On Sunday after dinner while my family was hanging around playing games my dad busted out his most recent purchase...a portable blood pressure cuff. We spent the next thirty minutes testing our blood pressure levels and talking about health and such. Things get crazy with my family...I'm telling you.
Good news...my blood pressure was rockin'.
So what does that even mean? Most people can tell you that "normal" blood pressure is 120/80, but they usually don't have much else to say about it; except of course that they're pretty sure high blood pressure is bad. Both things are true, but hopefully I can help you understand why.
Your blood pressure is measured in two numbers. The top number is the systolic pressure, meaning the measurement of the pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts. The bottom number is the diastolic pressure. It is the measurement of the pressure in the heart when it is relaxed and filling with blood. This blood pressure reading can change with different variables. Stress, exercise, and sleep are some of those variables. Adults over age 20 want their blood pressure to read around 120/80.
This is all fine and great...but what does it all mean? Well, think of it this way; your blood pressure is the amount of force that your blood is exerting on your blood vessel walls as it passes through. For those who have high blood pressure, extreme force on the vessel walls can eventually cause damage to your heart and other organs of your body. It can accelerate the rate at which plaque on arterial walls can build up which can lead to heart disease and can be lethal. High blood pressure is the cause of heart attacks, strokes, coronary artery disease, and congestive heart failure. Not only does the force of the blood pressure cause damage to your heart, but it forces it to work harder to keep up with the pressure. This can strain your heart over time.
High blood pressure can also cause damage to your kidneys, bones (high blood pressure can leach calcium from your bones causing Osteoporosis), extremities (due to poor circulation), eyes, brain, and sexual drive.
You can lower your blood pressure by losing weight, exercising regularly, decreasing your sodium intake, quitting smoking, decreasing your cholesterol levels, cutting out alcohol from your diet, decreasing your stress, and increasing your calcium and potassium intake. Those who have high blood pressure often times also have diabetes, both of which can be controlled by the aforementioned list.
So, remember when you were a kid and you used to go to the store with mom just so you could play on the blood pressure reader, and because you got to pick out a treat of course...find that blood pressure reader again and have a seat. Check out your levels and determine if you are putting yourself at risk for heart disease, among other things.
Do you know what your blood pressure reading is? If you have been to the doctor recently you can even give them a call and have them tell you what your reading is. One in three individuals in the United States has high blood pressure. Yikes. Do your family members know their blood pressure levels? If you are worried about individuals in your family, have them go test their levels as well. This is a great way to help them realize they are at risk of disease and get them on the path to good health!!