Even though you may not have changed a single thing about your lifestyle, you now might have high blood pressure.
Updated guidelines from the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology set 130/80 as the new threshold for high blood pressure. The threshold had been 140/90.
However, there’s no need to stress out if you embrace health and fitness recommendations that experts say can reduce your risk for high blood pressure.
We’ll review those recommendations later in this article. First, though, let’s look more closely at the new blood pressure guidelines.
Under the revised guidelines, the share of American adults who have high blood pressure, or hypertension, rose automatically from 32 percent to 46 percent. For men under age 45, the prevalence of high blood pressure is expected to triple based on the new guidelines; for women under 45, the prevalence is expected to double.
However, authors of the new guidelines say there’ll be only a slight increase in the number of American adults who need to take medication to combat high blood pressure.
High blood pressure is the No. 2 cause of deaths associated with preventable heart disease and strokes. It’s known as the “silent killer,” because someone suffering from high blood pressure often shows no symptoms.
Under the new guidelines, the categories for blood pressure are:
- Normal — Less than 120/80.
- Elevated — Top number (systolic) is 120 to 129 and bottom number (diastolic) is less than 80.
- Stage 1 — Top number (systolic) is 130 to 139 or bottom number (diastolic) is 80 to 89.
- Stage 2 — Top number (systolic) is at least 140 or bottom number (diastolic) is at least 90.
- Crisis — Top number (systolic) is over 180 and/or bottom number (diastolic) is over 120.
The authors of the guidelines say our blood pressure levels should be based on an average of two to three readings on at least two occasions.
Twenty-one scientists and health experts reviewed more than 900 published studies to come up with the new guidelines. The guidelines hadn’t been revised since 2003.
With the new guidelines in mind, health and fitness specialists offer these nine recommendations for lowering your blood pressure — and lowering your risk of related diseases.
1. Step up your exercise routine.
Dr. Olaynka Afolabi-Brown, a cardiologist at Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, suggests engaging in 30 minutes of heart-rate-raising exercise five times a week or 45 minutes of heart-rate-raising exercise three times a week.
“Exercise helps the heart use oxygen more efficiently and, in turn, the heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood,” says Sydney Ziverts, a health and nutrition investigator at ConsumerSafety.org.
According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise can lower your systolic blood pressure — the top number of your blood pressure reading — by an average of 4 to 9 millimeters of mercury.
2. Reduce stress.
Stress contributes greatly to high blood pressure, so experts suggest alleviating it by meditating, practicing yoga, going for a stroll or engaging in some other calming activity.
By failing to address stress, most Americans won’t notice a significant effect on their blood pressure if they just alter their diets, says health coach Ginny Leavitt, founder of Set-Point Wellness.
3. Shake the salt habit.
Why curtail your sodium intake? Medical researchers have found a direct link between high sodium intake and high blood pressure.
Afolabi-Brown says you should limit your sodium intake to 2,000 milligrams a day. How much is that? A mere teaspoon of salt contains 2,300 milligrams of sodium.
The American Heart Association suggests 2,300 milligrams as the daily sodium limit for someone who doesn’t have high blood pressure; for someone with high blood pressure, it’s 1,500 milligrams.
According to registered dietitian and nutrition consultant Amy Goodson, some of the ways you can cut your salt intake include:
- Resist adding salt to your food. Instead, flavor it with herbs and spices.
- Reduce how many fast food you eat. For instance, one piece of pumpkin bread from Starbucks is loaded with 500 milligrams of sodium.
- Scale back how many frozen dinners you eat, as they tend to be high in salt content. Amy’s Indian Mattar Paneer, for example, is packed with 780 milligrams of sodium; the same meal does come in a low-sodium version, though.
- Consume more whole foods and fewer processed foods. “If it comes in a box or package on the [grocery] shelf, it is likely higher in sodium,” Goodson says.
4. Stop smoking.
While a direct connection between smoking and high blood pressure hasn’t been pinpointed, smoking does increase the risk for buildup of plaque in the arteries, according to the American Heart Association, and high blood pressure accelerates that buildup.
5. Back off the booze.
Simply put, drinking too much alcohol contributes to high blood pressure, according to the Mayo Clinic.
If you’re a woman, keep alcohol consumption to one drink a day, the Mayo Clinic says. For a man under age 65, it’s two drinks a day; for a man 65 and over, it’s one drink a day.
6. Get plenty of shut-eye.
The Mayo Clinic warns that sleeping fewer than six hours a day is tied to higher blood pressure.
“It’s thought that sleep helps your blood regulate stress hormones and helps your nervous system remain healthy,” the Mayo Clinic says. “Over time, a lack of sleep could hurt your body’s ability to regulate stress hormones, leading to high blood pressure.”
To maintain a healthy level of blood pressure, adults should shoot for seven to eight hours of sleep each day, the clinic says.
7. Work less.
Sure, this means taking the vacation time you’ve earned. But it also means not giving in to pressure to burn the midnight oil at work.
Ziverts notes that work-related stress elevates the risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. That’s been borne out by various studies, including one published in 2000 in the journal Hypertension.
8. Don’t discount the danger.
The new guidelines should prompt some people to adjust their health and exercise habits, according to Leavitt. Still, far too many people are prone to ignoring such advice.
“Most people are in denial regarding their health,” Leavitt says, “and a practitioner skilled in behavioral change can help them make the appropriate changes.”
She adds: “Don’t wait until you are hypertensive to take action.”
9. Get your blood pressure checked.
This one should go without saying, but if you don’t know your blood pressure reading, then you don’t know whether your blood pressure is high and you can’t take action to treat it.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting your blood pressure checked every three to five years if you’re age 18 to 39 and you don’t fall into one of the high-risk categories for blood pressure. If you’re 40 and over, or if you do fall into one of the high-risk categories, you should get your blood pressure checked once a year.
Typically, your blood pressure will be checked when you’re visiting a doctor or another health care professional. If you have high blood pressure, medical professionals suggest monitoring your blood pressure at home.