New updated blood pressure guidelines

As a certified fitness pro, you’re well aware that good heart health is vital to maintaining our overall health and wellness as we age. But did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States? Fortunately, it’s also one of the most preventable. Exercise is one of the best ways to support your cardiovascular health. And February is National Heart Health Month — so it’s a great time to talk to your clients about strategies for preventing heart disease and encouraging them to have their regular health check-ups.

This year, Heart Health Month brings a whole new topic of discussion to have with your clients. As of November 2017, the guidelines for the classification of blood pressure have been revised. The updated blood pressure guidelines for adults were jointly published by the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Heart Association (AHA), along with nine other organizations. This is the first major revision of the guidelines in more than a decade, replacing the Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (JNC 7, 2003), which was published in 2003.

The classification of ‘normal’ remains the same as a systolic blood pressure (SBP) of < 120 mm Hg and a diastolic blood pressure (DBP) of < 80 mm Hg. The term ‘prehypertension’ has been replaced by ‘elevated’ blood pressure, which now refers to a SBP between 120 and 129 and a DBP < 80. In addition, the updated guidelines lower the threshold for hypertension (high blood pressure). Previously, a SBP of ≥ 140 or a DBP of ≥ 90 was classified as hypertension. Under the new guidelines, hypertension is defined as a SBP ≥ 130 or a DBP ≥ 80.

“Under the previous classifications ~32% of U.S. adults were diagnosed with hypertension; however, using the new guidelines ~46% of adults will now be considered hypertensive.”

So, what does this mean for fitness pros? Well, because the new definition of hypertension is lower, more adults will be classified as having hypertension. Under the previous classifications ~32% of U.S. adults were diagnosed with hypertension; however, using the new guidelines ~46% of adults will now be considered hypertensive. Some will need prescription medication to lower their blood pressure, but most of these newly classified as having hypertension can manage and treat their high blood pressure through lifestyle changes alone. That’s where we come in! We’re more than just trainers, after all. It’s our job to ensure that our clients are making healthy lifestyle choices outside the gym, as well as inside.

According to the American Heart Association, there are a few immediate recommendations we can make for clients and class participants who have been diagnosed with hypertension:

  1. Promote the DASH Diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. Recommend reducing sodium intake and increasing potassium intake. However, it is important to keep in mind that some clients may be harmed by excess potassium, such as those with kidney disease or who take certain medicines, so be sure they speak with a qualified healthcare provider for guidance.
  2. Maintaining a healthy weight is a big factor in regulating blood pressure, so help overweight clients set weight loss goals. As a rule, people can generally expect to reduce their blood pressure by about 1 mm Hg for every 1 kg (or about 2.2 lbs.) of body weight they lose.
  3. The AHA recommends 90 to 150 minutes of aerobic and/or dynamic resistance exercise per week. So, work with your clients to develop exercise programs that strive toward meeting these minimum recommendations.
  4. For your clients who drink alcohol, recommend they reduce their intake to 2 or fewer drinks daily for men and no more than 1 drink daily for women.

Helping clients maintain their cardiovascular health is one of the most important things we can do as exercise professionals. This month, take the time to speak with each of your clients about their cardiovascular health. Ask them if they’re aware of the new guidelines, and work on a plan to make sure they steer clear of the hypertension zone.

What are your favorite fitness and diet regiments for patients with heart disease? Got any dramatic success stories? We’d love to hear them. Share in the comments section below!

For more information, see the Detailed Summary from the 2017 Guideline for the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults.

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