The American Heart Association estimates that about 77.9 million Americans have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. That’s 1 out of every 3 people. So, what are the causes of high blood pressure and what can be done about it?
While your genes are unavoidable, they don’t entirely determine your fate. A recent study followed 6,000 healthy adults for nearly five years, about a third of whom had a parent with high blood pressure. The researchers found that those with the family history were about 20% more likely to develop it themselves.
But, even if you have a family history, don’t give up hope yet. The researchers also found that genetic predisposition can be overridden by a healthy diet and an active lifestyle. Those who ate a diet low in salt and walked briskly for at least 150 minutes a week had a 34% lower risk of high blood pressure.
Lack of Exercise
Everyone knows they need to exercise, yet in our busy lives, it is easy to let it fall by the wayside. Only about 15% of Americans report participating in a vigorous activity for the recommended amount of time. It is generally recommended to engage in a minimum of half an hour of reasonably intense physical activities most days of the week.
Exercising raises your heart rate, which actually exercises your veins and arteries. As long as the blood vessels are not stretched beyond their healthy limits, expanding them regularly helps keep them healthy. If a regular trip to the gym isn’t doable, find an activity that fits into your day and watch your salt intake.
High Sodium Diet
We’re all guilty of it. You’re rushing around in your busy day and get hungry. You grab a bag of chips or hit the drive-through. Salt-laden snacks and foods are constantly within easy reach. But eating a diet high in salt can actually damage your blood vessels over time, and increases your risk for high blood pressure. According to the Institute of Medicine, a diet high in salt is believed to be responsible for up to 40% of all cases of high blood pressure in the United States.
So, What Can I Do About It?
Of all these factors, your diet may be the easiest to control. You can’t change your genes and your schedule is at the mercy of others when it comes to finding time to exercise. However, you can choose to eat a low sodium diet. For example, if you have to eat out, don’t eat the salty fries. Buy low-salt or salt-free snacks. When you cook at home use low sodium ingredients. There are delicious salt-free seasonings available, and even good salt substitutes for when another spice just won’t do.
Whatever your individual circumstances, you can take steps to control the causes of high blood pressure and minimize your health risks. The first thing your doctor will tell you is to exercise more and improve your diet. Exercising and eating a healthy, low sodium diet can help keep your blood pressure in check.