New guidelines mean more of us need to pay attention to blood pressure, diet, exercise

Gail Mates has lowered her blood pressure through diet and exercise. (Photo: Sinclair Cares)

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Gail Mates fell into depression after her parents died.

"I actually became quite scared because everyone in my family has died of heart disease, and I'm next in line," she said

Mates turned to food for comfort, and that led to health issues, which included high blood pressure. Her blood pressure was 150 over 110. Normal is 120 over 80.

"My daughter would come into my room, and I'd wake up and see her -- she'd be hovering over me to see if I was breathing. She said I wasn't going to be around for her children, and she was right."

Mates and many more of us need to pay attention to our blood pressure these days.

The American Heart Associated released new guidelines that define high blood pressure as higher than 130 over 80. It used to be 140 over 90.

The old definition meant one in three adult Americans had high blood pressure. Now nearly half of all adults do under the new definition.

So are more people going to be on prescriptions?

No, said Dr. Richard Benson of Medstar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C.

"The goal is not to get more people on medication, but to get more people to modify their behavior," he said.

Benson says the new definition will be a wake up call for patients to take high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, more seriously.

Exercise and diet can effectively lower blood pressure, Benson said.

"People that exercise for 20 to 30 minutes minutes a day at least three times a week had a lower rate of cardiovascular disease. People can exercise ... start instituting a diet more similar to the Mediterranean diet."

Benson also says people with high blood pressure should get a machine to check blood pressure regularly at home. That will help them see that diet and exercise are making a difference.

Gail Mates turned to diet and exercise.

She started with just five minutes of exercise a week and went up from there. She became careful of what she ate, picking fresh, not processed food.

She lost 65 pounds. She no longer has high blood pressure or diabetes.

"It's all about small simple changes add up to big results," she said. "My cardiologist said because of this, and exercise I'm doing, I'm saving my life every day"

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