AHA Updates Blood Pressure Guidelines

AHA Updates Blood Pressure Guidelines

ACSM Certification Department |  Dec. 3, 2017

AHA Blood Pressure Guidelines ACSM

The American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Heart Association (AHA), along with nine other organizations, recently released updated blood pressure guidelines.

What are the changes?

The 2017 ACC/AHA/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/AGS/APhA/ASH/ASPC/NMA/PCNA Guideline for the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults is the first major revision of the guidelines in more than a decade, replacing "Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure" (JNC 7), which published in 2003. Watch the AHA video regarding the update.

The 2017 update includes the following key changes:

  • emphasizes the importance of structured exercise in the prevention and treatment of hypertension

  • adjusts the category names and thresholds

  • lowers the definition of high blood pressure from 140/90 mm Hg to 130/80 mm Hg

JNC (2003)

2017 Update

Normal: <120/<80 mm Hg

Normal: <120/<80 mm Hg

Prehypertension: 120-139/80-89 mm Hg

Elevated: 120-129/<80 mm Hg

Stage 1 hypertension: SBP between 140-159 mm Hg or DBP between 90-99 mm Hg

Stage 1 hypertension: SBP between 130-139 or DBP between 80-89 mm Hg

Stage 2 hypertension: SBP ≥160 or DBP ≥100 mm Hg

Stage 2 hypertension: SBP ≥140 or DBP ≥90 mm Hg






SBP, Systolic Blood Pressure; DBP, Diastolic Blood Pressure.

Why are the changes important?

According to 10th edition of ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, hypertension appears to be the result of lifestyle factors such as diets high in salt and fat intake, excess body weight, and physical inactivity. Hypertension is the leading cause of cardiovascular disease and premature mortality.

The revised guidelines from the AHA mean an increase in the number of patients diagnosed with hypertension, up to 46% of adults in the United States.

However, nonpharmacological treatments, such as diet modifications and increased physical activity, are recommended for most adults who are classified as hypertensive under the new guidelines. The increased emphasis on the importance of structured exercise further reiterates the mission of one of ACSM's key initiatives, Exercise is Medicine®, and the many other spokes that circle this important message.

How does this affect ACSM members and is ACSM updating their resources to incorporate these changes?

ACSM's resources are in the process of being updated to reflect these important updates from the AHA. Check ACSM's social media channels, the ACSM Blog, the Certification Blog, and Certified eNews for additional information.

  • All ACSM members: The ACSM Blog hosted guest authors Linda S. Pescatello, PhD, FACSM and Paul D. Thompson, MD, FACSM to provide their expert take on the impact of the revised AHA guidelines.

  • Certified Professionals: Watch the Certification Blog and Certified News for guidance on how this change affects what you do. If you are not yet certified, the exams will reflect the updated guidelines no earlier than January 2019. 

  • Clinicians: We encourage you to read the 2017 guidelines and related resources and advise your patients of how the revised guidelines affect them.

  • General Public: If you're concerned about your blood pressure, see your doctor. They can discuss ways to prevent or manage hypertension with lifestyle changes such as adjusting the amount of salt and fat in your diet, losing weight, and increasing your physical activity level. The AHA site also has great resources such as understanding blood pressure readingsmaking lifestyle changesadding physical activity, and many more.

Additionally, the senior editors and authors of our book resources have weighed in on the impact of these changes for recently published titles. The updates will be reflected in the ebooks and book updates page immediately.

For more information please contact the following:

  • Media and press inquiries, please contact the ACSM Communications and Public Information Department: publicinfo@acsm.org

  • For questions regarding publications and related content, please contact the ACSM Publications Department: achastain@acsm.org

  • For certification or exam questions, please contact the ACSM Certification Department: certification@acsm.org