The Buzz: New Blood Pressure Guidelines

What’s the buzz?
New blood pressure guidelines mean nearly half of Americans now have high blood pressure.

What does the science say?
Last month, the American College of Cardiology (ACC), along with the American Heart Association (AHA), released new guidelines that lower the number at which you are considered to have high blood pressure. A blood pressure of 130/80 (systolic/diastolic), which was once considered to be at the high end of normal, is now considered Stage 1 hypertension (the medical term for high blood pressure). With the new guidelines, 46 percent of adults now have high blood pressure. And the younger crowd isn’t going to escape; it’s estimated that twice as many women and triple the number of men under age of 45 will be affected.

Elevated blood pressure is tied to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke. The guidelines were changed due to increasing evidence that keeping blood pressure lower than 120/80 is ideal.

What does this mean for you?

Get an annual physical, at which your doctor will check blood pressure. But don’t expect your doctor to immediately put you on medication if you fall into this category. The ACC and AHA both urge that lifestyle modifications should come first. We couldn’t agree more. Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, while limiting  red and cured meats as well as processed foods that are high in sodium, can keep many people from needing medication. Other lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, exercising regularly, managing stress, and sleeping enough (aim for at least 7 to 8 hours per night) can also make a big difference. Does this sound familiar? It shouldn’t be a big surprise that general healthy living guidelines can also keep our blood pressure in control — no magic pill required.

What’s the takeaway?
New blood pressure guidelines, along with increasing daily demands that often drive up stress levels and can derail wellness efforts, means that everyone (including young adults) should be more aware of their blood pressure number. As always, talk with your doctor about the best intervention for you, but in general, lifestyle modifications like a healthy diet and regular exercise can make a big difference.

Read one Harvard doctor’s take on the news and review the new guidelines here.