FRIDAY, May 4, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Managing your blood pressure is the most important thing you can do to help lower your risk of stroke, the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, experts say.
Yet many people don't realize they're at risk of having high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.
As part of American Stroke Month in May, heart and stroke experts outline the top risk factors for high blood pressure.
Family history. If your parents or a close relative had high blood pressure, you're also at risk for the condition. It's a good idea to research your family's medical history in order to find out if high blood pressure runs in the family.
Advanced age. As people age, they're at increased risk for high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. This is because blood vessels lose flexibility with aging, which leads to increasing pressure on the cardiovascular system.
Gender. Men are more likely than women to have high blood pressure until age 45. Between ages 45 to 50 and 55 to 64, the risk for high blood pressure is about the same for men and women. After age 64, women are much more likely than men to have high blood pressure.
Being inactive. Sitting at your desk or on your couch too much increases your risk of having high blood pressure. Getting regular exercise is a natural way to lower it.
Too much salt. Salt keeps excess fluid in the body that can add to the burden on the heart, increasing high blood pressure risk. Keep your sodium intake to less than 1,500 milligrams per day.
Being overweight or obese. Watch your weight. If you are overweight, losing as little as 10 to 20 pounds can help lower blood pressure.
Drinking too much. Heavy and regular alcohol consumption can lead to a dramatic increase in blood pressure and also cause heart failure, stroke, and irregular heartbeats. If you drink alcohol, limit your consumption to no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about high blood pressure.