8 Factors That Contribute to Primary Hypertension Risk
A number of factors contribute to boring old primary hypertension. Some of these factors, such as age and genetics, are out of your control. But many of them aren’t. Although a healthy way of life may not always eliminate high blood pressure, it almost always makes a difference. In fact, the small choices you make every day often mean the difference between taking one prescription drug versus two or three.
When you factor in the costs and potential side effects of medication, the payoff is huge. The following sections take a closer look at the main risk factors for hypertension.
Diet. The food you eat is both fuel and medicine for your body. And though your body is remarkably good at turning just about any raw material into energy, it functions better when you put good fuel in it. A diet that’s loaded with saturated fat from red meat and high-fat dairy, fried foods, and high-sodium processed snacks and is low on fruits and vegetables is really bad medicine.
Obesity. Obesity is a major risk factor for high blood pressure because it creates stress and inflammation in the body, both of which can lead to hypertension. In fact, fat tissue is a functioning organ, and when you have too much of it, it can produce chemicals and hormones that drive blood pressure up.
Excess body fat may also have a directly toxic effect on the kidneys, which are critical in regulating blood pressure. And the heavier you are, the more sensitive you are to the blood pressure–raising effects of salt.
About one in four cases of hypertension are due solely to obesity. That’s depressing, but here’s the good news: Losing even 10 pounds can make a big difference in lowering blood pressure.
Exercise. The life of a couch potato is a fast track to hypertension. Screen time ups the likelihood of high blood pressure. In fact, a British study found a 10 percent increase in hypertension risk with every hour of TV watched per day.
Regular exercise can have a major impact on blood pressure. Simply adding two and a half hours of exercise to your week can lower blood pressure by 5 to 10 points, even if you don’t lose a pound. This same amount of weekly exercise also cuts your risk of heart attack, stroke, and dementia by at least 30 percent.
If you’re taking medication to lower your blood pressure, you may find that after a while of exercising 150 minutes per week, you need less medication to keep your numbers in line.
Smoking. In the minutes and hours after you light up, smoking just one cigarette can send your blood pressure soaring by as much as 20 points. Over the long term, smoking stiffens the walls of your arteries, which directly raises blood pressure.
Smoking also has a directly toxic effect on the kidneys, which are involved in blood pressure regulation. That’s one reason why smokers with hypertension are more likely to develop kidney failure.
Alcohol. In moderation, alcohol appears to be protective for the heart and the brain, cutting heart attack and stroke risk by a third or more. Although red wine appears to have extra health benefits because of its powerful antioxidant effects, any sort of alcohol appears to be beneficial to the heart and brain — again, as long as you enjoy it in moderation.
Light to moderate drinkers also appear to have a lower risk for diabetes. For women, your limit is one drink per day. Fair or not, men can have up to two drinks per day because of their body composition and metabolism. And before you break out those giant wine glasses, know that “one drink” has defined limits.
A standard one-drink pour means
5 ounces of wine
12 ounces of beer
1 ounce of liquor
Drink more than the moderate limit on a regular basis, and bad things can happen. For instance, more than two drinks daily doubles your risk for hypertension. Binge drinking, such as abstaining all week and then pounding a six-pack on the weekend, also contributes to high blood pressure.
Stress. Stress can mean different things to different people. Some people thrive on the stuff, but for most folks, too much stress can have some pretty negative effects on health, including blood pressure.
Also, stress can cause high levels of hormones such as adrenaline to pour into the bloodstream, immediately raising blood pressure and heart rate. Although no proof indicates that chronic stress actually causes hypertension, good evidence suggests that it can make preexisting high blood pressure worse.
Family history. You have a say in a lot of things, but your genes aren’t one of them. At least 200 genes are associated with hypertension, and combinations of these genes, along with diet and lifestyle, appear to be involved in its development.
If you’re lucky, you may even have protective genes, meaning you’re less likely to develop high blood pressure despite other risk factors. If you’re not so lucky and have a family history of developing high blood pressure before the age of 60, then you’re twice as likely to develop hypertension as someone without this risk factor.
Age. As you age, your blood pressure naturally tends to run higher. Take a look at the stats in the following table from the 2011–2012 U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
In general, the likelihood of high blood pressure increases about 10 percent with every decade over the age of 50, such that by the age of 90, about 90 percent of people are hypertensive. That’s mainly because of stiffening of the arteries, which typically causes high systolic pressure with relatively normal diastolic pressure.
|Age||Percentage of Demographic with Hypertension|
|60 and up||65%|