It’s an alarming statistic, but did you know that almost half of all people in the U.S. over the age of 20 have some form of high blood pressure?1 According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),2 high blood pressure — also known as hypertension — can affect anyone, at any age. What’s more, 2017 guidelines from the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Heart Association (AHA) have lowered the threshold for what constitutes high blood pressure, so now even more Americans are considered to have the condition.3
If you have high blood pressure or are looking for ways to lower yours, we’ve got some suggestions. We’re taking a look at a few common questions about high blood pressure, including how to know if you have the condition and what puts you at risk for developing it. Plus, tips on how you can help lower your blood pressure naturally — and keep yourself healthier in the process.
Q: What is high blood pressure?
A: Your blood pressure is composed of two numbers. The first (systolic) number indicates how much pressure your blood exerts against the walls of your arteries when your heart beats; the second (diastolic) number tells you how much pressure your blood exerts while your heart is resting between beats.4 According to the ACC/AHA guidelines, your blood pressure is in the normal range if your average systolic reading is less than 120 and your average diastolic is less than 80 (110/70, for example).3 If either number is consistently higher, you are considered to have elevated or high blood pressure.
The following are the new thresholds for adults, as outlined in the guidelines:3
- Elevated: You have elevated blood pressure if your average systolic reading is between 120 and 129 and your average diastolic is less than 80
- Stage 1 high blood pressure: You have stage 1 high blood pressure if your average systolic is between 130 and 139 or your average diastolic is between 80 and 89
- Stage 2 high blood pressure: You have stage 2 high blood pressure if your average systolic is 140 or higher or your average diastolic is 90 or higher
Q: What problems are associated with high blood pressure?
A: According to the AHA,5 high blood pressure can lead to several serious conditions if it isn’t detected or controlled. These include heart attack; heart failure; kidney disease; narrowing of the arteries; stroke; and vision loss.
Q: What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?
A: Unfortunately, high blood pressure typically doesn’t have any obvious symptoms, which is why it’s important to get it checked yearly. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, some people may experience headaches, nosebleeds or shortness of breath — but usually only once their blood pressure becomes extremely high.6
To make sure you’re not developing high blood pressure (which typically develops over many years6), the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI)7 recommends that all people aged three or older have their blood pressure checked by a healthcare provider at least once a year. The only way to tell if you have high blood pressure is to have it tested.4
Q: What causes high blood pressure?
A: Most people with high blood pressure don’t have an identifiable cause of their condition, the Mayo Clinic reports.6 However, certain factors may increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, including the following:
- Your age: The risk of developing high blood pressure increases as you grow older. Men are more likely to develop the condition until about the age of 64; after age 65, women are more likely.6
- Your family history: High blood pressure tends to run in families.6
- Being overweight or obese: Research suggests that if you are overweight or obese, your risk of developing high blood pressure may increase by approximately 24 percent.8 Visceral fat, also known as belly fat, may also increase your risk compared to people without this type of fat — by about 22 percent.
- Being inactive: Less active, less fit people have a 30 percent to 50 percent higher risk of developing high blood pressure, statistics indicate.9
- Too much salt in your diet: When there’s extra sodium in your bloodstream, it causes more water to be pulled into your blood vessels, which increases the amount of blood in them — and, hence, your blood pressure.10
- Drinking too much alcohol: Regular, heavy use of alcohol can increase your blood pressure dramatically, the AHA reports.11
- Stress: Although stress in and of itself has not been proven to cause long-term high blood pressure, stressful situations may lead to a temporary spike in your blood pressure by causing your blood vessels to constrict and your heart rate to increase. If you experience these spikes in blood pressure often enough, your blood vessels and heart can experience damage similar to that caused by long-term high blood pressure.12
- Having certain chronic conditions: Some medical conditions — kidney disease, diabetes and sleep apnea, for instance — may increase your risk of developing high blood pressure.6
How to Lower Your Blood Pressure Naturally
Even if you have high blood pressure, you may be able to lower it by changing certain aspects of your lifestyle. In fact, lifestyle changes alone are recommended for most adults who are newly diagnosed with elevated or stage 1 high blood pressure, according to the ACC/AHA guidelines.2
1. Get Regular Exercise
The AHA recommends that most people get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking, per week.13 The organization also recommends integrating flexibility and stretching exercises into your weekly routine, and to participate in muscle-strengthening activities a couple times per week.
2. Lose Weight if You’re Overweight
Did you know that losing just 3 percent to 5 percent of your body weight can help lower your blood pressure if you’re overweight?14 In addition to the tried-and-true advice to reduce calorie intake and move more, the experts at Harvard Health recommend adopting these habits to help with weight loss:15
- Make time to prepare healthy meals at home or have nutritious ready-made meals on hand. Not only is eating out bad for your bank account, but it can be bad for your waistline. In fact, restaurant fare has been implicated for years as a likely factor in our nation’s obesity epidemic.16
- Eat slowly. Eating too quickly can lead you to overeat, as it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to receive signals from your stomach that it’s full.
- Spread your calories out evenly throughout the day. Skipping breakfast can lead to extreme hunger later in the day — which may cause you to overeat. Try to eat balanced meals throughout the day (don’t forget healthy snacks!) and avoid eating late at night.
- Get your Z’s. Numerous studies have linked less sleep with a greater risk of being overweight or obese. So commit to getting enough sleep — and consider practicing “sleep hygiene” at the same time.
- Weigh yourself daily. Research suggests that people who weigh themselves every day are more likely to lose weight — and keep it off.17
- Include vegetables, fruits and whole grains in your diet, as well as fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, nuts and healthy oils
- Choose foods that are rich in calcium, fiber, magnesium, potassium and protein
- Limit foods that are low in saturated and trans fats, including fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, and tropical oils (coconut, palm kernel and palm oils, for example)
- Limit your intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets
4. Reduce Your Sodium Intake
The AHA recommends you limit sodium intake to under 2,300 milligrams per day, especially if you have high blood pressure.19 Reducing your intake by even 1,000 milligrams a day can improve your blood pressure, the AHA reports.
Jenny Craig menus follow expert guidelines and keep sodium levels below the recommended daily amount of 2,300 milligrams — plus, feature no artificial ingredients.
5. Avoid Alcohol
Cutting back or eliminating alcohol from your diet may not only improve your blood pressure, but it could also support your weight loss goals. Keep moderation in mind if you do imbibe: the AHA recommends limiting your consumption to one standard drink a day for women and two for men.20
No matter your age, we hope this information has inspired you to monitor your blood pressure regularly, and to take steps to keep it in a healthy range. Your heart — and your entire body — will thank you for it!
Do you need help crafting a heart-healthy eating plan? Jenny Craig can help! Contact us to get started on the path to better health today!
Carole Anderson Lucia
Carole is an award-winning journalist based in Southern California who specializes in health and wellness topics. Her work has appeared in Parents, Fit Pregnancy, Mom & Baby, Yahoo News, Viv magazine and Lifescript. She's won several national awards for her work including a National Science Award and two National Health Information awards. A frequent contributor to Jenny Craig’s Blog, Healthy Habits, she enjoys gardening, spending time at the beach and adopting far too many rescue animals in her spare time.
Favorite healthy snack: jicama dipped in homemade hummus.
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and is written by experienced health and lifestyle contributors and reviewed by certified professionals.
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