High Blood Pressure: Understanding the Numbers
Blood pressure plays a big role when it comes to good health, but many people take their annual reading for granted. A set of numbers deemed "normal" is often enough to calm the mind until next year's checkup. Learning more about the meaning behind the numbers helps empower people and prevent high blood pressure.
Blood Pressure Defined
As the heart beats, it pumps blood into the blood vessels to carry oxygen to various parts of the body. Blood pressure is the force exerted by the pumped blood against vessel walls. When the heart beats, blood pressure rises, and when the heart rests between beats, blood pressure falls.
Systolic and Diastolic Pressure
A blood pressure reading is a set of two numbers, with one over the other like a fraction. Referred to as systolic blood pressure, the top number measures the pressure of blood when the heart beats (or contracts). Known as diastolic blood pressure, the bottom number measures the pressure of blood in between heart beats.
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Healthy Blood Pressure Numbers
According to the American Heart Association, a normal measurement of blood pressure should show a reading with a top number between 90 and 120 and a bottom number between 60 and 80. Numbers that are higher than the normal range suggest the heart is working too hard, which can impact health in a number of ways. Numbers that are too low mean the heart and body may not be receiving enough oxygenated blood. High blood pressure is also known as hypertension, and lower-than-normal blood pressure is referred to as hypotension.
High Blood Pressure Symptoms
Because high blood pressure is essentially a condition without symptoms, it is often referred to as the "silent killer." When blood pressure reaches emergency levels, symptoms may include:
- A very high reading
- Severe headache
- Severe anxiety
Lifestyle Practices for Reducing Blood Pressure
People with pre-hypertension (120/80 to 140/90) can benefit from lifestyle changes that help to reduce blood pressure. People with higher readings may require medication, but these practices are still beneficial to people with any blood pressure reading.
Get more exercise: Consistent exercise is more helpful to blood pressure that sporadic exercise. In other words, shoot for 30 minutes of exercise every day in lieu of hours at the gym on weekends.
Reduce sodium intake: Season foods with herbs and spices instead of salt, and steer clear of fast foods and processed foods often packed with sodium. Adults with normal blood pressure should aim for 2,300 mg of sodium per day or less. Adults with high blood pressure should limit daily sodium intake to 1,500 mg.
Maintain a healthy body weight: Research shows that for overweight individuals, a loss of even five to ten pounds can help lower blood pressure.
Limit alcohol intake: Having more than three drinks at one time can raise blood pressure temporarily, and repeated heavy drinking can result in long-term high blood pressure.
Manage stress: Stress can cause the heart to beat faster and blood vessels to narrow, which raises blood pressure temporarily. Manage stress levels with exercise, meditation, yoga, a warm bath or soft music.
Don't smoke. Nicotine in cigarettes narrows arteries, raising heart rate and blood pressure. To protect lung health and promote healthy blood pressure, smokers should consult with their doctor about making a plan to quit.