High blood pressure, also called hypertension, doesn’t usually have any symptoms associated with it. Most people who have it don’t know it – about one in three adults in the U.S. have high blood pressure.
If you think you’re healthy, it’s still important to get your blood pressure checked. Knowing your numbers can help you stay healthy or alert you when it’s time to work with your doctor to lower them.
You should start getting your blood pressure checked by the time you’re 18, and if it’s normal, at least every two years thereafter. If your blood pressure is high, you have other health conditions, or are a woman over the age of 65; you may need to get it checked more frequently.
What do the numbers mean? The first number is the systolic number. It’s found by measuring the pressure created on your arteries when your heart beats. The second number is the diastolic number. It’s created by measuring the pressure in your arteries in between heart beats. The unit measure for blood pressure is mmHG (millimeters of mercury).
Below is a chart from the American Heart Association (AHA) showing normal, at-risk, and high blood pressure levels.
It’s important to point out that one high blood pressure reading doesn’t necessarily mean you have high blood pressure. If your numbers remain high over a period of time, it’s important to work with your doctor to lower them.
High blood pressure can lead to serious health problems. The most common are heart attacks or strokes. It can also lead to other illnesses like heart and kidney failure, blindness, poor mental function, and erectile dysfunction in men.
Preventing serious health conditions is easier than trying to manage or treat them. The lifestyle improvements below can help you or anyone in your family achieve or maintain a normal blood pressure. If these methods don’t work, you might need medication along with the lifestyle changes.
1. Maintain a healthy diet
Fruit and vegetables and other foods low in sodium and rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium can improve blood pressure. Aim to eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables each day.
The DASH diet is an eating plan that can benefit people who need to lower their blood pressure. The Mediterranean diet also works, but DASH has an edge for high blood pressure because it concentrates on low-sodium eating.
2. Lose weight and inches around your waist
Eating better will also help you get your weight and waistline in a healthy range. A 5-10 pound weight loss can make a difference in your blood pressure, especially in people with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or more. Calculate your BMI here.
If you’re not overweight, having a big belly can put you at risk of high blood pressure. Men should aim to have a waistline measure of less than 40 inches, and women less than 35 inches.
3. Exercise regularly
Exercise at least five days a week for 30 minutes or more. Regular exercise can make your heart stronger. A stronger heart can pump blood throughout your body easier, resulting in less force on your arteries, and lower blood pressure.
If you’re not exercising enough right now, get going. Good activities include brisk walking, jogging, swimming, biking, or any other workout you enjoy that gets your heart pumping. If you’re out of shape or need help getting started, you might find this article from our blog helpful.
4. Stop smoking
While you’re smoking and temporarily after you’ve stopped, your blood pressure goes up. Smoking can also cause damage to your arteries, making them hard and narrow. This can increase your blood pressure. Secondhand smoke can also increase your blood pressure.
Quitting smoking isn’t easy. If you need help, smokefree.gov is a good resource.
5. Cut out the salt (sodium)
Americans should consume less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day, as that amount has the greatest effect on blood pressure, says the AHA. (Note: This recommendation does not apply to people who lose a lot of sodium in sweat, like athletes, or people with specific instructions from their doctor.)
Reducing your sodium intake doesn’t have any downsides. In fact, evidence suggests that reducing salt can lower almost anyone’s blood pressure.
If you want to learn more about your high-blood-pressure-related risks, this calculator from the AHA can help you.