Health & Wellness Articles

The Causes of High Blood Pressure

Learn Which Risk Factors You Can Control

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Controllable Risk Factors
Factors that you can control are related to your lifestyle—the choices you make each day about what to eat and whether or not to exercise. These are areas of your life where you can take control to improve your blood pressure and enhance your overall health.
  • Your diet. A diet high in sodium, saturated fat and cholesterol, and low in fiber, whole foods, and minerals (potassium, magnesium, calcium) can increase blood pressure. Eating a low-sodium, low-fat diet that is rich in whole foods and other nutrients can help.
  • Your activity level. Sedentary individuals have a higher risk for hypertension. Regular exercise can lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
  • Your weight. Being obese (a Body Mass Index over 30) increases your risk of developing high blood pressure. Dropping just 10% of your body weight can have positive effects on blood pressure.
  • Your stress levels. Studies show that chronic stress (and "Type A" personality traits) can elevate blood pressure. Exercise, meditation, and yoga can help reduce and manage stress and blood pressure.
  • Your drinking habits. Moderate to heavy drinking (more than 1-2 drinks daily) can dramatically increase blood pressure and other health risks. Health experts recommend no more than one drink a day for women, and no more than two drinks per day for men.
  • Your smoking habits. Smoking is the leading preventable cause of heart disease, due to its effects on your arteries, heart, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. Quitting can stop (and potentially reverse) a lot of the existing damage to your body, and improve your blood pressure.
When you have other existing health conditions, you are compounding your risk of serious complications and disease if you don't lower your blood pressure. Add high risk factors into the picture (family history, age, and race) and your risk is compounded even more. The good thing is that you can break that chain of progressive disease at any point by changing the lifestyle choices above.

Controlling your blood pressure can help improve your health by reducing your risk of heart attack, stroke, and other serious health problems. You should work closely with your doctor to develop a plan that is safe and effective for you. These plans usually involve some combination of dietary changes, regular exercise, medication, and weight loss.
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About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, Nicole loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Nicole was formerly SparkPeople's fitness expert and editor-in-chief, known on the site as "Coach Nicole." Make sure to explore more of her articles and blog posts.

Member Comments

  • I believe that the American processed foods, fast food, and large portions help lead us down this path. I working on not using food as my guilty pleasure. It will kill me. - 11/4/2013 4:51:02 PM
  • WONDERM0M
    So...For generations my family history includes smoking, drinking, eating fried high calorie foods and no exercising. My personal history includes no smoking, no drinking, running up to 22 miles a week, and a healthy diet I lost 60 lbs in the last two years, and I am a white female. My only risk factor is I am 54. So why is my blood pressure high? The point of exercising eating healthy and losing 60 lbs was to stay off meds!!!!! If exercising didn't lower my BP why would meds do it? - 10/31/2013 9:37:34 PM
  • Thank you, Holcomb. I know that happen. My dad have high blood pressure while I have low pressure. - 9/2/2012 12:45:39 AM
  • The hubby has high blood pressure and is on mess for it but has always tested to have borderline low sodium levels even though he salts everything he eats. There is no proof that high levels of sodium in the diet contribute to high blood pressure. It is strictly an individual thing - what works for one person does not work for all. That's why they call it "practicing" medicine. - 7/10/2011 3:55:12 PM
  • GLOCOMB
    ALERT! Please be aware and share with all those you know that those BP readings they take at your doctor's office could be wrong. In the last 3 yrs I have gone to the doctor where the medical assistant has read my BP. Auto response is 120/80. I knew better so I'd ask the doctor to take it. Outcome: 148/92. I went YEARS believing I had normal BP when in fact I didn't. Just saw my Dr last week to specifically talk about my BP. The medical assistant's reading? 118/75....nuts! ALWAYS ask your Dr to check your BP and use those machines at the pharmacy to help track. It could save your life & the life of those you love. - 2/25/2011 9:59:06 AM
  • I second what Coolinjeans said... there's a big myth that continues to perpetuate itself that a low sodium, low fat diet is the only way to 'cure' heart disease. Unfortunately any research that shows either 1) there is no connection between low salt/fat and increased incident of heart disease, or 2) eating low salt/fat is actually the contributing factor to heart disease, it's all swept under the rug.

    Not saying it's free license to eat burgers & fries, just saying that when you eat a diet rich in _real_ food (ie. cook your own meals with lots of veggies, fruit, meat and natural sources of fat), your incidence of any disease drops.

    Dietary fat and real salt are not the enemy - it's all the added stuff put into the packaged foods that needs to be feared. - 7/29/2010 12:25:46 PM
  • COOLINJEANS
    Interesting article....enjoye
    d it....I do know that the cholesterol in food does not have the same biological compounds ( science/chemistry
    ) as the cholesterol produced by the body....basically the two are not the same but the body is good at producing the HDL......with exercise !!!
    - 12/15/2007 8:31:52 AM

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