A new study finds about one in three Iowans have hypertension or high blood pressure.

Dr. David Goff, director of Cardiovascular Sciences at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, says Iowa ranks 27th in the nation. “Iowa is about in the middle of the pack with blood pressure and you might say, ‘Well, that’s not so bad,’ but that’s not good either,” Goff says. “Having a third of us with high blood pressure is way too many, given how much trouble high blood pressure causes.”

The treatable condition can lead to kidney problems, heart attacks, stroke, and death. Two years of pandemic living has raised stress levels for nearly everyone, Goff says, and we need to take action to improve our self-care.

“All of us need to follow a healthier diet, eat more vegetables and fruits and whole grains, less salt in our diet,” Goff says. “Get more activity, that means usually about 30 minutes of something like brisk walking most days, try to stay lean.” Iowans who are stressed need to find ways to decompress and manage that stress, what Goff says is invoking your “relaxation response.”

“For some people, it’s breathing exercises. For some people, it’s meditation. For other people, it’s prayer. Some folks work out their stress by going to the gym,” Goff says. “Whatever works for the individual that’s going to be a healthy way of coping with stress would be really helpful in improving heart health as well as overall health.”

Some Iowans have picked up bad habits during the pandemic, like alcohol, smoking, overeating and binge-watching television. You won’t be able to tackle them all at once, Goff says, but start with something.

“Maybe you start with just cutting back a little bit on the alcohol. Then you’re probably going to feel better, and then you can try to increase your activity — and then you can try to improve your diet,” Goff says. “Trying to do them all at the same time can sometimes seem overwhelming. Making small changes and building on them over time can be more successful.”

Whether it’s everyday deadlines, financial struggles, or COVID-19, we all face some degree of stress and our bodies react to it. With chronic stress, Goff says you’re more likely to have high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and poor sleep.

Find tips on getting healthy at: www.nhlbi.nih.gov/ourhearts