Understanding your blood pressure

November 17, 2021

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
  • Managing stress

To learn more about how to lower your blood pressure, read our quick tips here.

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