High blood pressure is called the “silent killer” for a reason. It typically has no symptoms until after it has done significant damage to your heart and arteries. That’s why it’s important to know the high blood pressure risk factors that may affect you.
According to the latest statistics from the American Heart Association, more than 100 million Americans have high blood pressure. If your blood pressure readings are higher than 130 over 79, you have high blood pressure. You’ll want to talk to your doctor and start taking steps to lower it. High blood pressure can lead to heart failure and kidney disease.
So, let’s take a look at the high blood pressure risk factors you can’t ignore and what you can do about it.
Risk Factor: Family History
If there’s a history of high blood pressure in your family, it’s a risk factor you will want to make note of.
You should spend some time talking to your immediate family members to find out how many of them have been diagnosed. If you determine there is a number of people in your family who’ve been, this increases your risk of developing high blood pressure.
Risk Factor: Diet
One of the first things your doctor may ask you about if you’re diagnosed with high blood pressure is your diet. In fact, American Heart Association researchers say poor eating habits contributed to 45 percent of U.S. deaths in 2012 from heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes.
One of the key contributors to a high blood pressure diet is sodium. When you eat too much salt, your body holds extra water to "wash" the salt out. This may cause your blood pressure to go up. The added water puts stress on your heart and blood vessels.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting daily sodium intake no more than 1,500 milligrams.
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet includes eating less fat and saturated fat, as well as eating more fresh fruits and vegetables.
Risk Factor: Alcohol
Another risk factor for high blood pressure is alcohol. Having more than three drinks in one sitting temporarily increases your blood pressure, and repeatedly binge drinking puts you at risk for long-term increases.
In addition, drinking too much can put you at an increased risk for other heart-related issues, including:
- Heart failure
If you choose to include alcohol in your diet, moderation is key. For men, this is the equivalent of one to two drinks per day, and one drink per day for women. (A drink is one 12 oz. beer, 4 oz. of wine, 1.5 oz. of 80-proof spirits or 1 oz. of 100-proof spirits). Researchers also believe alcohol has an adverse effect on antioxidants.
Risk Factor: Smoking
Not only does smoking or chewing tobacco immediately raise your blood pressure temporarily, but the chemicals in tobacco can damage the lining of your artery walls.
The nicotine in cigarette smoke is a big part of the problem. It raises your blood pressure and heart rate, narrows your arteries, hardens their walls, and makes your blood more likely to clot. It stresses your heart and sets you up for a heart attack or stroke.
The good news is that by quitting your body will benefit almost immediately.
Risk Factor: Lack of Physical Activity
University of Connecticut researcher Linda Pescatello published a groundbreaking study in 1991 that found blood pressure decreased on days when the study’s participants exercised. For people with high blood pressure, 30 minutes of cycling lowered blood pressure for the entire day. Another, more recent study, found similar results.
Researchers say your heart rate and blood pressure both rise when you exercise. When your heart rate increases you deliver more blood and oxygen to your working muscles and your heart pumps more blood with each beat. This improves the health of your heart and blood vessels, allowing your cardiovascular system to function more efficiently.
To keep your heart healthy, the American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise weekly. In fact, a new set of guidelines for physical activity point out that you don’t have to spend hours in the gym to see results. The important thing is to get up and move.
Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about your blood pressure, especially if you have a pre-exisitng medical condition. Some simple changes to your diet or exercise plan may be enough to get you on the right track.
If you’d like more information on high blood pressure risk factors and things you can do to control it, download our free guide “Know Your Numbers: Blood Pressure.” It includes an easy-to-read chart of blood pressure numbers, so you’ll always know where you stand.