Feeling the Pressure? One out of three American adults has hypertension. What you need to know
Monday, Sep. 06, 2004
By Sanjay Gupta, Time Magazine
The news about high blood pressure keeps getting worse. Sure, we doctors are better than ever at treating the condition, which increases the chances of suffering a heart attack or stroke or developing kidney damage. But we're losing the struggle to prevent hypertension from happening in the first place. New data published in Hypertension last week show, for the first time, that 1 out of 3 adults in the U.S. has high blood pressure. That's up from 1 out of 4 adults a decade ago. Twenty years ago, the number of Americans with high blood pressure was coming down.
In part, we are the victims of our own success. More people are living longer, and blood pressure tends to rise with old age. But Americans are also growing fatter than ever, and it's pretty clear that being overweight or obese greatly increases your risk of high blood pressure.
For the record, a reading of 140/90 mm Hg or higher means you have hypertension. You are also considered hypertensive if you have a history of elevated blood pressure or take medication for it.
The good news is that simple lifestyle changes can make an enormous difference. No, you don't have to lose all the excess rolls of fat around your middle. In fact, you don't necessarily have to lose any weight as long as you start moving around and getting more exercise — at least half an hour a day most days of the week. Best of all, of course, is to combine the exercise with some weight loss. Losing as little as 5 lbs. can lower your blood pressure and decrease the need for medication, according to Dr. Daniel Jones of the American Heart Association.
What you eat can also help decrease your blood pressure significantly. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan, which emphasizes lots of fruits and vegetables, fish, low-fat dairy products and a modest quantity of unsalted nuts, has been clinically proved to lower blood pressure in numerous studies over the past seven years. Remarkably, this holds true even if you don't lose weight on the DASH plan.
You won't know if you're in danger, however, unless you get your blood pressure checked at least once a year. Remember: if it's too high, there's plenty you and your doctor can do about it.