Hypertension, or high blood pressure, affects nearly half of Americans . Uncontrolled hypertension increases the risk for stroke and heart attacks, but millions of people do not know they have it or do not have it under control.
Since high blood pressure does not usually cause symptoms, you can only be sure that you have it by getting your blood pressure checked. You may already get it checked regularly when you visit your doctor, but more often can be helpful if you are at high risk or know you have hypertension and need to monitor it. These are the risk factors for hypertension and what you can do about your blood pressure if it is high.
Non-Modifiable Risk Factors
Non-modifiable risk factors raise risk for hypertension, and there is nothing you can do to change them. Genes and family history are non-modifiable risk factors. Older age and being from certain ethnicities and races also raise risk.
Some genes are linked to high blood pressure. They may increase the chance of having hypertension for different reasons. For example, salt sensitivity, or an increase in blood pressure after eating salt, is much higher in some people than others.
While you may not be able to know whether you have some of the genes that cause high blood pressure, you can guess by taking a look at your family. If your parents, grandparents, or siblings have or had high blood pressure, you are at higher risk. Learning your family health history can give you important information about your own possible future health.
Blood pressure is the force of your blood against the blood vessels. Healthy blood vessels are elastic, but they naturally stiffen with age, which raises blood pressure. For adults who are free from hypertension at age 55 or 65 years, the lifetime risk of developing hypertension is 90%. Men are at higher risk than women for hypertension earlier in life, while older women are at higher risk than older men.
Modifiable risk factors are risk factors that can be changed. Often, simple lifestyle choices can greatly lower the risk of developing hypertension. Lark for Hypertension coaches patients on these and other lifestyle factors.
Overweight and Obesity
Carrying around extra weight is not just about fitting into a smaller pair of jeans. Extra body fat can be a health concern, raising risk for many conditions, including hypertension. Achieving a so-called "normal-weight" may be far-fetched, but that is okay. Losing any amount of extra weight can lower risk for hypertension. Even preventing weight gain as time passes helps prevent hypertension risk from rising further.
Quick tip: Fill half your plate with vegetables, a quarter with a lean protein, and a quarter with a high-fiber carb such as a whole grain or fruit for a smart plate that can help with weight loss.
Dietary Risk Factors
What you eat clearly matters, and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet can lower high blood pressure within weeks. The guidelines include eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and reduced-fat calcium products compared to the typical American. In addition, DASH has only a limited amount of sweets and red meat.
Too much sodium, usually from salt, is another risk factor for hypertension. It is usually highest in prepared, pickled, canned, and other processed foods, and in lower amounts in fresh foods. Lark for Hypertension's nutrition coaching is based on DASH guidelines, and it encourages lower-sodium choices.
Quick tip: Eat more fish, chicken, eggs, and plant-based proteins such as beans instead of fatty red meat and processed meats to lower blood pressure.
Lack of Exercise
Physical activity may help with weight loss, improve mood, and make you look better, but those are only side effects. The biggest benefits of exercise may be its health effects, including lower risk for hypertension. On the other hand, being inactive raises risk for hypertension.
Quick tip: No gym? No problem! Walk or jog for aerobic exercise and do body weight exercises or lift soup cans or water bottles to strength train. Lark for Hypertension has other great ideas for getting active outside the gym.
Almost every choice you make all day and into the night can affect your blood pressure. Routinely stay up doing social media instead of getting the sleep you need, and your risk for hypertension increases. Set aside enough time for sleep every night and establish a bedtime routine to help fall asleep faster, and hypertension risk decreases.
Quick tip: Are you unsure how much sleep you usually get? Lark for Hypertension tracks sleep and tells you about your patterns so you can see if you need more sleep.
When a car cuts into the lane in front of you, do you wave your fist and curse, or do you take a deep breath and continue driving as safely as you can? Taking a deep breath and other stress management techniques can help keep blood pressure down, while letting stress overwhelm you can lead to higher blood pressure. Chronic stress from work, worries about health and money, relationship troubles, and even too much noise outside your home can all contribute to stress levels and should be managed.
Quick tip: While stress cannot be eliminated, better stress management can keep it from being too unhealthy. Lark for Hypertension includes coaching on awareness and stress management techniques.
Other Health Conditions
Certain other health conditions can increase your risk for hypertension. Having diabetes or high cholesterol both raise hypertension risk. If you have these conditions, you can lower your risk for hypertension by trying to control diabetes or lower cholesterol.
Quick tip: Many of the same lifestyle choices that can lower blood pressure can also prevent or help manage diabetes, high cholesterol, and other conditions. Live healthy!
Very few people are already doing everything perfectly to prevent hypertension. That can actually be great news because making a few minor changes may lower your risk. These are a few examples.
Having only half your regular dessert.
Ordering brown rice instead of white.
Walking around the block before leaving work.
Turning off screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
Visualizing your happy place before reacting to stressful situations.
Choosing olive oil instead of butter to lower cholesterol.
2017 ACC/AHA/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/AGS/APhA/ASH/ASPC/NMA/PCNA Guideline for the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults: A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2018;71:e127-e248
Lark helps you eat better, move more, stress less, and improve your overall wellness. Lark’s digital coach is available 24/7 on your smartphone to give you personalized tips, recommendations, and motivation to lose weight and prevent chronic conditions like diabetes.