Do you have high blood pressure? If you're otherwise healthy and in a low-risk group, you may be going undiagnosed. That's the result from a recent study on hypertension, which found that an average 65 percent of those under 40 who have high blood pressure don't have a diagnosis. Older adults, who are more at risk, don't fare much better, with 50 percent undiagnosed.
What's more, one large study shows that half of those who have been diagnosed and are receiving treatment don't have their blood pressure under control.
We all know that chronically high blood pressure can lead to cardiovascular problems, heart disease and stroke, but that's not all. Another recent study looked at the effects of unregulated blood pressure and found that even slightly elevated blood pressure can prematurely age the brain, causing memory loss and maybe contributing to early-onset dementia. What's more, that's also true for those who had slightly elevated blood pressure under the age of 40 -- the exact group that goes undiagnosed at the highest rate.
So what's a person to do? Many lifestyle changes can help you keep those numbers as close to 120/80 (the healthiest rate) as possible.
Meditation can help maintain a calm and focused mind, but one side benefit of that relaxation could also help with blood pressure. When relaxed, the body produces more nitric oxide, <a href="http://www.npr.org/2008/08/21/93796200/to-lower-blood-pressure-open-up-and-say-om">which in turn helps blood vessels to open up, reducing the pressure of the blood flowing through</a>.
Research shows that <a href="http://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/guide/5-ways-pets-improve-your-health">pet owners have lower blood pressure</a> (also: lower cholesterol and heart disease risk), thanks to the anxiety-reducing qualities of an animal companion.
In one 2008 study in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500368_162-3955956.html">researchers found that happily married adults had better blood pressure</a> than happily single and unhappily married adults.
This one's a no-brainer, but exercise is one of the best ways to lower blood pressure. There are many ways that the simple act of moderate exercise can improve your blood pressure (and overall health). First, it helps with other risk factors for hypertension, like extra weight and stress. But exercise also improves the strength of your heart so that <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/high-blood-pressure/HI00024">it can more effectively and efficiently pump blood, which lowers the pressure on the arteries</a>.
Moderate drinking -- one drink for women and men over 65 and two drinks for younger men -- can actually help reduce blood pressure. <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/high-blood-pressure/HI00027">But more than that has the opposite effect</a>, according to the Mayo Clinic.
There is some evidence that caffeine can temporarily increase blood pressure, though it's unclear if there is a long-term effect. The <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/high-blood-pressure/HI00027/NSECTIONGROUP=2">Mayo Clinic recommends</a> checking blood pressure 30 minutes after a cup of coffee or caffeinated soda to see if the effect remains.
Of course, for this and many other reasons, you should quit smoking. But even second-hand smoke can have a damaging effect on your blood pressure <a href="http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/UnderstandYourRiskforHighBloodPressure/Understand-Your-Risk-for-High-Blood-Pressure_UCM_002052_Article.jsp">because it damages arteries</a>.
Several foods have been found to naturally lower blood pressure. Things like chili peppers, chocolate, beans and bananas have all been proven to lower blood pressure in humans or in trials with rats. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/28/raisins-and-7-other-foods-lower-blood-pressure_n_1382535.html#slide=817449">Read on for more here</a>.
Eating well is essential to maintaining healthy blood pressure, but even if you live on <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/28/raisins-and-7-other-foods-lower-blood-pressure_n_1382535.html#slide=817449">beans and bananas</a>, extra pounds could harm you. In fact, one Italian study found that <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070928180348.htm">hypertension in overweight patients was a secondary condition, caused by the excess weight</a>. In other words, once the weight was lost, the high blood pressure went with it.
Perhaps the best known advice for healthy blood pressure is maintaining a low sodium diet. Follow the <a href="http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/faq.asp">USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans</a>: a max of 2,300 mg of sodium for healthy, young adults -- or 1,500 mg a day or fewer for those who are over 50, African-American or suffering from diabetes or chronic kidney disease.