Last week, your blood pressure was just fine. Today, your blood pressure reading will land you in the ill-advised, “high blood pressure” category. What gives? It’s not that your blood pressure skyrocketed overnight. Rather, the American Heart Association has just released new guidelines that lower the classification for having hypertension, better known as high blood pressure.
Historically, a blood pressure reading of 140 over 80 or higher was considered too high. The top number in this equation refers to your systolic pressure, or the measure of the force of your blood against your artery walls when your heart beats. The bottom number is the pressure that is being exerted when your heart is resting in between beats. A chronically high blood pressure means your blood is not flowing as easily through your arteries as it should, thereby putting a burden on your heart and damaging the inside of your arteries. This sets the stage for hardening of the arteries and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke, two of the top four leading causes of death among Americans. With these new guidelines, a top reading of 130 or higher or a bottom reading of 80 or higher is now considered a high reading, causing a whopping 46 percent of adults to fall into the high blood pressure category.
The first line of defense to lower high blood pressure is with lifestyle changes. According to the guidelines, here are the six changes you can make in your life if your blood pressure is higher than it should be.
Eat a DASH Diet: Research has shown that the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) dietary pattern can lower high blood pressure. The diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and contains low fat dairy, lean protein sources, beans, nuts, and seeds, healthy oils, but few sweets. Coupling the DASH diet with less dietary sodium has shown to have even better blood pressure lowering capabilities.
Lose some weight: Dropping some excess pounds is good for your blood pressure. It is estimated that for every 2 pounds you lose, your pressure will drop by 1 mmHg.
Watch the dietary sodium: Americans are consuming approximately 3,500 milligrams of sodium daily, which is more than twice the amount recommended for many adults. Typically, as your dietary sodium increases, so will your blood pressure. Try to ratchet down your daily intake of sodium by 1,000 milligram daily. Processed foods are a big culprit.
Pump up the potassium in your diet: Potassium causes the kidneys to excrete excess sodium from the body, lowering your blood pressure. Unfortunately, many of us are not consuming adequate amounts daily. Look to add more fruit, vegetables, beans, and low fat dairy —
Move: Adding more physical activity to your day, to the tune of 90 to 150 minutes weekly, is good for your blood pressure.
Watch the Booze: Too much alcohol can wreak havoc with your blood pressure. If you choose to drink, men should limit their daily intake to no more than two drinks, and women should keep it to one drink. A drink is considered 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of liquor.
Check with your health care provider if you are concerned about your blood pressure.
Dr. Joan Salge Blake, EdD, MS, FAND, is a clinical associate professor in the nutrition program at Boston University. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @JoanSalgeBlake.