Nearly half of the adults in the U.S. have high blood pressure. This means that you or someone close to you has a blood pressure reading at 130/80 or higher.

It wasn’t always this way – just a couple of years ago 1 in 3 Americans had high blood pressure instead of nearly 1 in 2.

So why the change? Does this mean we’re getting less healthy?

It’s quite the opposite. Based on years of scientific study, the change means we’re actually more aware of the effects of elevated blood pressure.

Two years ago, the definition of high blood pressure changed from 140/90 to 130/80 (technically 130+ or 80+, but we’re keeping it simple here). The result is that more people became classified as having high blood pressure. It doesn’t mean that thousands of people became ill overnight, though. It means we want people to know that high blood pressure is serious, and that it can begin damaging your blood vessels and organs at lower levels than previously thought, particularly if you don’t act to keep your numbers from rising.

It’s worth noting that blood pressure tends to rise naturally as we age, so it typically hasn’t been on the health radar for people under age 45. However, with the new definition, an important health alert was sent to people in their 20s and 30s to pay attention to their blood pressure levels. Among men aged 20 -44, the rate of high blood pressure nearly tripled. Among women in that age range, it doubled.

The American Heart Association has created an interactive tool that can help you not only identify your health risk according to your blood pressure level, but also provide notes on what actions you can take to ensure it stays at, or gets to, a healthy level. You can check it out at www.heart.org/BPlevels.

Making changes that matter can have a significant impact on your blood pressure levels. In fact, most of those who suddenly find themselves with high blood pressure under the new definition will be given a “prescription” for lifestyle changes – not medicine – that can lower their pressure.  Even for those who do require medication to control their levels, lifestyle changes help those meds work better and can even help you stay on lower doses. Some examples of a lifestyle change prescription include:

Physical activity:

  • 90 – 150 minutes per week of aerobic activity can drop your top blood pressure number (called systolic pressure) by 5-8 mmHg.
  • 90 – 150 minutes per week of dynamic resistance exercise can drop your systolic blood pressure 4 mmHg

 A healthy diet:

  • Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy, such as the DASH eating plan can drop your systolic pressure up to 11 mmHg.

 Sodium (i.e. salt):

  • Reducing your salt intake by about 1000 mg per day has a similar effect on systolic pressure as increasing aerobic activity – dropping it about 5 mmHg.

 Weight loss:

  • For about every 2 pounds lost, your systolic pressure could drop 1 mmHg.

The benefits of lifestyle change can add up quickly. Many of the same lifestyle prescriptions that lower blood pressure also reduce the risk of other dangerous conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease. Eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting regular physical activity can help you lead a healthier and longer life!

Article contributed by Sondra DePalma, DHSc, PA-C, Cardiology, PinnacleHealth Cardiovascular Institute, Harrisburg, PA

American Heart Association Volunteer

Disclaimer: Some slight edits may have been made to the article’s original copy for grammatical reasons and/or clarity. 


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