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High blood pressure plagues the Black community, but with a few lifestyle changes, you can lessen your chances.

A new health study from the American Heart Association (AHA)  found that 75 percent of Black participants—both men and women—developed high blood pressure (HBP), also known as hypertension, by the age of 55. Comparatively, 55 percent of white men and 40 percent of white women developed HBP at the same age. “Regardless of blood pressure levels in young adulthood, Blacks have a substantially higher risk for developing high blood pressure compared with whites through 55 years of age,” said S. Justin Thomas, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “It is urgent that healthcare providers counsel young patients, particularly blacks, about eating a healthy diet, being physically active and controlling body weight. The risk of high blood pressure can be significantly reduced with a healthy lifestyle.”

Those changes aren’t small. Experts suggest ditching processed and fried foods for diets that are rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low or fat-free dairy, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, and nuts. But it’s not just what you eat, it’s how. Prevention also means revamping plate ratios to ensure each meal is 50 percent veggies, 25 percent starch and 25 percent lean meat. Then there’s exercise. AHA recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise (like walking) or 75 minutes of rigorous workouts—think crossfit—per week.

Your quality of life is worth the effort. While heart disease and stroke are among the more severe consequences of hypertension, living the with condition presents a host of challenges. The common consequences of HBP include: sexual dysfunction, vision loss, heart failure and kidney disease.

Unfortunately, HBP doesn’t always have signs. That’s why it’s important to get your blood pressure checked regularly by a doctor or medical expert. High blood pressure can be avoided and managed, and everyone is at risk. Prevention is literally in your hands and getting control of your blood pressure can start now.

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