It's not your imagination—Americans’ numbers are rising. Control yours so you don’t stress about it (because that would be counterproductive).

By Christine Richmond
April 25, 2018

Back in November, a funny thing may have happened to you: One day you were fine, and then—bam!—whether you knew it or not, you had high blood pressure. No, it wasn’t because you realized there were only six weeks left until Christmas; it was because the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association changed the medical definition of “high blood pressure.” The condition now starts at 130/80 mm Hg rather than 140/90, and close to half of all U.S. adults have it (before the new definition, a third did).

Why the change? We’ve learned that people with a blood pressure of 130/80 “are already at about double the risk of heart attack or stroke,” says Paul K. Whelton, MD, the lead author of new guidelines for health care providers that were written to accompany the updated blood pressure numbers.

As the report points out, high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is second only to cigarette smoking as the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. You might think of hypertension as something older men deal with, but it affects women and men just about equally. Black women are at especially high risk, and they tend to get it at an earlier age. Family history is another big factor: If you have even one close relative with high blood pressure, you’re twice as likely to have it too.

So now might be a good time to schedule a checkup to find out your numbers and discuss with your doctor what they mean. If you learn you’re one of the more than 100 million Americans with high blood pressure, you won’t necessarily end up on meds. Lifestyle factors—like what you eat, how often you work out, and how you manage stress—make a big difference, whether you have hypertension or are just trying to reduce your risk. Ahead, eight things to try today—and how to actually work them into your life.

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