Staying Fit: National High Blood Pressure Education

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What Is Blood Pressure?

As blood pushes against artery walls, it creates a force. This force is your blood pressure. Blood pressure is measured with two numbers: the systolic and diastolic blood pressures. The systolic number represents the pressure that occurs as your heart contracts and pushes the blood out into the body. The diastolic number represents the relaxation of the heart as it refills with blood. The systolic number is given on top of the diastolic number, as in “120/80,” which is said as “120 over 80.” A blood pressure reading for an adult is within normal parameters as long as the systolic number is less than 120 and the diastolic number is less than 80.

Recognizing High Blood Pressure

Regular blood pressure readings are part of routine health maintenance. Having your blood pressure taken regularly will enable your physician to detect any changes quickly. Your blood pressure might begin trending higher without you noticing any physical changes. If you have elevated blood pressure readings at two or more appointments, your physician might begin having you take your own blood pressure regularly at various times of the day. If your blood pressure remains elevated, even during times of relaxation, your doctor will likely recommend lifestyle changes. You’ll be urged to make dietary changes and to start exercising. Your doctor might also prescribe medication.

High Blood Pressure for Older Adults

The American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology have defined high blood pressure, or hypertension, as having a systolic number of 130 or higher and a diastolic number of 80 or higher. Adults who fit this criteria will need to weigh the pros and cons of beginning treatment for high blood pressure, which also includes assessing overall fitness and any other health conditions. A physician will carefully weigh all factors before recommending a treatment plan.

High Systolic Blood Pressure

Older people may have just the systolic number above 130 but the diastolic number less than 80. This situation is known as isolated systolic hypertension, and it happens because the major arteries become stiff with age. This can cause serious health issues, including heart disease, stroke, shortness of breath, and dizziness. Physicians treat isolated systolic hypertension with the same protocols as standard hypertension, but more than one type of medication may be warranted.

Low Blood Pressure

Some people have issues with low blood pressure, which is defined as blood pressure lower than 90/60. Low blood pressure is also called hypotension. With hypotension, you might feel dizzy, lightheaded, weak, and faint. This can happen due to dehydration, blood loss, or taking too much blood pressure medication or in conjunction with certain medical issues.

High Blood Pressure Risks

High blood pressure can happen to anyone, but some people are more susceptible than others. Hypertension is more common for older people, and it also runs in some families. If hypertension sets in before age 55, men are more likely to be affected. For women, high blood pressure may become a problem after menopause. African-Americans also have a higher incidence of high blood pressure.

Controlling High Blood Pressure

Even people who lead healthy lifestyles can have problems with high blood pressure. Making lifestyle changes is often effective for managing the disease. Some recommended lifestyle modifications include:

  • Watch Your Weight: Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of high blood pressure.
  • Get Regular Exercise: Daily moderate exercise is an important way to decrease the risk of high blood pressure. Bicycling is an ideal type of exercise because it isn’t load-bearing, so you won’t cause stress to your knees and ankles. Bicycling can also be effective for helping to lower high blood pressure. Set a goal to exercise for at least 30 minutes every day. If you’ve been sedentary, check with your physician before you begin an exercise regimen.
  • Eat a Healthy Diet: Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables every day. Incorporate whole grains and lowfat dairy products into your daily diet to help decrease your blood pressure.
  • Reduce Salt Intake: Salt intake has a direct correlation with high blood pressure, especially as people age. Processed foods tend to be high in sodium, so avoiding these foods can be helpful. A physician might recommend a low-sodium diet.
  • Reduce Alcohol Intake: Alcohol consumption can lead to higher blood pressure. Optimally, men should not consume more than two drinks per day and women should not consume more than one drink per day.
  • Avoid Smoking: Smoking cigarettes contributes to high blood pressure as well as the risk of stroke, heart disease, and other health issues. Quitting smoking is always beneficial regardless of your age.
  • Get Enough Sleep: Getting sufficient sleep every night is crucial. If you snore or experience sleep apnea, address these issues, as they may contribute to high blood pressure.
  • Manage Stress Levels: If your work or personal lives cause stress, use relaxation or other coping techniques to reduce it.

Facts About High Blood Pressure

  • Although you may not feel sick when you have high blood pressure, it is a serious illness that demands treatment.
  • Changing daily habits is often helpful for controlling blood pressure.
  • Even if you need to resort to medication, you may be able to lower your dosage if you institute lifestyle changes.
  • Always inform your physician of all medications you are taking, including over-the-counter medicines, supplements, and vitamins, as these medicines may affect your blood pressure or how blood pressure medicines work in your body.
  • Once you have a diagnosis of high blood pressure, it’s important to have regular evaluations by your physician to ensure the best overall health.

If you have to take your blood pressure at home, ask for a recommendation of the best monitor for your needs. Get guidance for using the monitor, and have it checked at your doctor’s office to ensure that it’s accurate.

  • Don’t ingest caffeine, smoke, or exercise for 30 minutes prior to checking your blood pressure.
  • Sit with your feet flat on the floor and your back resting against the back of a chair when taking your blood pressure. Relax for about five minutes before you take the reading.
  • Record your blood pressure readings, the time you take each reading, and when you take your blood pressure medication. Show your data to your physician.

About the National High Blood Pressure Education Program

Dating back to 1972, the National High Blood Pressure Education Program is dedicated to reducing the negative impacts of high blood pressure. The NHBPEP involves state health departments, professional health agencies, voluntary agencies, and various community groups. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute serves as the administration and coordinating entity behind the NHBPEP, as it offers educational resources for the public as well as for professionals.

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