American Heart Month
New Blood Pressure Numbers to Live By
The American Heart Association recently updated its recommendations for healthy blood pressure levels. Learn how the change might affect you and why knowing your numbers is so important.
February is American Heart Month, which is a great time to learn about new guidelines for healthy blood pressure levels. Recently, experts at the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology determined that having blood pressure at or below 130/80 is healthy. Blood pressure that is greater than 130/80 is considered too high and can lead to hypertension.
Previously, high blood pressure started at 140/90. The change means many people may now be at greater risk for a heart attack or stroke.
Why the Change?
The new numbers came about after researchers conducted a study to see how much moderate blood pressure affects health. While the answer may seem obvious—blood pressure that’s not too low or not too high is better for you—the researchers were hoping to find data to back up the claim.
Researchers discovered that people with low blood pressure (that is, blood pressure levels within the new, recommended range), were significantly less likely to develop heart disease and more likely to live healthy lives well into old age.
In fact, participants of the study who had lowered their systolic blood pressure levels to 120 or under (thanks to diet, exercise and medication) cut their chance of having a heart attack, stroke and heart failure by a third.
The Ins and Outs of Blood Pressure
When your heart beats, it builds up and releases pressure to circulate blood. The pressure that’s required for your heart to squeeze and pump out blood is called “systolic” pressure. This is the top number of your blood pressure reading. The bottom number, or “diastolic” pressure, measures the pressure of your heart when it’s relaxed and not pumping.
The higher your blood pressure, the harder your heart has to work to pump blood. Too much strain is often a sign of heart disease. Symptoms of heart disease include a weakened heart muscle and a buildup of cholesterol in the arteries, both of which can lead to a debilitating or fatal stroke or heart attack. The leading causes of heart disease include obesity, diabetes, smoking and excess alcohol use.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, at around 610,000 people each year. Heart disease also causes roughly 735,000 heart attacks annually.
Be Heart Healthy
It can be difficult to tell just how high your blood pressure is, as there are no outward signs that reveal the number. Using a blood pressure monitor, or better yet, seeing your primary care physician for an annual physical, can help give you a clearer reading of your current blood pressure levels.
Experts recommend aiming for a blood pressure level of 120/80. To help you get and stay to that level, the American Heart Association recommends:
- Exercising often;
- Curbing excess salt, fat and sugar from your diet;
- Quitting (or not starting) smoking;
- Lowering the amount of alcohol you drink; and
- Talking with your doctor about possible medications (or taking the drugs your doctor already prescribed).
When you know your numbers, you can take action to reach the new, recommended levels and live a happier, healthier life.
To get more information on the new blood pressure guidelines and to learn more about high blood pressure and heart disease, visit the American Heart Association (AHA) website.
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