Understanding your Blood Pressure
Updated: May 6
Maintaining healthy blood pressure can help you live a longer, happier life. But just what is considered optimal blood pressure? Besides visiting your doctor or getting a health check at home, how do you know what your measurements are and how they stack up?
Key numbers for healthy blood pressure
Let’s start with the basics. You need to know two critical blood pressure numbers for optimal health.
Systolic blood pressure, which is the first number given to you during a wellness exam, measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. Diastolic blood pressure, the second number mentioned, measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats.
If you hear your blood pressure is “110 over 70,” or written “110/70mmHG,” you have measurements of 110 systolic and 70 diastolic. Okay, fine you say but what is considered healthy?
According to the American Heart Association, numbers below 120/80 means your blood pressure is in the healthy range. However, if you’re above those two measurements you are at elevated risk as the chart indicates:
Risk factors for high blood pressure
Health care specialists agree that several risk factors can contribute to high blood pressure. The most common include the following:
Age - As a rule, your blood pressure increases with age because blood vessels naturally thicken.
Family history and genetics - High blood pressure is often found in families and different generations of families.
Medicines - Prescription and over-the-counter drugs can increase your blood pressure. Some common types include antidepressants, decongestants (medicines to relieve a stuffy nose), hormonal birth control pills, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen.
Race or ethnicity - Research suggests that high blood pressure is more common in African-American and Hispanic adults than in white or Asian adults.
Sex - At middle age, men are more likely than women to develop high blood pressure. However, as seniors, women are more likely to develop high blood pressure than men.
Social and economic factors - Recent studies indicate factors such as income, education, where you live, and your profession may contribute to your risk of developing unhealthy blood pressure.
Children in unsafe situations - Children exposed to harmful or unsafe situations are at a higher risk for high blood pressure.
Now while some of these risk factors may beyond your control, you can take measures to improve your blood pressure.
5 simple steps to maintain healthy blood pressure
If you suffer from high blood pressure, you can lower it by taking some simple steps. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making these 5 lifestyle changes can help lower your blood pressure into a healthy range. Of course, you should always speak with your health care professional first. But actions you might consider include:
Getting at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week (about 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week)
Avoiding smoking and vaping
Eating a healthy diet, including limiting sodium (salt) and alcohol
Keeping your weight healthy
To learn more about testing for high blood pressure, getting a health check at home or receiving some advice about adopting a healthier lifestyle, talk to your health care provider.