Nearly Half of Americans Qualify as Having High Blood Pressure Now—Here’s Why

The American Heart Association has a newly expanded definition of "high blood pressure," and we urge you to pay attention because there's a good chance that you now, officially, have high blood pressure. Here's what you need to know.

Blood-pressureforma82/ShutterstockHigh blood pressure causes no symptoms, but it’s a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. In fact, high blood pressure numbers double your risk of death from stroke, heart disease, or other vascular disease, according to the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines (the Task Force). Now, thanks to the Task Force’s newly expansive definition of what is considered high blood pressure, nearly half of all adults in this country are walking around with this silent killer and have no idea.

The Task Force announced the first updated blood pressure guidelines since 2003 in early November. Your blood pressure reading is made up of two numbers: the systolic pressure, or how much force the blood places on the walls of the arteries when your heart beats, and the diastolic pressure, the same force but when your heart is resting between beats. Previously, what was considered high blood pressure was a blood pressure reading of anything above 140/90, which encompassed about one in three adults in this country, according to Science News. Now, the new info pegs the blood pressure numbers that put you at risk as:

  • Higher than 130/80 falls in the high blood pressure range
  • Between 120/80 and 130/80 is considered elevated blood pressure, which puts a person at risk for high blood pressure in the future
  • 120/80 and below is in the range for normal blood pressure

With these new guidelines, nearly half of Americans fall under the definition of high blood pressure.

How do you get your numbers in check?

The Task Force’s primary recommendation on lowering blood pressure changes is through lifestyle changes, not medication. The new definition of what is considered high blood pressure should help American adults to improve their cardiovascular health, according to the lead author of the guidelines, Paul K. Whelton, MB, MD, MSc, FAHA, clinical professor at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

“More people will be forced to take a real look at their lifestyle,” explains Mia B. Finkelston, MD, a board-certified family physician who treats patients virtually via the telehealth app, LiveHealth Online. (Dr. Finkelston was not part of the Task Force). “Many patients don’t realize that lifestyle modification is the best medicine. It’s cheap, and we know it works most of the time.” Specifically, Dr. Finkelston recommends not smoking (or quitting), staying active, sleeping well, eating well, and exercising daily. (Here are 31 things you can do today to start lowering your blood pressure.)

A recent study released by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) indicates it could be even simpler than that. “The study showed that people with high blood pressure and sedentary lifestyles can lower their blood pressure by as much as 12 percent in one week, just by standing up for five minutes for every hour spent sitting,” says Jessica Matthews, ACE-Certified Health Coach. “But here’s the catch. When they stopped the activity, the benefits reversed.” In other words, lowering blood pressure requires consistency, but “a few changes, done every day, could lower your blood pressure and improve your health dramatically,” she says.

These are the surprising things that can affect your blood pressure readings.

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Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers health, fitness, yoga, and lifestyle, among other topics. An author of crime fiction, Lauren's book The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.