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High Blood Pressure Diet: Ask the Expert

EatingWell asks Lawrence J. Appel, M.D., M.P.H, professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, and an expert on hypertension, to answer your burning questions about high blood pressure.

Americans have a 90 percent chance of developing high blood pressure at some point in life, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute [part of the National Institutes of Health]. Why is hypertension so prevalent?

It reflects ubiquitous environmental exposures—excess salt, overweight or obesity, inadequate physical activity and poor diet. There are also genetic factors involved, but because high blood pressure is so prevalent, it’s likely that these [lifestyle] factors play a huge, and likely dominant, role.

Is high blood pressure a normal part of aging?

It is typical [in the United States] but not normal. There are plenty of societies in which blood pressure does not rise with age.

When should you start thinking about blood pressure and taking steps to prevent it?

No time is too soon. From age 1 onward, one’s blood pressure generally continues to rise; people with “normal” blood pressure are those who manage to keep it below the threshold for hypertension.

What are some common misconceptions regarding high blood pressure?

People say, “My blood pressure is low. I won’t get high blood pressure.” High blood pressure develops gradually over time. The good news is that by making even small changes, you can prevent or reduce your chance of developing high blood pressure.

What are the most important things you can do to prevent high blood pressure?

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle—low salt intake, good diet (DASH), regular physical activity, a healthy weight—are lifelong pursuits. Also, drinking only moderate amounts of alcohol [if you drink at all] is recommended.

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