Wednesday, Aug 15, 2018
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Live sensibly, actively


The new definition for high blood pressure should inspire lifestyle changes


News that the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology have redefined high blood pressure as 130 over 80 is enough to, well, make your blood pressure rise.

Rather than being stressed or frightened by the new recommendation, it should be another reason to focus on lifestyle changes that can improve your health.

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High blood pressure has been linked to cardiovascular disease, strokes, and severe kidney disease. High blood pressure can weaken blood vessels, causing the vessels to leak or rupture. It can also cause blood clots in arteries, potentially causing a stroke. In 2010, high blood pressure was the second leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States, behind cigarette smoking.

The guidelines were changed for the first time in 14 years after a large study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in December, 2015, found that lowering blood pressure to the new range from the previously acceptable 140 over 90 reduced the risk of a life-threatening cardiovascular event by 25 percent. The adjustment in the acceptable range of blood pressure means that 46 percent of U.S. adults will now be considered hypertensive.

Those are worrisome numbers, largely fed by the national obesity epidemic. But the numbers likely will not result in medication for many more people for two reasons: high blood pressure, unless tied to genetics or extremely high readings, can largely be controlled by lifestyle adjustments; and blood pressure is notoriously volatile, often spiking during a doctor’s visit or a stressful day at work. Medication could drive readings down to dangerously low levels for some people, particularly the elderly, and increase the risk of fainting and falls.

In order to keep blood pressure under control, the American Heart Association recommends eating a well-balanced, low-salt diet; exercising regularly; maintaining a healthy weight; cutting back on alcohol; quitting smoking, and reducing stress through relaxation techniques.

The United States is not a healthy country. In 2015, the life expectancy declined for the first time in more than two decades. Some of the blame for the trend is that thousands of young people are dying from drug overdoses. But biggest reason is an unchecked obesity epidemic that has led to more cases of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer — and high blood pressure. The recent blood pressure news should not be a reason to panic, but it should be another wake-up call to live life sensibly and actively.

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