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The #1 Cause of High Blood Pressure, According to Doctors

Read on for the risk factors.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

To many of us, blood pressure is just a set of numbers on a dial or screen we encounter at a physical exam. But high blood pressure is a serious condition that can shorten your life. It occurs when the blood vessels narrow or become less flexible, so blood is propelled through them with increasing force. That can cause damage, raising your risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia, and more. High blood pressure has no symptoms, and it's increasingly common as you get older. Read on to find out more about the causes of high blood pressure—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


An Unhealthy Lifestyle

Man eating pizza having a takeaway at home relaxing resting

"In general, the number one cause of high blood pressure in the United States and Western countries is a poor-quality lifestyle," says Dr. Neerav Sheth, a cardiologist with Cardiology Consultants of Philadelphia. "That includes not exercising, being overweight, having excess salt and alcohol intake, poor quality sleep, and a high stress level."


Being Older

Tired senior hispanic man sleeping on dark blue couch, taking afternoon nap at the living room

"Age is a major risk factor" for high blood pressure, says Dr. Leann Poston, a medical advisor to Impakt Fitness. The risk of high blood pressure begins to rise at about age 45. According to the CDC, high blood pressure affects 64% of men over the age of 65. To reduce your risk of high blood pressure and its complications, have your doctor check your blood pressure annually and follow their advice to keep it in a healthy range.


Eating a High-Sodium Diet

high sodium soup

"Salt intake is a significant cause of elevated blood pressure," says Dr. Alexander Morse, a cardiologist with Cardiology Consultants of Philadelphia. "It's used for preserving food and tastes good, meaning it's in almost every food. I review diets with patients frequently and have even found significant amounts of salt in everything from bagged baby carrots and salad dressings as well as other 'healthy' options. People don't think of how much salt we ingest and it's much more than just adding salt at the table."

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Being Sedentary

Woman sitting on bed looking at phone bored and in a bad mood

"Sitting or lying in a place for consistent hours is another main cause of high blood pressure," says Dr. Mark Davis, a physician with Pacific Analytics. "An inactive daily routine keeps the arteries of the heart less flexible and more rigid that puts pressure on them, leading to high blood pressure."

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overweight woman at home lying on the floor, laptop in front of her, prepared to work out on mat according to video

"Being overweight or obese are additional risk factors," says Poston. "Obesity causes an increase in inflammation, which is thought to contribute to high blood pressure." If you're overweight, losing only about 8 pounds reduces your risk of high blood pressure by 50 percent.

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Drinking Too Much Alcohol

drinking alcohol

"While a little alcohol may relax arteries, too much seems to have the opposite effect," says Johns Hopkins Medicine. To reduce your risk of high blood pressure and other serious health conditions, drink only in moderation, meaning no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael