• An Australian study has found that high blood pressure is the top risk factor for death.
  • High blood pressure contributes to cardiovascular disease by damaging the arteries.
  • Experts advise that lifestyle changes can improve your blood pressure.
  • Lowering blood pressure can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

The authors of a new studyTrusted Source published in the journal PLOS ONE say that high blood pressure has been the top risk factor for death among the Australian population for the past 30 years.

Additionally, it has been the primary factor leading to deaths from cardiovascular disease.

According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular diseaseTrusted Source includes various conditions affecting the heart and the blood vessels, such as heart attack, stroke, heart failure, heart rhythm abnormalities, and heart valve problems.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains that high blood pressure is a known risk factor for cardiovascular diseaseTrusted Source.

It can damage arteries over time, making them less flexible. This reduces the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart. It can also cause the arteries in the brain to burst or become blocked.

The researchers, however, note that despite this knowledge, national health plans in Australia have not always made this condition a priority.

They felt that studying how high blood pressure compares in relation to other cardiovascular disease risk factors could help the country make more effective healthcare policy decisions.

Examining the link between high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease

To study the issue, the team from The George Institute for Global Health and UNSW, Sydney, looked at epidemiological data from the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study, which includes data from 204 countries, including Australia, related to almost 400 diseases and 87 risk factors.

Data from 1990 to 2019 was used to determine the main risk factors for deaths from all causes and cardiovascular disease.

When they analyzed the data, they found that high blood pressure’s contribution to death declined from about 54% to 44%.

However, it remained the top risk factor in both all-cause and cardiovascular disease-related deaths.

Other top contributors included diet and tobacco use.

There were also differences related to age and sex. In particular, in men between the ages of 25-49, high blood pressure contributed more to deaths from stroke than in other groups.

What you can do to lower your blood pressure

Dr. Hoang Nguyen, a board certified interventional cardiologist at MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, who was not involved in the study, stressed the importance of accurately assessing your blood pressure.

“Ironically, blood pressure readings in the physician’s office are often inaccurate; falsely elevated due to the stress of being in the physician’s office or the stress of getting there,” he explained.

“Blood pressure should be measured at rest (patient should relax for 5 minutes) while seated in a chair with uncrossed legs,” Nguyen added. “An arm cuff and not a wrist cuff should be used to measure blood pressure.”

Additionally, he advises measuring your blood pressure at home and keeping a log to share with your doctor.

“Once high blood pressure is verified, we can employ lifestyle changes to lower blood pressure, such as regular exercise,” he said.

Nguyen remarked that weight loss can also be helpful in lowering blood pressure, to the point that you may no longer require medications. “Just losing 5 lbs. can lead to a significant reduction in blood pressure,” he noted.

Limiting alcohol consumption and quitting smoking can also help, Nguyen stated, adding that smoking cessation also has other benefits for cardiovascular health.

Additionally, getting good sleep and avoiding salty foods can help lower your blood pressure, he said.

Dr. Shannon Winakur, a cardiologist at the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, Maryland, who was not involved in the study, added to the above by suggesting that people also consider whether they have any issues with pain.

“Pain management — whether a result of a chronic condition or injury — is important, as pain is a stressor that can increase your blood pressure,” she stated.

Other ways to reduce heart disease risk

Winakur noted that there is a significant overlap between what you can do to reduce your risk of high blood pressure and what you can do to reduce your cardiovascular disease risk.

One additional suggestion she made to reduce the risk of both is moving more.

“The ‘official’ recommendationTrusted Source is 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity,” she said, “but I tell patients that anything is better than nothing.”

Winakur also advises not limiting yourself by thinking that exercise has to be something like running or a fitness class.

‘You can dance in your kitchen, walk your dog, park farther away from the store, anything that encourages more movement…By building opportunities for moving more into your regular routines, you’ll be gradually strengthening your heart,” she explained.

When it comes to what you eat, “A diet that consists mostly of vegetables and is low in saturated fat (animal fat, such as beef, pork, ham, bacon, and in dairy products) and low in refined carbs and sugars (as in breads, pastas, and sweets, for example), with small portions of lean meats, fish, and complex carbohydrates can contribute to improved heart — and overall health,” Winakur said.

She further advises eating food as close as possible to its natural state.

“You don’t see a loaf of bread or chickpea pasta in the wild,” she noted.

Winakur also suggests seeing a doctor regularly and having basic testing like blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels.

“Being aware of any potential issues early on can spur a conversation with your care provider about things you can do to stay your healthiest,” she said.

Finally, Winakur says taking steps to deal with stress is important.

“Use healthy methods for managing stress by doing things like getting enough sleep, moving in some way daily, using meditation regularly, limiting the use of alcohol, and limiting your exposure to the news and screens (TVs, tablets and cell phones) of any kind when you need to,” she concluded.


High blood pressure is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

However, an Australian study has found that high blood pressure remains the leading risk factor for premature death from all causes, including cardiovascular disease, in that nation.

Experts advise taking steps to reduce your blood pressure by improving your diet, exercising, stopping smoking, reducing alcohol intake, and reducing stress.

This, in turn, will reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and death.