Blood pressure — for many of us, it’s little more than some strange fraction that a doctor or nurse mentions to us any time we head to the doctor or hospital. Or, it’s merely the hieroglyphics that show up on the blood pressure monitor when you’re trying to kill some time at CVS. Either way, it’s something that a lot of people don’t understand. Yet, it’s one of the most vital and important ways to get some insight into our health.
Well, it’s time to get clued-in because there is big news regarding blood pressure from a large-scale study that has produced some rather clear-cut findings. The National Institutes of Health-sponsored Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial, or SPRINT, was kicked off in order to address this question: “Will lower blood pressure reduce the risk of heart and kidney diseases, stroke, or age-related declines in memory and thinking?”
Now, we have an answer:
“More intensive management of high blood pressure, below a commonly recommended blood pressure target, significantly reduces rates of cardiovascular disease, and lowers risk of death in a group of adults 50 years and older with high blood pressure,” reads a news release from the National Institutes of Health. For millions of Americans, this is big news. Considering that there is an obesity epidemic and widespread ignorance or misinformation circulating about cardiovascular health and blood pressure, these findings, as simple as they are, can help more people make smart decisions regarding their health.
“This study provides potentially lifesaving information that will be useful to health care providers as they consider the best treatment options for some of their patients, particularly those over the age of 50,” said Gary H. Gibbons, M.D., director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
“We are delighted to have achieved this important milestone in the study in advance of the expected closure date for the SPRINT trial and look forward to quickly communicating the results to help inform patient care and the future development of evidence-based clinical guidelines.”
When you cut through all the noise, what, exactly, does this mean for the average American? Basically, this study confirms or reaffirms the importance of hitting targeted blood pressure parameters. Essentially, since roughly one out of three people making up the American population has some sort of issue with hypertension or elevated blood pressure, this study can help doctors and medical staff develop better guidelines to help improve patient outcomes.
For example, Marc Siegel, M.D., a professor of medicine and medical director of Doctor Radio at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, wrote an article for Slate about the study’s findings and how it will actually impact his work day-to-day.
“A single study will change the way I practice medicine, with guidelines from the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health soon to follow,” he writes. “Targeted diet, exercise, and weight loss are good first-line approaches, but many people require medication as well. Now that I know there is a dramatic difference between a systolic blood pressure of 140 and 120 in those I treat, I will be much more proactive in trying to persuade my patients to target the lower number.”
With the importance of keeping your blood pressure low once again being extolled by medical science, taking measures in your day-to-day life to ensure it stays low is extremely important. Of course, the biggest hurdle, for most people, is adjusting your level of physical activity and diet to make healthy gains. That can be very difficult, depending on a number of factors.
But you can start by digging around The Cheat Sheet’s own trove of health and fitness articles — many rife with exercises and workouts that will help you tackle issues related to obesity and hypertension. Also, look for ways to de-stress, which is also a big factor toward keeping blood pressure in check.
So, the next time you get your blood pressure checked, set some goals to get it lower. Ideally, you’re aiming for 120 over 80 — or thereabouts. And according to this most recent study, the lower the better. (Just don’t pass out.)
Follow Sam on Twitter @Sliceofginger