You’ve probably heard that the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association have issued new guidelines for blood pressure readings. Here’s the update:
120/80 is the top level of normal (down from a past normal of 140/90)
121 – 129 systolic (top number) is defined as an “elevated” blood pressure
Level 1 hypertension is now 130-139/81-89
Level 2 high blood pressure is now anything over 140/90
What do these critical health numbers mean? Systolic (the top number) indicates the amount of pressure on the blood vessels when the heart beats and pushes blood out into the body. The diastolic (lower number) reading indicates the amount of residual pressure in the blood vessels when the heart is between beats.
Called the “silent killer”, we can’t feel high blood pressure, yet chronic high blood pressure eventually damages and weakens blood vessels, leading to a greater risk of fat deposits, which in turn can lead to strokes, heart attacks, coronary artery disease, kidney disease, eye damage and blindness, bone loss and sexual dysfunction. The weakening of arteries can lead to a bulge (i.e. an aneurysm) which can burst and cause serious internal bleeding.
Diet and exercise are powerful medicines in the treatment of high blood pressure, particularly for those with elevated and Stage 1 readings. The DASH diet (Dietary Approach to Stopping Hypertension) has been shown to be an effective treatment. It is a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, low fat or nonfat dairy, whole grains, lean meats, fish and poultry. It is high in fiber and low to moderate in fat. It follows the US guidelines for sodium content (less than 2300 mg per day) along with vitamins and minerals. It is also an excellent diet to maintain both a normal blood pressure and a healthy weight.
Exercise keeps the heart strong and arteries open. Aerobic exercise (walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, dancing) for 30 minutes per day and strength training can have a significant effect on lowering blood pressure and keeping it in the normal range.
Other important lifestyle behaviors that will reduce blood pressure:
Reducing stress: chronic stress in particular contributes to high blood pressure.
If you smoke, take steps to stop.
Lose weight: men are at risk if their waist measures greater than 40 inches, women are at risk if their waist is greater than 35 inches.
Limit salt to less than one added teaspoon per day. Read food labels to determine salt content.
Make the time to monitor your blood pressure quarterly (many pharmacies and gyms have BP machines available to measure for no charge.)
It’s worth the effort to keep this silent killer away. If you need help in making lifestyle shifts, get in touch.
To your good health,
Gayle Wilson Rose
Certified Whole Health Coach
Certified Fitness Trainer and Weight Management Specialist
Women’s Health Specialists Wellness Center