Blood Pressure Basics: Systolic & Diastolic Pressure
Blood pressure simply measures the force your blood vessels feel when your heart beats (and doesn’t beat), represented by two numbers—systolic and diastolic pressures. You see these as “110 over 75.”
- Systolic Blood Pressure: (The top number) is the pressure in your arteries while the heart is pumping blood.
- Diastolic Blood Pressure: (The bottom number) is the pressure in your arteries while your heart is filling between beats.
The first number (systolic pressure) measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart contracts and pumps blood throughout your body. Systolic pressure is basically your body’s “high water” mark. It’s when the soft flexible lining of your arteries endure the most force.
A “healthy” range for systolic pressure depends on a lot of factors like age, diet, and existing medical conditions (like diabetes), but generally, 95-120 is a healthy range for systolic pressure.
Hypertension doubles your risk for heart disease
The second number (diastolic pressure) is essentially “low tide” in your blood vessels. Diastolic pressure measures the force on your arteries while your heart is resting between beats. Again, this number differs from person to person, but 65-80 is a safe range for diastolic pressure.
What is Hypertension?
Hypertension is just a fancy word for high blood pressure. It means that either your systolic and/or diastolic blood pressure is “above normal.” So if your systolic pressure is over 130 or your diastolic pressure is over 80, you have hypertension.
In November 2017, the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and American Heart Association (AHS) lowered the bar for what they consider hypertension from 140/90 to 130/80.
Fun fact: Governing medical bodies don’t typically change how you diagnose a medical condition just for the heck of it.
The health risks of hypertension are so serious that the AHS and ACC expanded what they consider high blood pressure to detect and treat hypertension as soon as possible in high-risk patients. And it’s making an impact.
Recent research shows that lowering your blood pressure below these levels decreases your risk of heart attacks and all-cause mortality. That’s right—lowering your blood pressure has a direct impact on your life expectancy. In fact, a person with a systolic pressure of 135 has double the risk of heart disease as someone with a systolic pressure of 115. Same goes for a diastolic pressure of 85 instead of 75. 10 points might not seem like much, but every blood pressure increase has a big impact on your health.
Treating Hypertension with Lifestyle Changes
The four lifestyle changes that have been proven most effective to lower blood pressure are:
- Moderate Weight Loss: Losing at least 10 lbs. has been shown to significantly lower blood pressure.
- The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet: Eating a heart-healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy, and low in fat and saturated fat has been shown to lower blood pressure about as much as adding one blood pressure medication.
- Reducing Sodium & Alcohol: Reducing sodium, increasing potassium, and moderating alcohol intake (no more than two drinks daily for men and one drink a day for women) can reduce hypertension.
- Daily Exercise: As little as 90 minutes of endurance and resistance training every week has been shown to lower blood pressure. That’s about 15 minutes a day. But if that sounds daunting, start where you can and increase slowly over time. Every little bit helps.
Each of these steps alone has a modest effect on your blood pressure, but together the results are exponential. For example, losing 10 pounds with regular exercise and the DASH diet can be as effective as two blood pressure medications.
Geek Out: More Hypertension Resources
Not enough info for you? Geek out on blood pressure and hypertension with these studies and stats from the most trusted sources on the interwebs. And if you have any questions or you think we missed something important, leave a comment or book a consultation with me or one of these trained medical professionals and we’ll answer your questions and concerns in no time.
This information isn’t a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should never rely upon this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.