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Changes in lifestyle can lead to healthier blood pressure

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MURRAY — New blood pressure guidelines released last month by the American Heart Association indicate almost half of us are above normal and need to get it under control. But with a few changes in your lifestyle, you could find yourself in the healthy zone.

Marilyn Johnson, 69, is one of those patients working with her doctor to get her blood pressure down.

"I was experiencing more racing heart and not feeling really well," said Johnson, who recently moved back to Utah.

Although she takes medication, Johnson is also making lifestyle changes.

"I try to eat better, these days, and ... I've got a dog, so I walk and that helps as well," she said.

But Johnson has to work a little harder these days due to the new guidelines released last month by the American Heart Association.

The guidelines say anyone with blood pressure higher than 130 over 80 is now considered to have high blood pressure or stage 1 hypertension.

Anything between 120 to 129 over 80 is now considered elevated and a blood pressure of 120 over 80 is normal.

Dr. Jeffrey L. Anderson, a cardiovascular researcher at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute, worked on the guidelines committee. Anderson said the change should bring a decrease in heart attacks and strokes.

"If we can start earlier at a lower blood pressure level and keep it down that will just end up adding quality years of life to all of us," he said.

Anderson said knowing your numbers is the first place to start, then you can make changes to your stress levels, diet, exercise and weight.

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"If we lose 10 pounds we lower it by 5 points, 20 pounds by 10 points. So that's a huge amount, that's as much as you can do with one or two drugs," he said.

Those with genetic ties to hypertension, like Johnson, may still need medication in addition to lifestyle changes.

Johnson said her children and grandchildren are her motivation.

"Sometimes you don't want to pay attention to your health, but I do it for them," she said.

Anderson also suggested following the DASH diet, which focuses on fruit and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat and low sodium.

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Erin Goff

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