By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — February is heart awareness month, and it’s estimated that nearly 50 percent of Americans now have high blood pressure.

Before, many doctors considered anything under 140 over 90 to be normal.

New guidelines consider normal blood pressure to be 120 over 80.

“I was like no, no, it’ll go down! It’ll go down! Don’t worry, it’ll go down,” said Michelle Davenport.

For some people, when blood pressure goes up, so does denial. Sadly for Michelle, it was tragedy that put a common health problem into perspective.

“I lost my dad to a heart attack. I lost my baby brother Jason to a heart attack. He just was 35 years old, he just died May of 2016,” said Michelle.

“Stroke and heart attack are what we are trying to prevent,” said Dr. Kimara March.

Dr. March is a cardiologist with University of Minnesota Health. She’s hoping the new guidelines that came out last fall help people like Michelle. 130 over 90 used to be prehypertension. Now it’s straight-up hypertension, meaning nearly 50 percent of Americans have high blood pressure. And for thousands of them, that literally changed overnight.

“So 20 years of data, hundreds of research studies showing that if your blood pressure is over 130, you have 50 percent increased mortality compared to people who have low blood pressure,” said Dr. March.

Dr. March said there is a lot you can do- — exercise more, stress less. Quit smoking, start meditating. And when it comes to your diet, lower salt intake, and increase potassium — that can be found in fruits and vegetables.

“We tend to say anything that tastes good probably has a lot of salt in it,” said Dr. March.

Losing just 5 to 10 pounds can also take stress off your heart. For some people, even if they do everything right, they still won’t like what they hear when the cuff comes off.

“There is a genetic component to it, for sure, and so in those people we tend to maybe use a little bit more medicines if we need to, if we can’t shake it,” said Dr. March.

Doctors said that men can also lower their blood pressure by having no more than two alcoholic drinks per day, and for women it’s just one drink.

Simply changing your diet can bring down your systolic blood pressure by as much as 11 points.

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