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Why is high blood pressure a 'silent killer'?
01:29 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Want to live a longer, healthier life? One way is to keep your blood pressure at optimal levels as you age – preferably below 120 systolic (the top number) and 80 diastolic (the lower number).

That’s especially important during the pandemic, because having high blood pressure is one of the possible risk factors for developing a more severe case of Covid-19, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

You may be able to control your blood pressure, a new study finds, by improving your score on a metric of seven heart-healthy behaviors – doing just one appears to cut hypertension risk by 6% as you age.

“High blood pressure is among the most common conditions in the U.S., and it contributes to the greatest burden of disability and largest reduction in healthy life expectancy among any disease,” said Dr. Timothy B. Plante, the lead author of a new study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association, in a statement. Plante is an assistant professor in the department of medicine at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont in Burlington.

Plante and his colleagues followed nearly 3,000 middle-aged Black and White adults without high blood pressure for nine years. The adults were part of a longitudinal study called the the REasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke, also known as REGARDS.

At the end of the nine years, the study found that each one-point increase in seven healthy lifestyle steps recommended by the American Heart Association was associated with a 6% lower risk of high blood pressure.

Life’s Simple 7

Called Life’s Simple 7, the AHA metric evaluates heart health by looking at four health behaviors:

  1. Keeping your weight as measured by body mass index (BMI) at a healthy level between 18.5 and 24.9
  2. Getting at least 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity or a combo of moderate and vigorous, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous intensity
  3. Eating a heart-healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables and low in salt, fat and sugar
  4. Stop (or never start) cigarette smoking

The AHA tool then folds in three additional health factors for a total metric:

  1. Current blood pressure levels – hopefully below 120/80, which is normal, or 130/80, which is considered elevated but not hypertensive
  2. Cholesterol levels today are calculated based on overall risk when combined with such health metrics as blood pressure, smoking status, diabetes status and other factors. “The only ‘real’ current threshold is an LDL of 190 mg/dL as the upper end of what’s tolerated among folks without prior cardiovascular disease,” Plante wrote via email.
  3. Fasting blood sugar levels at 100 milligrams per deciliter or below, which is considered normal

Each of the seven components get a score of poor (zero points), intermediate (one point) and ideal (two points), Plante told CNN.

“By adding up the points for each of the seven componen