It’s Official: The Best Blood Pressure Number Is…

It’s Official: The Best Blood Pressure Number Is…

The approval ratings of presidential candidates aren’t the only numbers that are all over the place (at least up to now). For a couple of years, major medical organizations’ recommendations for healthy blood pressure (BP) have ranged from 130/80 for most people, to as high as 150/90 for folks age 60 and older. And that’s been confusing for doctors and people like you who want to get it right. But now, a new National Institutes of Health study has a clear frontrunner: To slash your risk for a heart attack or stroke lower is better.

In the study of 9,300 people, those who reduced the top number (that’s your systolic pressure) in their blood-pressure reading to 120 or lower cut their risk for heart attack or stroke by a whopping 33 percent and slashed their risk for blood pressure-related death by 25 percent compared to folks whose top BP number hovered around 140. The results were so impressive that the government stopped the study early to get the word out—and you could probably hear us cheering the news.

Based on research, we’ve been advocates for a healthy BP goal of 115/76 (76 is your diastolic pressure) for more than a decade. High blood pressure (HBP) means that blood is pounding and racing through your arteries like an out-of-control river, nicking and gouging artery walls. That sets the stage for artery-clogging plaque, heart damage, increased risk of stroke from clogged blood vessels and ripped arteries, and an increase in your odds for dementia.

Unfortunately, nearly 80 million Americans have HBP, more than half of don’t have their top BP number at 140 or less, and two thirds don’t even know what their numbers are! So, take these six easy steps to keep your BP healthy or, if necessary, to lower it.

Get a reading
Everyone should know their numbers. If you haven’t had your blood pressure checked in the past six months, make sure your doc does so at your next visit. If your numbers have been high in the past, it’s worth making an appointment to find out how they’re doing now.

Don’t settle for a so-so number
Most docs have been following BP guidelines that are too high! Talk with your doc about this new study and whether aiming for a lower BP is right for you.

Eat pressure-lowering foods
A diet of low-fat or fat-free dairy (or a calcium-rich dairy alternative) plus plenty of fruits and veggies loaded with potassium helps support healthier BP. It’ll also help you lose weight, which can quickly reduce HBP by reducing the amount of fat inside your kidney capsule.

Do a salt check
About 0.3 percent (less than 1 percent) of folks with HBP are salt-sensitive and should follow a low-sodium diet (see the DASH Diet on If you have HBP, try a low-sodium plan for one to three weeks. If your BP falls by 20/7 or more, you need to keep on eating this way. If not, ask your doc if sticking with a moderate-sodium plan (about 2,300mg daily) is OK.

Hit the walking trail or the gym
Exercise relaxes arteries—and virtually anything you do that gets you out of your chair is good. When you’re pressed for time, three 10-minute walks a day will help. So will slow walking and even standing up every hour for about 10 minutes, studies show.

Take your meds
If your BP is 140/90 or higher, it’s wise to start blood-pressure medications—even if you’d prefer to control your numbers with lifestyle alone. Lowering your risk for blood pressure-related health problems is too important to delay. And if a reasonable dose of one or two blood-pressure medications doesn’t give you troubling side effects but is still not effective, your doctor may recommend adding a low-dose of a third medication. That’s what helped people in this recent study hit their new target—with lifesaving results. 

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