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140/90. For over a decade, those were the numbers to stay under to avoid being diagnosed with hypertension, or high blood pressure. However, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology recently changed these guidelines for the first time in 14 years, meaning that millions more Americans are now considered to have high blood pressure.
Under the new guidelines, anyone with readings at or above 130/80 will be diagnosed with high blood pressure. Previously, 32 percent of Americans were hypertensive. With the new guidelines, that number is expected to rise to 46 percent. That’s quite a substantial increase, so it’s important to know if you fall under that 14 percent.
If you don't know your blood pressure, now might be the time to go get it checked. Medical professionals consider hypertension to be a deadly condition that sets the stage for serious diseases and premature death. High blood pressure is the second highest cause of preventable death in the United States, just below cigarette smoking. High blood pressure can lead to heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease, and it kills millions of Americans each year. It’s known as the silent killer because there are no symptoms. When people don't feel symptoms, it’s easier to stop taking medication and ignore lifestyle changes that are needed in hopes that it will just go away.
The new definitions for normal versus high blood pressure will hopefully lead to earlier and more effective treatment, as well as an increase in people receiving these crucial treatments. It will most certainly increase patients’ awareness of the disease and how dangerous this risk factor for heart disease is.
What’s interesting about the new guidelines is that the goal is not to medicate Americans sooner, but to educate them earlier on lifestyle changes that will assist in lowering their blood pressure and, therefore, their risk of heart disease. Improving dietary intake, increasing activity level, losing weight, managing stress and decreasing alcohol consumption are all lifestyle behaviors that can positively impact blood pressure.
The guidelines are most impactful in clinical practice. This means that your health care providers will have a heightened awareness of blood pressure guidelines and will be more prepared to tell you what you will need to get your numbers down. There will no longer be a “pre-hypertensive” area as a warning. Instead, you will be told to make changes immediately if your numbers rise above the new guideline. There will, however, be two stages of hypertension: Stage 1 and Stage 2. Stage 2 will most likely be treated with medication, while Stage 1 will involve adopting new lifestyle changes first.
The most exciting outcome of the new guidelines is the fact that lifestyle changes are finally being recognized as the most impactful treatment avenue for high blood pressure. While medication is absolutely necessary in many hypertension cases, especially those with severe hypertension, lifestyle changes will be looked at first for just as many cases.
Making these clinical changes is a big leap in the right direction to preventing and treating high blood pressure. With the new guidelines and a better understanding of how important lifestyle habits are, we can all aim to keep our blood pressure levels and bodies healthy.
Jenn Giles, R.D., C.S.S.D. is all about health and wellness. She has over 15 years’ experience, including a dual master’s degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Columbia University. She is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She supplements all of this with her spin instructor certification and USATriathlon Level I Coach Certification.
Jennifer is passionate about (actually, obsessed with) the sport of triathlon. She has been personally participating in triathlons since 2000 and running road races since 1992. She is a two-time Ironman finisher and has completed countless numerous marathons. She has been a member of Power Bar Team Elite since 2006 and competed as a member of the 2006 Aquaphor/Active.com Sponsored Athlete Team. She was ranked as USAT All American Honorable mention in 2006 and 2011. Jennifer does all of this along side of her husband, Patrick, who is an equally accomplished triathlete and runner. They try as hard as they can to do all of their training and racing together.
She will tell you, however, that her most important, most rewarding and most challenging job is as a mother of four. She knows first hand the challenges of maintaining optimal fitness, overall good health and achieving goals while raising a family - of which good nutrition is the cornerstone.
Most importantly, she knows how to motivate, inspire and challenge athletes based on their own abilities, strengths and everyday lifestyles. She believes there is an athlete in everyone - no matter what their abilities are – and if those abilities are manifold, then there is an even better athlete in there!