So, What Causes High Blood Pressure?

So, What Causes High Blood Pressure?
Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Lark Health

What is hypertension and what it means

The Causes of High Blood Pressure

Hypertension is high blood pressure in your blood vessels. It affects nearly 1 out of every 3 American adults, and another 1 out of 3 are pre-hypertensive and at risk for developing hypertension. High blood pressure puts you at risk for stroke and heart disease, which are two of the top 3 causes of death in the U.S., and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, reports that it is responsible for over 1,000 deaths every year.

Hypertension is largely treatable with lifestyle and medications, but only slightly over half of people with hypertension have their condition under control. That puts them at higher risk for complications, but you can work to stay healthy by monitoring your numbers, considering healthy lifestyle changes, and following your doctor’s orders. Lark can help!

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The Causes of High Blood Pressure

Many of the strategies for hypertension prevention and treatment are similar. They focus on healthy lifestyle changes and behaviors. The following strategies can be good for your blood pressure.

  • Losing extra weight

  • Increasing diet quality.

  • Increasing physical activity.

  • Avoiding tobacco use.

  • Getting enough sleep.

  • Managing stress.

  • Monitoring blood pressure. 

Losing Extra Weight

Extra weight is a major risk factor for hypertension. While weight loss is difficult for many people, it can be easier to focus on small goals. Losing just a little bit of extra weight can help, since each kilogram (2.2 lb.) can lead to a 1-point decrease in blood pressure.

Small changes can help you lose weight over time.

  • Drink more water. It helps reduce hunger.

  • Fill your plate with non-starchy vegetables, since they are low-calorie and filling.

  • Consider lower-calorie swaps, such as fatty meats for skinless poultry and fish.

  • Bake, grill, roast, or steam instead of fry.

  • Limit high-calorie, low-nutrient foods such as desserts, butter, and fried foods.

Weight loss support can keep you motivated and on track. When you have a health coach available to you 24/7, you can depend on help when you need it for handling cravings and staying motivated. Lark health coach also tracks your weight and progress towards weight goals, and offers advice for good food choices for weight loss. 

Increasing Diet Quality

Most Americans get too much sodium and not enough potassium, and that can be a blood pressure-raising combination. Shifting the balance can help lower blood pressure by a few points. These choices can help you change the balance to get more potassium and less sodium.

  • Consume more beans, vegetables, fruit, fish, and yogurt.

  • Limit processed and prepared foods, such as canned foods, snack foods, processed meats, and frozen foods.

  • Limit prepared foods, such as fast food and deli salads.

  • Limit salty foods, such as salty sauces and dressings, cheese, and pickles.

Sodium and potassium may be the nutrients you hear about most often for blood pressure, but other nutrients can also help keep your numbers in check.

  • Vitamin C: in vegetables and fruit.

  • Vitamin D: in fortified milk and fatty fish.

  • Fiber: in vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains, and fruit.

  • Calcium: in dairy products, dairy substitutes, and leafy greens.

As you think about boosting good nutrients, you can also think about limiting the bad ones.

  • Choose lean meats and fish instead of fatty cuts.

  • Choose lower-fat dairy products.

  • Swap olive oil, avocados, and nut butters for butter, shortening, and lard.

  • Take fruit instead of baked goods or ice cream for a sweet treat.

  • Look for whole grain versions instead of opting for refined cereal and white bread, pasta, and rice.

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH, diet is a meal plan that can help you get more of the blood pressure-lowering nutrients and less of the blood pressure-raising villains. A clinical trial found that the DASH diet can lower blood pressure within weeks.

It is higher than the average diet in vegetables, fruit, and dairy products. It is lower than the average diet in added sugars, refined starches, and red meat. You can follow a DASH diet by including the following foods in your regular plan.

  • 6 1-ounce servings of grains per day – focus on whole grain options.

  • 4 to 5 servings of vegetables per day.

  • 4 to 5 servings of fruit per day.

  • 2 to 3 servings of low-fat dairy products per day.

  • Up to 6 1-ounce servings of lean meat, poultry, or fish per day.

  • 4 servings per week of nuts and seeds.

  • 2 to 3 servings per day of healthy fats and oils.

This may seem like a lot to remember, but you do not need to do it on your own. Lark health coach can help you follow a DASH-style diet while considering your individual lifestyle. The app encourages healthier choices on a daily basis. 

Increasing Physical Activity

Exercise lowers blood pressure by nearly 10 mm Hg, so adding exercise to your regular schedule can help prevent or treatment hypertension. The general recommendation for aerobic exercise is to get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise at least 5 days a week, or at least 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise at least 5 days per week. You can try:

  • Walking or jogging.

  • Bicycling indoors or on a stationary bike.

  • Using an elliptical, stair climbing, or rowing machine.

  • Taking aerobics or other group fitness classes.

  • Hiking.

  • Swimming or doing water aerobics.

You can also improve general health and lower blood pressure by incorporating strength training into your routine at least twice a week. Weights such as dumbbells, barbells, and weight machines can work, but so can body weight exercises, resistance bands, and medicine balls.

Starting and especially maintaining an exercise program can be challenging, but you can set yourself up for success.

  • Make it fun to stay motivated. Keep trying until you find something you love. It could be walking, but it could be something as unexpected as circus classes for exercise.

  • Involve others. Get a friend to join you so you are less likely to skip your workout, and more likely to complete the whole thing.

  • Add it your schedule and keep the commitment, just like you do with brushing your teeth, attending important meetings at work, and getting your children to their activities.

  • Use a smartphone app such as Lark. This health coach can motivate and remind you to get active, help you set and achieve activity goals, and track your activity.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the NIH, you can get started with an exercise program if you are generally healthy. However, you should check with your healthcare provider first if you are over 50, have a heart condition or another health condition, or have a family history of heart disease. 

Avoiding Tobacco Use

Smoking can increase your risk for hypertension, not to mention heart disease, stroke, cancer, and other conditions. A study published in the journal of the AHA, “Hypertension,” found that normotensive smokers who quit smoking for a week reduced their blood pressure by nearly 4 points systolic and 2 points diastolic. Avoiding chewing tobacco and secondhand smoke can also lower blood pressure or risk for hypertension. Lark can help here too! Just check with support@lark.com if you want to turn on coaching to quit or cut back on tobacco! 

Getting Enough Sleep

Sleep is more than just a luxury or an escape. It is a necessary component of a healthy lifestyle if you want to lower risk for conditions including diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and blood pressure. Even a night of sleep deprivation can interfere
with your body’s ability to control blood pressure, and being chronically short on sleep can increase hypertension risk.

Many adults fall short of their recommended amounts of sleep, but you can take steps to get adequate shut-eye.

  • Have a consistent bed-time.

  • Follow a relaxing pre-bed routine.

  • Be sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool.

  • Avoid phone, computer, and TV screens 30 minutes before bed.

  • Use a health coach that also tracks sleep. 

Managing Stress

You may not be surprised to learn that stress can contribute to increases in blood pressure, both in the moment and over time. Stress from jobs, relationships, financial pressures, and other aspects of life can be harmful. Some of it is unavoidable, but the good news is that research suggests that how you respond to stress affects how much harm the stress does.

Learning to manage stress can be well worth it. These are some common and helpful approaches.

  • Exercise regularly.

  • Relax with stretching, massage, or a hot bath.

  • Use deep breathing techniques.

  • Talk yourself through it.

  • Phone a friend.

It can be hard to learn how to manage stress, but practice helps. Lark health coach can also help by letting you identify when you are stressed and offering suggestions for staying calm and in control in the moment. 

Monitoring Blood Pressure

Taking regular blood pressure readings can help you keep blood pressure down. Those readings act as reminders to keep up with your healthy lifestyle and any medications. They also let you learn patterns, so you can easily know if something is wrong and it is time to contact your healthcare provider.

If you have hypertension, taking blood pressure twice a day can be burdensome because it is hard to remember, but you can get help. Your Lark health coach can remind you and automatically store your measurements so you can see trends and share them with your doctor.

In addition, your healthcare provider might prescribe hypertension medications if you are unable to control your blood pressure with these lifestyle strategies.

High Blood Pressure Can Increase Your Risk of Diabetes, Check Now

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Systolic (Top Number) 80


You are putting in the work, so you deserve to maximize the benefits. Lark can help you do just that. Lark serves all the functions of a regular coach: informing, motivating, guiding, cheering, and organizing. Lark:

  • Informs you about healthy ways to lose weight and incorporate healthy behaviors into your lifestyle.

  • Motivates you to keep setting and chasing new goals.

  • Guides you through your weight loss journey in your own way.

  • Cheers your successes, your efforts, and, should you fall short of your goals for a time, your renewed dedication.

  • Organizes by encouraging you to log your food, activity and weight, and storing that information.

Lark even learns your patterns and coaches around them. Do you prefer a gluten-free or dairy-free lifestyle? You’ll get tips on healthy ways to get your nutrients without eating gluten or dairy products. Do you normally take an afternoon walk? Then do not be surprised if Lark gives you a gentle nudge if you forget to take it one day.