5 Blood Pressure Risk Factors You Can Modify

Here are five blood pressure risk factors that change or avoid with some guidance from your doctor. 

blood pressure risk factors

The added pounds you carry with you place added strain on your heart, which can then increase your blood pressure.

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Often, high blood pressure is a byproduct of an unhealthy lifestyle or other modifiable factors. Here are five blood pressure risk factors that you can modify with some guidance from your doctor.

An Unhealthy, High-Sodium Diet

You’re probably aware that sodium is the dietary devil when it comes to high blood pressure. Here’s why: As the volume of blood in your arteries increases, so does your blood pressure. Having higher levels of sodium in your bloodstream causes your body to retain more fluid, which increases blood volume and, thus, blood pressure.

That’s why most health experts recommend consuming no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day (the AHA recommends an ideal sodium intake of 1,500 mg or less daily for most adults). Trouble is, most Americans consume about 3,400 mg of sodium a day, says the AHA. Dietary sodium comes from more than the saltshaker. In fact, most of the sodium you consume comes from other sources, namely, convenience foods, fast food, and condiments.

Sodium isn’t the only detrimental dietary component. Following any heart-unfriendly eating pattern that’s high in calories, added sugar, and saturated fat can increase your risk of hypertension.

A Sedentary Lifestyle

If you’re a couch potato, you might be doing more than putting pressure on your backside. You also might be increasing the pressure against your artery walls. Staying physically inactive can heighten your risk of high blood pressure and increase your likelihood of heart attack and stroke.

Conversely, engaging in regular physical activity has been shown to help reduce blood pressure. It also can help you lose weight and ease stress, which, in turn, can help improve your blood pressure and heart health. Most health experts recommend getting a minimum of 150 minutes, or 2½ hours, of moderate-intensity physical activity a week (e.g., 30 minutes a day on at least five days a week).

Being Overweight or Obese

The added pounds you carry with you place added strain on your heart, which can then increase your blood pressure. Your risks may be greater especially if you have large amounts of visceral fat, a particularly dangerous type of fat that’s deposited in the abdominal cavity, between key internal organs. So, if you’re overweight and struggling to get your blood pressure under control, you’ve probably been advised to lose a few pounds to help bring down your blood pressure.

In one study, researchers performed 24-hour blood pressure monitoring on 16 healthy, normal-weight people (average age about 30), whose energy intake was raised by 400 to 1,200 calories a day to increase their weight by 5 percent over the next eight weeks. The scientists then measured the participants’ blood pressure again for another 24-hour period and compared the results with those from a group of 10 normal-weight study participants who maintained their weight over the eight weeks.

On average, those who increased their calorie consumption gained about 8 pounds and increased their total, visceral, and subcutaneous fat composition. Systolic blood pressure rose an average of 4 mmHg in those who gained weight, the researchers reported. Changes in mean blood pressure were associated with increases in visceral fat, but not other types of fat, according to the study (Mayo Clinic Proceedings, May 2018).

Excessive Alcohol Consumption

Some research suggests that moderate alcohol consumption may offer cardiovascular and other health benefits. Conversely, heavy drinking can cause blood pressure increases as well as other cardiovascular problems, such as atrial fibrillation, heart failure, and stroke.

Be aware that heavy drinkers who suddenly stop consuming alcohol may experience a dangerous spike in blood pressure. If you are trying to stop drinking, talk with your doctor about how to do it safely.

If you do drink, limit your alcohol consumption to no more than two standard drinks a day for men and no more than one drink a day for women. A standard drink equates to one 12-ounce beer, 4 ounces of wine, 1½ ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits, or 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits.

Poor Sleep Quality

Numerous studies point to a correlation between poor sleep/sleep disorders and high blood pressure, as well as worse heart and brain health. One of the sleep disorders linked to hypertension is insomnia, including short sleep duration and hyperarousal (taking a long time to fall asleep).

In one study, 255 insomniacs underwent two nights of sleep studies in a sleep lab and were questioned about their medical history, including the presence of hypertension. Compared with the study participants who slept six hours or more, those who slept less were about 3½ times more likely to have hypertension, independent of other risk factors associated with insomnia or hypertension (Sleep, May 2016).

Another significant blood pressure risk factor is sleep apnea, characterized by repeated interruptions in breathing during sleep. The most common form is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which occurs when muscles in the upper airway that support the soft palate, tongue, and other structures relax and collapse, blocking your air passage. The resulting cessations in breathing, or apneas, reduce oxygen levels in the blood and arouse OSA sufferers from deep sleep as they struggle to breathe, although many people never realize they’re experiencing these episodes. Low on oxygen, the brain sends signals through the nervous system to tell the arteries to constrict to force more oxygen-carrying blood to the brain, heart, and other organs. The result is increased blood pressure.

For more blood pressure risk factors you can modify, purchase Managing Your Blood Pressure at www.UniversityHealthNews.com.

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Jim Black

Jim Black has served as executive editor of Cleveland Clinic’s Men’s Health Advisor newsletter since 2005. He has written about prostate diseases, men’s health, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and a wide … Read More

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