The Importance of Knowing Your Numbers


Chances are if you have been to the doctor recently, you’ve had your blood pressure taken. After removing the Velcro cuff from your arm, the nurse will tell you two numbers before jotting them down. Regardless of how familiar this process is to most Americans, many of us do not understand what those numbers mean to our overall health.

Put simply, blood pressure (BP) is the pressure exerted by circulating blood upon the walls of the blood vessels. During each heartbeat, BP varies between maximum and minimum pressure. For this reason, a BP reading consists of two numbers: the higher one is the systolic (or maximum) pressure and the lower one is the diastolic (or minimum) pressure.

Blood pressure is considered to be high if the higher number exceeds 140 or the lower number exceeds 90. Generally, a lower reading is better. As you get older, your BP is likely to go up because blood vessels become stiffer with each passing year. High blood pressure – also called hypertension – increases your chance of having a stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney disease, and sometimes early death.

There are no symptoms of high blood pressure, but early detection is absolutely crucial because high blood pressure can be effectively treated. Since 1984, May has been proclaimed as National Blood Pressure Awareness Month, with the official motto of this initiative being, “know your numbers.” More than one out of every 10 Americans has high BP, and many do not even know it, making it a uniquely silent disease.

Being overweight and out of shape increases the risk of high BP. Other factors affecting blood pressure include:

  • Your level of stress or anxiety.
  • The amount of salt in your diet.
  • A family history of high blood pressure.
  • If you smoke.
  • If you have diabetes.

The most effective way to prevent and treat high blood pressure is a healthy diet and regular physical activity. A good rule of thumb is the higher your weight, the higher your blood pressure is likely to be. Decreasing the salt, fat, and cholesterol in your diet and increasing the potassium and calcium in your diet helps to lower blood pressure and decrease your risk of heart disease.

So, what are your numbers?

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