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How to Manage Prehypertension

Prehypertension is a new term that alerts people to the very real risk of developing chronic high blood pressure, if they don't take timely steps to improve their lifestyle habits, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Prehypertension is defined as a blood pressure with the top (systolic) number between 120 and 139, or the bottom (diastolic) number between 80 and 89. Talk with your health care provider about your target blood pressure levels. If you end up with full-blown high blood pressure, you may, in time, develop heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, or dementia, and may have to stay on prescription drugs for life.

The numbers to remember are 120 over 80 — the blood pressure reading that until recently was considered to fall within a healthy range. That reading now should be seen as a yellow light. According to federal guidelines, those numbers signal the low end, or the beginning, of prehypertension. Prehypertension is diagnosed when either the top number or the bottom number is high.

Checking the pressure

Middle aged woman taking her blood pressure with a home monitor

When blood pressure is high, your heart works too hard and excessive pressure is exerted against the walls of your arteries. Without effective treatment, the forceful blood flow eventually can harm your arteries.

Everyone should have his or her blood pressure measured every year or two, and more often if there is an abnormal reading. There's no way to know if your blood pressure is high unless you have it checked. You can feel perfectly relaxed and healthy, yet still have an elevated level. One in three adults has high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). This is defined as blood pressure equal to or above 140/90 — and only around three-quarters of this population are aware of their condition.

When your systolic pressure is 120 or higher, you need to focus on lifestyle choices to try to improve your blood pressure. To prevent full-blown hypertension, if you have prehypertension, you need to live a healthy lifestyle.

Get your body moving

Regular vigorous walking lowers your blood pressure numbers. But any physical activity can help, as long as it gets your heart pumping hard for 30 minutes or more each day.

Keep weight under control

The increase in high blood pressure in recent years is mostly because Americans are getting heavier. You can reach and keep a healthy weight by eating healthy foods, eating less at each meal, and  getting regular exercise. Losing as few as 10 pounds can have a significant effect on your blood pressure levels.

Follow a healthy diet

Hypertension experts advocate the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan as a rational approach to healthy eating. This diet focuses on a high intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. The diet limits sugary foods and beverages, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium.

Limit salt (sodium chloride)

All people should limit their salt intake.

Limit alcohol

Women should limit their alcohol to one drink per day, and men should have no more than two drinks a day, according to international blood pressure guidelines. These guidelines aren't a recommendation to drink alcohol; rather, they offer limits if you choose to drink.

Don't smoke

Smoking cigarettes temporarily causes an increase in blood pressure. That's not nearly as important as the fact that smoking adds to your risk of developing heart disease and stroke.

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