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Avoid false blood pressure readings

High blood pressure is the single most important factor in heart disease and it is a major factor in stroke. Another consequence is a significantly greater risk of dementia.  In the past a reading below 130/80 (systolic/diastolic) was considered normal; a reading above 140/90 was diagnostic of abnormally high blood pressure (hypertension).  The new guidelines lower those numbers so that nearly one-half (forty-six percent) of Americans are now considered to be hypertensive. According to the newest guidelines from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association, persons whose blood pressure is 130/80 or more (either number) are considered to have high blood pressure. A blood pressure less than 120/80 is the new normal.

Taking one’s blood pressure is not as easy as it looks, even with the latest automatic devices, and falsely high readings are common. White coat hypertension results from anxiety and even physicians are not immune from this distortion. A few minutes of rest, both physical and and mental, are helpful. The check-in routine in most medical offices thwarts the process. Minor factors that each push the numbers up can lead to a false diagnosis of hypertension and unnecessary treatment. A cuff that is too small gives erroneously high readings; the arm should be on the same level as the heart and resting on a table, desk or the armrest of a chair; the legs should be uncrossed and both feet flat on the floor. The cuff should be placed on the bare arm, not over clothing. It helps to avoid caffeine and alcohol in the hours prior to the visit to the doctor’s office. Even when the measurement is done correctly the diagnosis of hypertension, unless other factors dictate otherwise, should await a second measurement on a different day.

There are numerous prescription medications that lower blood pressure but all of them have side effects and of course, are expensive. Persons with mild hypertension can almost always bring it back to normal with a few simple measures: losing a few pounds, lowering salt intake and increasing potassium intake by adding several servings of fruits and vegetables to the daily menu. For most people, taking the time for moderately intense exercise at least four days a week for about one hour is the most difficult step but it is perhaps the most effective.

Digital devices for home monitoring are inexpensive and are recommended in the new guidelines.

Exercise Tips

If you are not already exercising, consider that until the development of mechanized transportation and labor-saving devices, the average human burned 4 or 5 thousand calories a day in finding food and getting the chores done.

Some basic facts about exercise:

Your body is designed to be moderately active almost every day.

“Exercise” doesn’t only mean the things we do at the fitness center.

It is absolutely impossible to become musclebound.

The benefits of exercise include much more than losing weight or                                        avoiding a heart attack.

No one is too old to exercise.

Almost no one is too sick to exercise.

Using about 500 calories per week is not an ordeal and it will result in the loss of about one pound per week if they are not replaced with food.


Area Presentations

Upcoming presentations in the San Diego area this winter are scheduled for the Osher Lifelong Learning Center at Cal State San Marcos ( and at the OASIS Adult Learning Center ( Dates, times and locations are posted on their websites.

Scheduled presentations include: Being a kid in the Stone Age, Ten ways to prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, Ten ways to prevent cancer, How to prevent blindness as you age, Health benefits of wine and chocolate, and more. We’ll keep you posted.

If you are looking for a speaker for your organization there are more than sixty-five PowerPoint presentations listed at

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