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Let's Run the Numbers on Blood Pressure

We’re walking our 10,000 steps a day and we’ve embraced a Mediterranean-inspired diet. What’s next?

Now that we’re halfway through the year, it’s time to measure our successes…or for you late starters, it’s time to finally get started! 

When it comes to “measuring” our health, there are different health numbers or markers we should be looking to achieve. Markers can be measured easily and should be, in support of your overall health and wellbeing throughout the year. If you haven’t seen your primary care physician (PCP) yet, consider this a gentle reminder to have your annual wellness visit. You’ll be happy to note, many insurance plans do not require a deductible for an annual wellness visit with your PCP.

Let’s start with a blood pressure reading for a simple-to-measure set of numbers that have been proven over time to help predict future health outcomes. 

Blood pressure consists of two significant numbers: “systolic” (the top number measuring the pressure inside your arteries when your heart beats) and “diastolic” (the bottom number indicating the pressure between beats). On a positive note, these numbers are easy to obtain, and if higher than they should be, they can be managed with healthy eating and exercise or medications. Many of the medications used to treat elevated blood pressure are generic and have been safely prescribed and used for many years.

According to 2019 blood pressure guidelines, the recommendation for normal blood pressure is 120/80 or less. This is a significant change from the previous year’s “normal” standard which was considered under 140/90. These changes came amid large bodies of evidence that have demonstrated a very clear link between elevated blood pressure and heart attack and stroke. A 20-point elevated systolic reading is associated with double the risk of death from heart attack or stroke. This is a simple number to obtain, track and treat!

With normal blood pressure under 120/80, “elevated” blood pressure is anything over 120-129 systolic. Readings should be taken after sitting still and quiet for 10 minutes and at least twice on two different occasions. Many pharmacies have blood pressure cuff machines (called sphygmomanometers) readily available, as does your PCP. Your local fire department will often check blood pressure free of charge—making for a true community event! New guidelines also encourage at home blood pressure monitoring.

For systolic pressure between 120-129, medication is not frequently prescribed. However, there is ample evidence to support a diet high in fruits and vegetables, decreasing salt intake and losing weight can bring a person’s blood pressure within the recommended range. Limiting alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women is also suggested.

By simply changing your diet, increasing exercise and adopting a healthy lifestyle, it is possible to decrease your systolic pressure by 11 to 15 points and significantly reduce your chances of having a heart attack or stroke.

Always consult with your PCP to discuss the best course of action for your particular situation. Keep in mind, blood pressure guidelines have significantly changed over the last two years. A blood pressure reading is painless and easy, not to mention, treating high blood pressure is something medical professionals are highly trained to do well.

Next blog, let’s have a bittersweet conversation about sugar.