Just Because Blood Pressure Isn't High doesn't Mean It's Low Enough

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PEOPLE tend to think of 140/90 as the cutoff point for blood pressure that's high enough to raise the risk for heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular problems. But that's not the case. Optimal blood pressure is below 120/80, while normal is a systolic (top) reading between 120 and 129 or a diastolic (bottom) reading of 80 to 84. And high-normal is 130 to 139 or 85 to 89. In other words, the risk for heart disease rises along a continuum rather than jumping up suddenly at 140/90. And that continuum is steeper than you might imagine.

Researchers examining the records of almost 7,000 people in the Framingham Heart Study found that over a 10-year period, those with high-normal blood pressure were about twice as likely to suffer a heart attack or other cardiac event as people with optimal blood pressure. For men 65 and older, for example, that translated to about 25 heart attacks, strokes, and other heart-related "episodes" per 100 people as opposed to 16.

Lowering blood pressure from high-normal to optimal generally involves losing relatively small amounts of weight. Men in the study with high-normal blood pressure who were 5 feet, 9 inches tall averaged 180 pounds. Men of that height whose blood pressure was optimal averaged 169 pounds.

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