High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for strokes and a major risk factor for heart disease1. The increased pressure in your arteries causes your heart to have to harder to pump blood throughout your body2. This increased stress can lead to heart attacks, heart failure, and strokes.
What is Blood Pressure?
When your doctor or health professional measures your blood pressure they are looking into the pressure that is against the walls of your arteries. When your blood pressure is measured you will see two measurements, systolic and diastolic. The systolic or top number measures the pressure after the heart pumps and pushes the blood3. The diastolic or bottom number measures when the heart is relaxed between beats3.
Blood Pressure Categories
The following are sample blood pressure readings and their risk rating for heart or stroke disease:
Low Risk 120/80
Medium Risk 121-139/80-89
High Risk 140+/90
To get your blood pressure checked, make an appointment with your healthcare professional. It is recommended that everyone over the age of 20 get checked at least once every 5 years, however older individuals or those with other risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, or family history of high blood pressure or heart disease should be checked several times a year4.
How to Control or Lower Blood Pressure
Simple lifestyle changes can help you reduce your blood pressure. Regular exercise from as little as 30-60 minutes a week with better results at 60-90 minutes per week were shown to reduce blood pressure5. In additional to increasing your weekly exercise levels, dietary changes have been shown to reduce blood pressure levels. Increasing whole-grain food intake was shown to both reduce blood pressure and help control weight6. Diets that were rich in fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy products, and limited intake of saturated fats, total fats, and cholesterol were shown to decrease blood pressure7. For best results, exercise combined with dietary and weight loss programs had the highest impact for controlling blood pressure8.
- Weitzman D, Goldbourt U. The Significance of Various Blood Pressure Indices for Long-Term Stroke, Coronary Heart Disease, and All-Cause Mortality in Men. Stroke. 2006;37(2):358-363. doi:10.1161/01.str.0000198869.84540.80
- Managing blood pressure. Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. https://www.heartandstroke.ca/heart/risk-and-prevention/condition-risk-factors/high-blood-pressure. Published 2020. Accessed September 13, 2020.
- Kannel WB, Gordon T, Schwartz MJ. Systolic versus diastolic blood pressure and risk of coronary heart disease. The American Journal of Cardiology. 1971;27(4):335-346. doi:10.1016/0002-9149(71)90428-0
- Labeit A, Kedir A, Peinemann F. Blood pressure and cholesterol level checks as dynamic interrelated screening examinations. Scientific Reports. 2017;7(1). doi:10.1038/s41598-017-12904-4
- Ishikawa-Takata K. How much exercise is required to reduce blood pressure in essential hypertensives: a dose–response study. American Journal of Hypertension. 2003;16(8):629-633. doi:10.1016/s0895-7061(03)00895-1
- Behall KM, Scholfield DJ, Hallfrisch J. Whole-Grain Diets Reduce Blood Pressure in Mildly Hypercholesterolemic Men and Women. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2006;106(9):1445-1449. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2006.06.010
- Appel LJ. Nonpharmacologic therapies that reduce blood pressure: A fresh perspective. Clinical Cardiology. 1999;22(S3):1-5. doi:10.1002/clc.4960221502
- Blumenthal JA, Sherwood A, Gullette ECD, et al. Exercise and Weight Loss Reduce Blood Pressure in Men and Women With Mild Hypertension. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2000;160(13):1947. doi:10.1001/archinte.160.13.1947