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Why knowing your blood pressure is critical to your health

February 10, 2022

When nurses or doctors take your blood pressure, they are checking one of the most important signs of your health. Having high blood pressure can lead to serious health problems if not treated, including damage to the heart and arteries, and is a leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

Many people have high blood pressure and don’t know it. There are usually no symptoms. You may have heard that people with high blood pressure are nervous or feel tense. But that’s not true. You can have high blood pressure and feel calm and relaxed.

That’s why it’s so important to have your blood pressure checked at least once a year. Write down the results so you can compare them at your next checkup. Ask your doctor what your blood pressure should be. Your doctor may prescribe some medication or suggest lifestyle changes.

The National Institutes of Health defines normal blood pressure for most adults as a systolic pressure (caused by your heart contracting and pushing out blood) of less than 120 and a diastolic pressure (when your heart relaxes and fills with blood) of less than 80. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is defined as 130 or higher for the first number, or 80 or higher for the second number.

Unfortunately, only about one in four adults (24 percent) with hypertension have their condition under control, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If your numbers suggest you have high blood pressure or that you’re “on the high end of normal,” there are many things you can do to help lower your blood pressure. Even if you aren’t at risk for high blood pressure, these steps will help you stay well.

Stay at a healthy weight. Being overweight puts a strain on your heart. Talk to your doctor about what your target weight should be, and understand what is the best way to achieve it.

Eat good foods. A diet that is low in saturated fat and sodium and high in fiber is good for your heart. Go online or to the library to find out about the DASH diet, which can lower blood pressure. Snack on fruits and vegetables, and limit added sugars.

Be active. Exercise is good for your whole body, and it really helps control blood pressure. Try to be active for 30 minutes a day, but start gradually if that’s too much at first. Take a brisk walk or use the stairs. Every bit of movement helps.

February is American Heart Month and a good reminder to take steps to improve your heart health. Understanding your blood pressure levels and making healthy lifestyle changes, even small ones, can make a major difference.