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Normal blood pressure is about 120 over 80. The first (top) number indicates the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats, while the second (bottom) number indicates the pressure between beats.
High blood pressure is known as hypertension, and it can play a role in the hardening of your arteries and increase your risk of stroke, kidney disease, heart failure, and eye problems. While the exact causes of hypertension are unknown, there are things you can do to help lower your blood pressure if it’s high. Check out these factors that contribute to high blood pressure.
1. Sedentary lifestyle
Those who are inactive on a daily basis tend to have higher heart rates than those who lead active lives—this means their hearts work harder. However, exercising releases hormones that relax blood vessels and lower blood pressure. Regular exercise (about 30 minutes a day, a few times a week), as well as working small bits of activity into your daily routine can lower blood pressure.
Stressful situations can lead to a temporary rise in blood pressure, and chronic stress may contribute to hypertension, though more research is needed to fully understand its effects. Whether walking, biking, or some other form of exercise, regular physical activity is one way to help decrease stress levels and reduce your blood pressure.
Choosing foods that are low in saturated fat, added sugars, and sodium and opting for high-fiber whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, fish, poultry, nuts, and beans can help lower high blood pressure. A well-rounded and healthy diet can also help ensure you are getting enough potassium, calcium, and magnesium—nutrients that work to support healthy blood pressure.
4. Too much salt
Too much sodium causes your body to hold on to more water, increasing the volume in your bloodstream, making your heart work harder, and increasing the pressure on blood vessels—all of which can lead to hypertension. Watch out for added sodium that may be hiding in pre-made or packaged foods and be sure to go light on the salt in your own cooking.
5. Sleep apnea
A disorder that causes breathing to repeatedly stop and start, sleep apnea causes dips in blood oxygen levels that lead to an increase in blood pressure and a higher risk of hypertension. Those who suffer from sleep apnea may snore loudly and feel tired after a full night’s sleep. If you think you may have sleep apnea, be sure to consult your doctor for treatment options.
While having a drink or two may help you feel a bit more relaxed, drinking more than a moderate amount of alcohol can affect your blood pressure and contribute to hypertension. Moderate alcohol consumption is considered one drink a day for women and two for men. Having more than this in one sitting can create a temporary spike in your blood pressure, and if this happens on a regular basis, you could be putting yourself at higher risk of hypertension.
Nicotine found in cigarette smoke increases heart rate, narrows arteries, increases blood pressure and the likelihood of clots, and hardens arterial walls. Even if you aren’t a smoker yourself, remember that secondhand smoke can put you at risk for high blood pressure as well, so try to stay clear of those that are smoking.
With a 90 percent chance of developing hypertension during your lifetime, particularly after the ages of 55 to 65, age plays a role in your risk of high blood pressure. Making lifestyle choices that support healthy aging and low blood pressure can help reduce your risk of hypertension and better manage hypertension if you do develop it. Be sure to ask your doctor for a blood pressure reading at least every two years after the age of 18 and every year after the age of 40 (or if you are over 18 and at a high risk for hypertension).