The Causes of High Blood Pressure

Lowering your blood pressure isn't always as simple as eating fewer high-sodium foods. The fact is that multiple factors combined affect your blood pressure. There are two main categories of risks that contribute to hypertension—those that you can't change, and those that you can.

Uncontrollable Risk Factors

These variables are out of your control. Although you can't do anything to change them, it's important to know whether you fall into any of these higher-risk categories.
  • Your age. Your risk of developing high blood pressure increases as you age. Men over 45 and women over 55 are more likely to have high blood pressure.
  • Your gender. Up to age 55, men are more prone to high blood pressure than women. After menopause, a woman's risk increases. By age 75, high blood pressure is more prevalent among women than men. Women who take oral contraceptives are also at a higher risk for hypertension.
  • Your family history. Your risk doubles if one or both of your parents had high blood pressure.
  • Your race. In the U.S., African Americans (especially women) are more likely to develop high blood pressure, along with other minorities (Hispanics, American Indians and Alaskan natives).
Although these factors are out of your control, there are several lifestyle habits that you CAN change to help lower your blood pressure.

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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Member Comments

Blood pressure is good Report
Needed to proofread my post and can't edit so I meant to say that Sugar, grains, fruit juices, reduced fat foods, processed foods, and other high carb or processed foods are your enemy. Not single ingredient healthy fats and cruciferous vegetable. You can eat as much meat, fish, veggies, butter, etc. as you want and you'll not have any issues. Millions have already figured this out but the government funded medical community is decades behind and still peddling old propaganda. Report
Good article but I totally disagree on the diet paragraph. The Ketogenic diet (Low Carb, High Fat, Moderate Protein) which includes primarily cruciferous vegetables, no fruit, no starchy vegetables, some berries, fatty meats, and other healthy fast like olive oil, coconut oil, ghee, butter, avocado, lard, nuts, etc., has begun to reverse my blood pressure issues and I've been able to stop taking one BP medication and have lost over 75 lbs in 2 years. The government guidance is based on little to no research and what is published is often funded by the food industry that makes and sells processed foods. Salt, healthy fats and cholesterol are not your enemy. Sugar, Grains, Fruit Juice. Checkout Dr Ken D Berry, Dr Jason Fung, and others for more detailed information on proper eating for health, weight loss, BP, and reversing diabetes. Keto works, it's that simple. Report
Thanks Report
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
Very informative! Thanks! Report
Good article. Mine is creeping up because I've fallen off of doing some of these good habits. Report
Thanks Report
Important info. Report
Great info! Thanks for sharing!!!!!!!! Report
Very important information Report
Nice concise article. No fluff just facts. Thank you. Report
good info, thanks Report
Great info! Thanks! Report


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.