The guidelines for high blood pressure have changed. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is now defined as a blood pressure of 130/80 (stated “130 over 80”). The first number (130) is the systolic pressure measurement, and the second number (80) is the diastolic pressure.
There’s some disagreement about the new guideline in the medical so the best thing to do is to check in with your physician during an annual visit, and let him or her determine what your blood pressure means. Blood pressure rises with age and with body weight. For this reason, checking in with your doctor is the first step to managing blood pressure. The next step is asking for a referral to a registered dietitian to discuss diet therapy. And, if you are overweight or obese, losing weight is a first-line treatment for lowering blood pressure.
Knowledge is Power – Know Your Numbers
You should know what your blood pressure is. Checking in each year with your physician is a good idea. At your visit, you’ll get your blood pressure checked. If you have high blood pressure, you are at twice the risk for heart issues as those without high blood pressure. You may, or may not, require medication, but you do want to know what your numbers are.
According to the American College of Cardiology, blood pressure categories in the new guideline are:
- Normal: Less than 120/80 mm Hg
- High Stage 1: Systolic between 130-139 or diastolic between 80-89
- High Stage 2: Systolic at least 140 or diastolic at least 90 mm Hg
- Hypertensive crisis: Systolic over 180 and/or diastolic over 120 (may require immediate hospitalization if there are signs of organ damage)
And what about your blood cholesterol numbers? These are also important. Having multiple risk factors increases your risk for heart disease. A normal blood cholesterol is <200 (200-239 is borderline high, and >240 is high). In addition to the Total Cholesterol numbers, your doctor may review multiple factors, including other fats in the blood, called lipoproteins (HDL and LDN – sometimes referred to as “good” and “bad” blood fats), in determining what your risk is, and whether or not you need a cholesterol-lowering medications. You complete risk is dependent on considering all of these risk factors, including your family history, weight, and whether or not you have diabetes and high blood pressure.
The DASH diet plan is a good fit for anyone with either known heart disease, diabetes, or at risk for either. Remember, this eating plan isn’t just a low salt diet. DASH has been proven to lower systolic pressure, whether it’s low salt or not. A lower sodium diet does help control blood pressure, but nutrients like potassium, calcium, and magnesium are important too.
Rather than thinking about the DASH Diet as a “diet” (the preconceived notion that you are going “on” a diet), think of it as a lifestyle. Making lifestyle changes means creating a different environment in which you live. It’s not just eating well, but moving more, not smoking, setting up an annual doctor’s visit, preventive care and stress management. It’s also helps to change your perspective on healthy eating and healthy living. Rather than focusing on a food as a magic bullet, consider how your whole diet can impact your health. Consider how taking weekends off to relax and do something fun, can improve your stress level. Consider how sitting at a table together with family and friends (instead of in front of the TV), can improve your lifestyle and food choices.
Small changes every day can make a difference. Know your numbers. Know your risk. Live well.