Your blood pressure is the force of your blood pressing against the walls of your arteries. Each time your heart beats, it pumps out blood into the arteries. Your blood pressure is highest when your heart beats, pumping the blood. This is called systolic pressure. When your heart is at rest, between beats, your blood pressure falls. This is called diastolic pressure.
Your blood pressure reading uses these two numbers. Usually, the systolic number is written on top of the diastolic number. For example, 120/80 (pronounced "120 over 80") means you have a systolic pressure of 120 and a diastolic pressure of 80.
High blood pressure is when your systolic pressure is 140 or higher, or your diastolic pressure is 90 or higher, or both. But there are other important numbers. Your blood pressure changes all the time, and what's normal for you may be high for someone else. That's why your doctor will also look at your blood pressure over time. If your blood pressure stays high over time, it can damage your blood vessels. This damage can lead to a heart attack, stroke, or kidney failure.
If your blood pressure is elevated, you don't have to wait for your doctor's OK to start trying to lower it. In many cases, making lifestyle changes is all you need to do. These changes include eating a healthier diet, exercising, managing stress, and quitting smoking. If your blood pressure remains high after a few weeks, though, you may need medication.
Diet. Cutting back on sodium is one of the best things you can do to lower your blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends that everyone consume no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day, However, if you have high blood pressure, you should aim for 1,500 mg of sodium or less per day. You can find the sodium content of foods by looking at the nutrition label. In addition to reducing sodium, eat a heart-healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The DASH diet is one eating plan that has been shown to lower blood pressure.
Exercise. Exercise is great for your heart health, whether you have high blood pressure or not. Getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week is a good goal. You can break this up into 30 minutes a day, five days a week. If you can't commit to that much exercise, even small amounts can help. Just a 10-minute walk can lower your blood pressure for a short time.
Stress management. Chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure. To help manage stress, try relaxation techniques such asDeep breathing Mindfulness meditation Progressive muscle relaxation Yoga.
Smoking. Smoking cigarettes is one of the worst things you can do for your blood pressure. If you smoke, quitting is essential for lowering your blood pressure. Quitting smoking can be hard, but there are many resources available to help you. Your doctor can refer you to a smoking cessation program. There are also many over-the-counter and prescription medications that can help with nicotine withdrawal.
Medication. If making lifestyle changes doesn't lower your blood pressure after a few weeks, your doctor may prescribe medication. There are many types of blood pressure medications, and the best one for you depends on your health and other factors. Some people need to take more than one blood pressure medication to control their condition. If you have high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about ways to lower it. Medication may be an option if lifestyle changes aren't enough.