Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the walls of the arteries. Blood pressure is highest when the heart contracts (while it is pumping blood). This is called systolic pressure. When the heart is at rest (between beats) blood pressure is lower. This is called diastolic pressure. Blood pressure is always given in these two numbers. The systolic measurement is on top, and the diastolic is on the bottom (i.e. 120/80). Both numbers are equally important.
What is High Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure changes during the day. It is lowest when a person is asleep and rises when a person gets up. Most of the time, it stays about the same or within a range. If the blood pressure rises and stays above the recommended levels, a person may have high blood pressure.
Why is High Blood Pressure Important?
High blood pressure, if not controlled, increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease in a person.
How is High Blood Pressure Diagnosed?
Since high blood pressure does not generally have any symptoms, the only way to diagnose high blood pressure is to get it tested at the doctor’s office.
Blood Pressure Classifications
There are several categories of blood pressure. The following table shows the categories for adults 18 and older.
|Optimal Blood Pressure||less than 120||less than 80|
|Stage 1 Hypertension||140-159||90-99|
|Stage 2 Hypertension||160 or greater||100 or greater|
For more information on hypertension visit the links below
- The Facts About High Blood Pressure (PDF)
- National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
- Hypertension Fast Stats
- American Society of Hypertension
- American Heart Association
How to Control High Blood Pressure
Life Style Modifications
Life style modifications include things that a person can do on their own such as:
- Being physically active
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Choosing and eating foods low in sodium or salt
- Following the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Eating Plan
These include a variety of medications such as Diuretics, Adrenergic Blockers, Calcium Channel Blockers, ACE & ARBS, Vascular Dilators, and Central Adrenergic Agonists.
Learn more about blood pressure medications
It is important to continue taking the medications in order for them to work. If a problem arises it is important to consult a physician before making any changes.
- Make Control Your Goal Infographic
- Blood Pressure Tracker: Instructions, Tracker, Wallet Card (PDF)
- Live a Heart-Healthy Life Handout (PDF)
- American Heart Association: www.heart.org
- National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: www.nhlbi.nih.gov/hbp/index.html
How Being More Active Can Lower Your Blood Pressure
Physical activity makes your heart stronger over time. A stronger heart can pump more blood with less effort. And the less your heart has to work, the less force or pressure is put on your arteries. Physical activity can have the same effect on your blood pressure levels as medication. Becoming more active can lower your blood pressure by an average of 10 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). For some people, that's enough to reduce the need for blood pressure medication. Physical activity also helps you maintain a healthy weight, which is another way to control blood pressure.
To reap the rewards of being active, try to make it a habit. It takes about one to three months for regular exercise to have a stabilizing effect on blood pressure. The benefits last only as long as you continue to exercise. Remember that aerobic activity will help you control high blood pressure. Simply adding moderate physical activities to your daily routine will help as well.
How Can You Get Moving?
Getting enough activity in your life can be easy. Look for ways to fit regular activity into your day that are fun for you and help you meet the recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity. If you are just starting, don't try to do it all at once. Getting some kind of activity every day will help you start smart and allow you to improve your health a step at a time.
Those with high blood pressure should remember to start slowly when beginning an exercise program. Warm up and cool down properly and gradually build the intensity of your workouts. Make sure you have your doctor's “OK” before doing strength training or other resistance exercises as some of these may actually increase your blood pressure.
Stop exercising and seek immediate medical care if you experience any warning signs during exercise, including:
- Chest pain or tightness
- Dizziness or faintness
- Pain in an arm or your jaw
- Severe shortness of breath
- An irregular heartbeat
- Excessive fatigue
*Adapted from the Mayo Clinic
DASH Eating Plan
The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) clinical study by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute showed how elevated blood pressure levels can be reduced with an eating plan low in total fat, saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol; and rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products. From this research, the DASH Eating Plan was born.
This is also an eating plan that can help you maintain or lose weight. Although the DASH Eating Plan was originally designed to control blood pressure rather than weight, with a few modifications, your weight goals will be a step or two away. Because fruits and vegetables are naturally lower in fat and calories than your common snack items, they really can fill you up without giving you those unwanted extra calories.
Download the free DASH Eating Plan Booklet (PDF).
The Department of Health and Human Services has a DASH Eating Plan (PDF) as well.
Blood Pressure and Sodium
We all need some salt, also known as sodium, to keep our bodies working. But how much salt is healthy? Research finds that 1,500 mg (or about 2/3 tsp) of salt each day is healthy for people who:
- have high blood pressure
- are over 51
- are African American
- have diabetes
- have chronic kidney disease
For everyone else, 2,300 mg of salt each day or less is healthy.
Where does the salt in our diet come from?
Most of the salt we eat is from processed/prepared foods and restaurant foods. Only a small amount of salt comes from cooking or adding salt at the table. The salt we eat comes from:
- 77% processed and prepared foods (such as restaurant foods, frozen meals, and food out of a box such as cereal, chips, sauces, crackers, etc.)
- 12% naturally found in food
- 6% added while eating (from the salt shaker)
- 5% added while cooking
Salt and High Blood Pressure
Too much salt raises blood pressure. High blood pressure puts you at risk for heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke. Heart disease and stroke are the first and third leading causes of death. Eating less salt and lowering your blood pressure can also prevent high blood pressure later in life,
even if you don’t have high blood pressure now.
- Sodium: Tracking Down the Salt in Foods Infographic
- Change Your Salty Ways in Only 21 Days (PDF) with this helpful handout from the American Heart Association.
- Find tips on eating less salt at restaurants and at home in our Sodium and You (PDF) handout.
- Learn about the hidden sources of salt in the diet and what you can do about it in CDC's new fact sheet, Shocking Salt-tistics (PDF).
Watch Salt Matters: Preserving Choice, Protecting Health to learn how to make healthy food choices while lowering salt intake.