressure reading means.

BLOOD PRESSURE CATEGORY SYSTOLIC BLOOD PRESSURE (TOP NUMBER) DIASTOLIC BLOOD PRESSURE (BOTTOM NUMBER)
Normal Blood Pressure Less than 120 mmHg Less than 80 mmHg
Elevated Blood Pressure 120 to 129 mmHg Less than 80 mmHg
Stage 1 Hypertension 130 to 139 mmHg 80 to 89 mmHg
Stage 2 Hypertension 140 to 179 mmHg 90 to 119 mmHg
Hypertensive Crisis 180 mmHg or higher 120 mmHg or higher

When to Contact a Healthcare Provider

If you are concerned about your blood pressure, schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider to have your blood pressure checked and get advice on how to lower it or keep it in the normal range. If your blood pressure is high and you have any concerning symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, numbness or weakness on one side of the face or body, or difficulty speaking, it’s essential to seek medical attention right away.

A Quick Review

High systolic and diastolic blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease. You can lower your diastolic blood pressure by following a healthy lifestyle through getting regular exercise, eating a heart-healthy diet, avoiding nicotine, and getting good quality sleep. Your healthcare provider can also prescribe medications to help lower your blood pressure. Some complementary therapies like relaxation and yoga can also offer some benefits for reducing blood pressure.

By Angela Ryan Lee, MD

 

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