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The blood pressure check has become a staple of the annual physical exam, and for many of your other doctor visits as well. That’s because it’s so important. Elevated blood pressure, or hypertension, can be a sign that your heart is working too hard. Reducing high blood pressure can save you from having a stroke or heart failure.

When is it considered high blood pressure?

It depends on your age. Generally, blood pressure in people younger than 60 years is considered too high when it tops 140/90. For people older than 60 years, it’s considered too high at 150/90, and over. [Source: American Heart Association.] Ask your healthcare provider, who knows your specific health history and needs, what your ideal pressure should be.

Why do I have high blood pressure?

This is one of the first questions we get. Some of the primary things that may contribute to high blood pressure include the following:

  • Genetics: It appears genetics play a part in it. Some people with hypertension have a family history of it.
  • Smoking: We all know that smoking is just flat-out bad for you. We also know that it can contribute to high blood pressure.
  • Stress: Adding huge amounts of stress can cause your blood pressure to rise. Tell your doctor if you’ve had major life events, or other stress factors that could contribute to higher blood pressure.
  • Weight: If you’re overweight or obese you may find that your heart is working harder than it should.
  • No Exercise: Those who don’t often exercise, or lack physical activity, are also at a higher risk for hypertension.
  • Alcohol: In moderation, alcohol shouldn’t affect your blood pressure that much. However, more than a couple of drinks per day on a regular basis and you may start to experience elevated blood pressure levels.
  • Salt: If you consume a lot of salt, your doctor may suggest cutting back. High salt intake has also been linked to high blood pressure.
  • Kidney Problems: Sometimes, high blood pressure is caused by problems with the kidneys, or more specifically, the adrenal glands.

How to lower high blood pressure

One of the single biggest things you can do to lower your blood pressure is to make changes to your lifestyle.

If you’re overweight, lose weight. Start exercising and establish a regular aerobic component to your routine. Eat healthier, including more fruits and vegetables. And stop smoking.

Lifestyle changes aren’t always easy, but they can make a huge difference.

If you’ve made lifestyle changes and your pressure is still too high, your doctor may also want to incorporate medication to help lower your blood pressure. A variety of medications from different drug classes are available. Together with your doctor, find the medication best for your situation and start lowering your blood pressure today.