9 Cheap Ways to Lower Your Blood Pressure

During a recent routine doctor visit, a loved one was warned that his blood pressure was on the high side. And if it doesn't improve by the next checkup, he might have to start taking medication.

This is happening to more and more Americans, since the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology changed their guidelines for what is considered "high" blood pressure from 140/90 to 130/80. With the new guidelines, nearly half of U.S. adults are classified as having high blood pressure.

My loved one hates taking medication. He dreads the side effects, so he asked me to find out all the natural things he could do to get his blood pressure to a healthy place before his next visit. If the actions could be frugal and fun, all the better.

Note: If you have been prescribed medication for high blood pressure, follow your doctor's orders. Uncontrolled high blood pressure, or hypertension, can lead to a fatal or debilitating stroke, and I would never suggest that you can quit taking your meds and use natural methods to treat high blood pressure instead. But of course, you can take your meds and start living a healthier lifestyle.

1. Try a new approach to quit smoking

Smoking is one of the worst things you can do for your blood pressure. Obviously, it's not easy to quit smoking, or there wouldn't be so many people who have tried and failed to kick the habit.

There are several tactics proven to increase your chances of quitting for good, including free apps such as the LIVESTRONG MyQuit Coach, or Smoke Free. Counseling and anti-addiction medications are also proven to help, but if money is tight and your health insurance doesn't cover those, try the free apps first. (See also: 14 Smartphone Apps That Make Self-Care a Snap)

2. Put in your earbuds

A review of multiple studies from the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health concluded that listening to music appears to lower blood pressure by reducing anxiety in patients, but it called for more controlled studies to pinpoint the optimal conditions for therapeutic music listening. But if you have a playlist of songs that tend to set your mind at ease, press play as often as you need to feel a little more Zen.

3. Eat at home

You may not think you eat that much salt, because you don't add salt to your food. But guess what? Most of the salt we eat comes from restaurant and processed foods, about 71 percent according to the CDC.

"Only a small amount of the sodium we consume each day comes from the salt shaker," reads the CDC report urging Americans to cut back.

So as convenient as it is to hit the drive thru, you can cut out a lot of blood-pressure-raising sodium by preparing meals at home. Home cooking is generally cheaper, too, and won't cost you your health. (See also: 25 Low-Cost Foods Packed With Nutrition)

4. Season your food

When you're cooking at home, you can cut sodium even more by reaching for non-sodium seasonings to add a kick, such as garlic, onion powder, and pepper. Some herbs may even lower blood pressure — basil, cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, and garlic have all been credited with doing so. I save tons of money by ordering my spices online in bulk bags. (See also: 12 Foods Nutritionists Say You Should Splurge On)

5. Focus on your breathing

Deep breathing can improve many aspects of your overall health, and blood pressure is certainly one of them.

As Dr. Naomi Fisher of Harvard Medical School states, "Doctors often ask patients to breathe deeply before getting their blood pressure taken, for example. But it is also helpful to incorporate deep breathing in a daily routine, especially for "type A" or stress-prone personalities, with an added benefit on blood pressure."

And if you think you won't remember to add a deep breathing session to your daily routine, there are at least half a dozen apps that promise to guide you, ranging in cost from free to $3.99. (See also: 6 Meditation Alternatives for People With Busy Minds)

6. Find an exercise you don't hate

The American Heart Association says you should be exercising at least two and a half hours per week, in sessions at least 10 minutes long. You could schedule that time on a treadmill, or you could ask yourself, "what kind of activity would be a treat for me to engage in 30 minutes per day?"

I like to exercise while running errands, which has the added benefit of saving on gas and parking. Today, I'll briskly walk to a craft store and the ATM; tomorrow, it will be a bike ride to the grocery store. For some people, making exercise a chance to be social helps, whether it's by scheduling multiple sports games per week, enrolling in a Zumba class, or scheduling a walking date with a friend.

Does sex count as a workout? It can qualify as moderate activity, though most acts of intercourse only take about six minutes, and the AHA recommends that exercise sessions last at least 10. So keep that in mind if you plan to make sex your workout for the day. (See also: These 7 Exercises Are Scientifically Proven to Increase Happiness)

7. Have dessert

OK, a hot fudge sundae isn't going to lower your blood pressure, but there are a couple of sweet treats that can help.

Potassium can lessen the effects of sodium, so in addition to reducing sodium in your diet, you can also try adding more potassium-rich foods such as bananas, yogurt, and avocados. Even better, the flavonols in chocolate, especially dark chocolate, have been shown to lower blood pressure. So why not make a smoothie of dark chocolate, banana, and yogurt? (See also: 15 Reasons You Should Eat More Chocolate)

8. Get a dog

Studies show that owning a pet — particularly a dog — can significantly lower your blood pressure. This is because owning a dog improves our emotional health, as well as requiring us to exercise more in order to care for them.

Even if you can't adopt a dog, being around one could still help you. Research shows that our blood pressure dips when we pet or talk to a dog. So volunteering at a local animal shelter or spending time with a friend or relative's pet could work. (See also: 5 Surprising Ways Your Dog Can Save You Money)

9. Sleep in

Lack of sleep (five hours of sleep or fewer a night) can cause us to have trouble regulating our stress hormones, which may in turn lead to higher blood pressure.

Sleep is free, and good for you in many other ways as well, so making sure to get eight hours a night is a free way to keep your blood pressure in check. (See also: How Getting More Sleep Helps Your Finances)

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