Q: I read a newspaper article that said my top blood pressure number should be 120. I have worked my tail off to get it to 140. What’s with this new guideline? -- Fred, G., Akron, Ohio
A: Bravo for putting in the hard work it takes to lower your systolic blood pressure (that’s the top number). Less than half of Americans with high blood pressure have it under control, and that’s risky. HBP is related to everything from strokes and heart attacks to kidney disease and dementia.
Now, the recommendation for lowering the target systolic blood pressure number from 140 to 120 has been hinted at for a while, but the recent findings of the SPRINT (Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial) study confirms the benefits of that lower number. The researchers concluded that around 18 million Americans who have systolic BP over 120 are candidates for treatment. That will prevent 25 percent of heart attacks and reduce the number of premature deaths.
But, there’s something we need to mention. The 9,361 patients in the SPRINT trial each were taken into a quiet room, hooked up to an automatic BP machine and left alone -- three times. BP was determined by averaging those readings. Why? That’s how you get an accurate result! Having your doc do it in a rushed setting elevates BP in many folks (it’s called White Coat Syndrome) and can lead to overdiagnosis and overtreatment!
So if your doc says to aim for a systolic BP of 120, insist on getting a series of readings done in the least stressful environment possible (try using mindful meditation). If your average is above 130, discuss lifestyle changes and medical treatments that you can start immediately. If it’s 120 to 130, continue with your hard work and get rechecked in three months. For some folks, hitting 120 can cause problems. So, go slow to get that low, and stay in touch with your doc.
Q: My husband and I are retiring in January; after 35 years, we’re selling our bed and breakfast. We’ll get some rest and relaxation, and do some traveling, but after that I want to make sure we stay active and healthy. Any thoughts on the best way to proceed? -- Barbara T., Flemington, New Jersey
A: There are lots of ways to stay active after retirement, and you’re correct in thinking that people who do stay active and engaged in life are happier and maintain more physical and cognitive ability.
First, use the extra time you’ll have for daily exercise -- walking 10,000 steps a day (no excuses), tennis, golf, resistance exercises, jumping or all five. Then, we bet you’re good cooks (at least for breakfast), so spend time cooking Mediterranean style; if you don’t already know how, take a cooking class. That veggie-rich diet will fuel your brain and heart health and your romance, too!
Also, consider going back to school to study something that’s always interested you; this keeps cognitive abilities sharp. Education is a gift you give yourself, so give away!
And another thing about giving: Many studies have found that when seniors give back to their community it reduces their risk of depression, lowers blood pressure and enhances the chance of a longer, healthier life. You and your husband have a lot of experience running an inn. Perhaps you can help others in your area who are starting out in that business.
And most important, stay buddies and encourage each other to make healthy choices. Affection and intimacy make you both younger.
So spend this time planning the next phase(s) of your life. More and more folks are living to 90 and even 100. You’ve got plenty of time to reinvent yourselves and have fun! As Jimmy Carter said about retirement, “We should consider our life expanding, not contracting.” And look what he accomplished after he left the White House!
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at firstname.lastname@example.org.