Blood pressure is the force exerted against your artery walls. A blood pressure reading is comprised of two numbers. The top number is the systolic pressure, which represents the force against artery walls when the heart beats and sends blood throughout the body. The bottom number is the diastolic pressure, which is the force against artery walls in between heart beats, or another way to state this, when the heart is at rest and filling with blood.
A normal blood pressure reading is less than 120 (top number) and less than 80 (bottom number). Prehypertension, meaning you are at risk for high blood pressure, is a range between 120-139 and 80-89. High blood pressure is a reading greater than 140 and 90.
What causes high blood pressure?
Many factors can influence the development of high blood pressure. The following are some factors that increase your risk:
- Being overweight
- Having a family history of high blood pressure
- African American
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Being inactive
- High stress levels
- Using tobacco
- Consuming too much sodium
- Consuming too little potassium
These factors can lead to a narrowing of the arteries which forces the heart to "pump harder" to send blood throughout the body, or can lead to the heart pumping faster and more forcefully"all of which equals an elevated blood pressure.
How to lower high blood pressure?
High blood pressure can successfully be impacted by diet and lifestyle changes.
- Reduce your intake of sodium (aim for 2300 milligrams or less/day)
- Lose weight (check your BMI here to see if you need to lose)
- Increase your physical activity (ChooseMyPlate.gov currently recommends 2.5 hours of moderate activity each week along with strength training activities 2 days per week)
- Decrease your alcohol intake (limit to one or two drinks/day or less)
- Stop smoking (cease all tobacco use)
The DASH Diet is a very effective diet to implement. This diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, includes low-fat dairy, and is reduced in total and saturated fat.
What about blood pressure medication?
Depending on your health history, you may need medication for a period of time"or even long term. Work with your doctor to monitor your blood pressure and determine appropriate treatment. Discuss any diet and lifestyle changes with your doctor. If your goal is to eliminate medication, discuss with your doctor so you can work together accordingly.
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Lisa Nelson RD, a registered dietitian since 1999, provides clients step-by-step guidance to lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure, so they can live life and enjoy their family for years to come. Because her own health is the foundation of her expertise, you can trust that Lisa will make it truly possible for you to see dramatic changes in your health, without unrealistic fads or impossibly difficult techniques. She can be found on Twitter @lisanelsonrd and Facebook at hearthealthmadeeasy.