Heart of the Matter
Managing your blood pressure is a key component of a healthy heart.
In 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that nearly half of adults in the United States (47%) have hypertension, defined as a systolic blood pressure greater than 130 millimeter of mercury (mmHg) or a diastolic blood pressure greater than 80 mmHg (or are taking medication for hypertension). Having hypertension puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke, which are leading causes of death in the United States. Here are some best practices for managing your blood pressure and staying heart-healthy.
Step 1: Understand Your Readings
The first step to managing blood pressure is to understand what the levels mean and what is considered normal, elevated, and high blood pressure (hypertension). Blood pressure is typically recorded as two numbers: 117/76. These numbers are read as “117 over 76 millimeters of mercury” and represent two factors:
Systolic: The top number, the higher of the two numbers, measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats (when the heart muscle contracts).
Diastolic: The bottom number, the lower of the two numbers, measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart is resting between heartbeats.
Step 2: Be Aware of the Blood Pressure Categories1
Blood pressure readings fall into four categories:
- Normal: systolic less than 120 mmHg and diastolic less than 80 mmHg.
- Elevated Blood Pressure: diastolic 120 to 129 mmHg and diastolic less than 80 mmHg.
- High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) Stage 1: systolic 130 to 139 mmHg or diastolic 80 to 89 mmHg.
- High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) Stage 2: systolic 140 or higher mmHg or diastolic 90 or higher mmHg.
Health care providers can take your blood pressure readings and provide recommendations. In addition, there are several at-home blood pressure monitors available that you can use to track your blood pressure on a consistent basis.
Step 3: Do Your Part to Stay Heart-Healthy
Eat Smart: Eat a healthy diet of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, plant-based proteins, lean animal proteins and fish. Limit sodium, saturated fats and added sugars. Limit sugary foods and drinks, fatty or processed meats, salty foods, refined carbohydrates, and highly processed foods.
Move More: Physical activity helps control blood pressure, weight, and stress levels.
Manage Weight: If you’re overweight, even a slight weight loss can reduce high blood pressure.
Don’t Smoke: Every time you smoke, vape, or use tobacco, the nicotine can cause a temporary increase in blood pressure.
Sleep Well: Short sleep (less than 6 hours) and poor-quality sleep are associated with high blood pressure.
1Guidelines first published in 2017 by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association.
Sources: American Heart Association; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
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