According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 29 percent of American adults have high blood pressure, or hypertension. This is a condition where the force of blood pushing against arterial walls is too high. Labelled "the silent killer" because of an absence of symptoms, hypertension causes a wide range of health problems including blood vessel weakness and scarring, greater risks for blood clots, more arterial plaque, and tissue and organ damage due to blocked arteries. While research shows family history can increase the risks for hypertension, there are also a number of lifestyle factors that boost the chances for its development.
- Excessive Bodyweight and BMI: People are considered overweight when body mass index (BMI) is between 25 and 30, and BMI measuring over 30 indicates obesity. Research shows that excessive bodyweight raises risks for developing high blood pressure. Monitoring bodyweight and BMI can help people keep blood pressure in check. For successful weight loss, most people can lose from 1-2 pounds per week by subtracting 500 calories per day from their diet and adding daily exercise.
- Inactivity: In addition to raising risks for high blood pressure, a sedentary lifestyle increases chances for blood vessel disease, heart disease, stroke, obesity and diabetes. Engage in regular exercise to help ensure healthy blood pressure. Whether walking or biking, tennis or martial arts, finding a physical activity you love ensures regular participation.
- A High-Sodium Diet: Salt retains fluid in the body, which can put extra pressure on the heart and contribute to high blood pressure. Keeping track of sodium consumption helps. While people with normal blood pressure should limit daily sodium to 2,300 mg, people with hypertension should consume 1,500 mg a day or less.
- Tobacco Use: Every cigarette raises blood pressure temporarily and can contribute to damaged arteries and heart disease. Smokers, especially those already at risk for hypertension, should make a plan to quit. Hypnosis, acupuncture, guided imagery, patches, gum and certain medications can help.
- Heavy Alcohol Use: Daily alcohol use or binge drinking can contribute to high blood pressure. At highest risk are people who consume more than three drinks per day (12 oz. of beer, 4 oz. of wine, or 1.5 oz. of liquor). To prevent the development of hypertension men should limit alcohol consumption to two drinks daily, and women should limit consumption to one daily drink.
- Stress: Research hasn't proven that stress causes hypertension, but stressful situations can spike blood pressure temporarily. In addition, some people smoke tobacco, drink alcohol, or consume too many unhealthy foods in an effort to deal with stress, all of which are risk factors for high blood pressure. Effective stress management techniques include meditation, yoga or guided imagery.
- Gender and Age: Up until 45 years of age, men are more prone to hypertension than women. From 45 to 65 years of age, risks are roughly equal between men and women, and after the age of 65, more women are likely to get high blood pressure than men.
The healthy strategies listed above can help in the prevention and treatment of high blood pressure, but some people may need medication to keep it in check. Because of the absence of symptoms, people should have regular checkups in order to know and monitor their blood pressure numbers.