The Facts About High Blood Pressure
What is high blood pressure?
How your blood pressure and circulatory system work?
The damage starts in your arteries and heart
The primary way that high blood pressure causes harm is by increasing the workload of the heart and blood vessels — making them work harder and less efficiently.
Over time, the force and friction of high blood pressure damages the delicate tissues inside the arteries. In turn, LDL (bad) cholesterol forms plaque along tiny tears in the artery walls, signifying the start of atherosclerosis.
The more the plaque and damage increases, the narrower (smaller) the insides of the arteries become — raising blood pressure and starting a vicious circle that further harms your arteries, heart and the rest of your body. This can ultimately lead to other conditions ranging from arrhythmia to heart attack and stroke.
High blood pressure is a “silent killer”
You may not feel that anything is wrong, but high blood pressure could be quietly causing damage that can threaten your health. The best prevention is knowing your numbers and making changes that in order to prevent and manage high blood pressure.
What do your blood pressure numbers mean?
Healthy and unhealthy blood pressure ranges
Blood pressure categories
The five blood pressure ranges as recognized by the American Heart Association are:
Blood pressure numbers of less than 120/80 mm Hg are considered within the normal range. If your results fall into this category, stick with heart-healthy habits like following a balanced diet and getting regular exercise.
Elevated blood pressure is when readings consistently range from 120-129 systolic and less than 80 mm Hg diastolic. People with elevated blood pressure are likely to develop high blood pressure unless steps are taken to control the condition.
Hypertension Stage 1
Hypertension Stage 1 is when blood pressure consistently ranges from 130-139 systolic or 80-89 mm Hg diastolic. At this stage of high blood pressure, doctors are likely to prescribe lifestyle changes and may consider adding blood pressure medication based on your risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD), such as heart attack or stroke.
Hypertension Stage 2
Hypertension Stage 2 is when blood pressure consistently ranges at 140/90 mm Hg or higher. At this stage of high blood pressure, doctors are likely to prescribe a combination of blood pressure medications and lifestyle changes.
This stage of high blood pressure requires medical attention. If your blood pressure readings suddenly exceed 180/120 mm Hg, wait five minutes and then test your blood pressure again. If your readings are still unusually high, contact your doctor immediately. You could be experiencing a a hypertensive crisis, which is an emergency situation, and you should seek medical attention immediately.
If your blood pressure is higher than 180/120 mm Hg and you are experiencing signs of possible organ damage such as chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness/weakness, change in vision or difficulty speaking, do not wait to see if your pressure comes down on its own. Call 911.
Your blood pressure numbers and what they mean
Your blood pressure is recorded as two numbers:
- Systolic blood pressure (the first number) – indicates how much pressure your blood is
exerting against your artery walls when the heart beats.
- Diastolic blood pressure (the second number) – indicates how much pressure your
blood is exerting against your artery walls while the heart is resting between beats.
Which number is more important?
Typically, more attention is given to systolic blood pressure (the first number) as a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease for people over 50. In most people, systolic blood pressure rises steadily with age due to the increasing stiffness of large arteries, longterm buildup of plaque and an increased incidence of cardiac and vascular disease.
However, either an elevated systolic or an elevated diastolic blood pressure reading may be used to make a diagnosis of high blood pressure. According to recent studies, the risk of death from ischemic heart disease and stroke doubles with every 20 mm Hg systolic or 10 mm Hg diastolic increase among people from age 40 to 89.
Why blood pressure is measured in mm Hg
Taking your pulse versus checking your blood pressure
Blood Pressure vs. Heart Rate (Pulse)
Understanding the difference between blood pressure and pulse
While your blood pressure is the force of your blood moving through your blood vessels, your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute.
- They are two separate measurements and indicators of health.
- For people with high blood pressure (HBP or hypertension), there’s no substitute for
measuring blood pressure.
Heart rate and blood pressure do not necessarily increase at the same rate
A rising heart rate does not cause your blood pressure to increase at the same rate. Even though your heart is beating more times a minute, healthy blood vessels dilate (get larger) to allow more blood to flow through more easily. When you exercise, your heart speeds up so more blood can reach your muscles. It may be possible for your heart rate to double safely, while your blood pressure may respond by only increasing a modest amount.
Heart rate and exercise
- If you measure your heart rate (take your pulse) before, during and after physical activity, you’ll notice it will increase over the course of the exercise.
- The greater the intensity of the exercise, the more your heart rate will increase.
- When you stop exercising, your heart rate does not immediately return to your normal (resting) heart rate.
- The more fit you are, the sooner your heart rate will return to normal.
Know Your Target Heart Rates for Exercise, Losing Weight and Health
What should your heart rate be when working out, and how can you keep track of it? Our simple chart will help keep you in the target training zone, whether you want to lose weight or just maximize your workout. Find out what normal resting and maximum heart rates are for your age and how exercise intensity and other factors affect heart rate.
How do you get your heart rate in the target zone?
When you work out, are you doing too much or not enough? There’s a simple way to know: Your target heart rate helps you hit the bullseye so you can get max benefit from every step, swing and squat. Even if you’re not a gym rat or elite athlete, knowing your heart rate (or pulse) can help you track your health and fitness level.
First Things First: Resting Heart Rate
Your resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute when you’re at rest. A good time to check it is in the morning after you’ve had a good night’s sleep, before you get out of bed or grab that first cup of java!
For most of us, between 60 and 100 beats per minute (bpm) is normal. The rate can be affected by factors like stress, anxiety, hormones, medication, and how physically active you are. An athlete or more active person may have a resting heart rate as low as 40 beats per minute. Now that’s chill!
When it comes to resting heart rate, lower is better. It usually means your heart muscle is in better condition and doesn’t have to work as hard to maintain a steady beat. Studies have found that a higher resting heart rate is linked with lower physical fitness and higher blood pressure and body weight.
Know Your Numbers: Maximum and Target Heart Rate
This table shows target heart rate zones for different ages. Your maximum heart rate is about 220 minus your age.
In the age category closest to yours, read across to find your target heart rates. Target heart rate during moderate intensity activities is about 50-70% of maximum heart rate, while during vigorous physical activity it’s about 70-85% of maximum.
The figures are averages, so use them as a general guide.
Hit the Target: Find Your Heart Rate
Now that you have a target, you can monitor your heart rate to make sure you’re in the zone. As you exercise, periodically check your heart rate. A wearable activity tracker makes it super easy, but if you don’t use one you can also find it manually:
- Take your pulse on the inside of your wrist, on the thumb side.
- Use the tips of your first two fingers (not your thumb) and press lightly over the artery.
- Count your pulse for 30 seconds and multiply by 2 to find your beats per minute.
Important Note: Some drugs and medications affect heart rate, meaning you may have a lower maximum heart rate and target zone. If you have a heart condition or take medication, ask your healthcare provider what your heart rate should be.
So what’s in a number?
If your heart rate is too high, you’re straining. Slow your roll! If it’s too low, and the intensity feels “light” to “moderate,” you may want to push yourself to exercise a little harder, especially if you’re trying to lose weight.
If you’re just starting out, aim for the lower range of your target zone (50 percent) and gradually build up. In time, you’ll be able to exercise comfortably at up to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. Woo hoo!