New guidelines mean more of us need to pay attention to blood pressure, diet, exercise
A lot more people may be impacted by what's called a silent killer.
Last year, for the first time in 14 years, new guidelines changed what is considered to be high blood pressure.
Gail Mates said after her parents died, she fell into depression.
"I actually became quite scared, because everyone in my family has died of heart disease and I'm next in line," Mates said.
She turned to food for comfort, which led to major health issues, including high blood pressure.
Mates said her blood pressure was 150 over 110 - normal blood pressure 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 said.
New guidelines released by the American Heart Association define high blood pressure as a reading higher than 130 over 80. It used to be 140 over 90.
So now instead of one in three adult Americans being impacted, now nearly half of all adults have high blood pressure.
"The goal is not to get more people on medication, but to get more people to modify their behavior," said Richard Benson with the MedStar Washington Hospital Center.
Benson said he hopes the stricter definition will be a wake-up call for patients to take high blood pressure more seriously. It's a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, but improvements in diet and exercise can be quite effective at lowering your blood pressure.
"People that exercise for 20 to 30 min. a day at least three times a week had a lower rate of cardiovascular disease," Benson said. "People can exercise, start instituting a diet more similar to the Mediterranean diet."
Mates did both, starting with just five minutes of exercise a week and building up. She said she is also very careful about her diet, selecting fresh food over processed.
She lost 65 pounds and no longer has high blood pressure or diabetes.
"It's all about small, simple changes add up to big results," Mates said. "My cardiologist said because of this, and exercise I'm doing, I'm saving my life every day."
Benson also said that those who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure should get a machine to check their blood pressure regularly at home.
He said that will help you stay on track, and help you see how your diet and exercise changes are making a difference.