The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology have released a new set of guidelines that lower the blood pressure at which hypertension, or high blood pressure, is diagnosed.
Blood pressure is a measure of the force of the blood flowing through the vessels to get blood, oxygen and nutrients to the cells in the body. Consistently high blood pressure can cause damage to the heart and blood vessels and increase your risk of stroke, heart attack and other heart diseases.
Under the previous guidelines, anyone with a blood pressure with the top number above 140, or the bottom number above 90 was considered to have high blood pressure. The new guidelines have lowered that a little bit:
- Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80
- Elevated blood pressure is (120-129)/80
- High blood pressure, stage 1 is (130-139)/(80-89)
- High blood pressure, stage 2 is higher than 140/90
- Hypertensive crisis is higher than 180/120
This means that people who were previously considered to have a normal blood pressure may now be considered to have hypertension.
If you are one of the millions of people that fall into this group, it is important to check in with your doctor. Some people may need medication, but the vast majority will only need to make some basic lifestyle changes. Here are some changes you can make to help get your blood pressure down:
- Eat a well-balanced diet that is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean proteins. Your diet should also contain small amounts of healthy fats and low fat dairy.
- Follow a low-salt diet with no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. According to the American Heart Association, someone with high blood pressure should cut back their sodium intake even farther to below 1,500 mg per day.
- Cut back your alcohol consumption to no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women. Keep in mind that one drink is a 12 ounce beer, 4 ounces of wine, and 1 – 1.5 ounces of spirits; your preferred cocktail may have more than a single serving of alcohol.
- Stress is a huge part of most people’s lives these days. Between juggling work demands and personal and family needs, most people report feeling stressed out. Excessive stress can contribute to high blood pressure, plus unhealthy behaviors like overeating, drinking too much alcohol, smoking cigarettes and not getting enough sleep. Finding ways to manage stress is important!
- Regular exercise not only improves your physical health, but it also reduces stress and anxiety and helps you sleep better. This doesn’t mean hitting the gym for hours at a time; simply getting out and walking briskly for 150 minutes per week (that’s only 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week) is all that is needed. You can also consider adding into strength training, flexibility and stretching exercises.
- The relationship between smoking and the risk of heart disease is well established. Quitting smoking is the single best thing you can do to help reduce your risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
The good news is that high blood pressure is easily treatable, but you must know your numbers first! Get to see your doctor for a blood pressure check, implement some of these changes and make sure to monitor your blood pressure regularly.