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High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is probably something you’ve heard over and over again to be on the lookout for. But what exactly is high blood pressure? What does it mean to have it? How bad is it, really? All these questions and more are probably things you’ve asked yourself. It’s important to keep in mind that high blood pressure is one of the “silent killers”, and is a very common health problem in older adults.

Simply speaking, your blood pressure is the force that your blood exerts against your arteries when being pumped throughout your body. When your blood pressure is measured, it comes back as two numbers. The first number is your systolic pressure, which is the pressure exerted when your heart is contracting, actively pumping blood. The second number, diastolic pressure, is when your heart is at rest. Blood pressure is denoted as the systolic number separated from the diastolic by a slash, usually read out as systolic “over” diastolic. Normal blood pressure is defined as a systolic pressure of 120 or less, and a diastolic pressure of 80 or less.

Regular visits to your doctor are important for a number of reasons, one of which being that you’ll get regular measurements of your blood pressure. Since you can have high blood pressure for a long period of time before feeling any adverse effects from it, routine checks can pick up a rise in blood pressure early, before it becomes dangerous and harmful. If your blood pressure reads as high at one or more checkups, your doctor may ask you to check it at home, several times a day during different activities. If your blood pressure is high while you’re relaxing, your doctor may suggest medication, changes to diet, or lifestyle as treatment.

For older adults, often only the first number, the systolic pressure, will be high, while the diastolic remains at or about the normal range. This is caused by age-related stiffening of the arteries, and is known as isolated systolic hypertension. Isolated systolic hypertension can lead to a number of health problems, from light-headedness, to kidney failure. If your doctor diagnoses you with it, ask how you can lower it.

If your blood pressure reads as lower than 90/60, you have low blood pressure, or hypotension. This can be caused by a number of factors, such as medication, dehydration, some health conditions, or blood loss.

There are many lifestyle changes and adjustments you can make to help control your blood pressure. While there are some risk factors that can’t be controlled, such as age, gender, or family history, there are a number that you can. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight are the biggest adjustments you can make. Just 150 minutes of exercise per week significantly lowers your risk of high blood pressure. That’s less than 25 minutes of exercise per day, each week. A diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole-grains and fiber will also lower blood pressure. Smoking, in addition to all the risks of cancer and other diseases, raises blood pressure as well.