Blood pressure is a key component to a woman’s healthy cardiovascular system, but it is also one of the least understood. High blood pressure’s lack of overt symptoms has earned it the nickname “the silent killer.”
Luckily, a better understanding of blood pressure and a few simple changes can go a long way to promoting a healthier cardiovascular system and reducing your risk.
What is Blood Pressure
Every day, your heart beats about 100,000 times and pumps over 4.5 liters (or one gallon) of blood every minute. Your blood pressure is literally a measurement of the force of this pumping against the inside walls of your blood vessels. Whether you’re awake or asleep this force is constantly pressing against the walls of your blood vessels, and when the pressure is too high, your arteries take a beating, your heart is forced to work harder, shortening its life and increasing your chances of stroke, heart attack, and kidney problems.
Measuring Blood Pressure
The most common means of measuring blood pressure is the arm “cuff” called a sphygmomanometer. The cuff is wrapped around your arm and then inflated. The pressure is slowly released while a stethoscope is held over the brachial artery in your arm. Blood pressure assessments produce two numbers such as 120/80 (expressed as “120 over 80”).
The first number is the systolic pressure, or the pressure exerted when the heart contracts and pushes blood out into the arteries. The second number is the diastolic pressure, or pressure in the arteries between heartbeats. Keeping both numbers within a healthy range is important for cardiovascular health.
Good and Bad Blood Pressure
As blood pressure increases, so does the risk of complications such as coronary heart disease, heart failure, and stroke. Healthy blood pressure is defined as 120/80 or less. A person is considered to have high blood pressure (hypertension) when levels reach 140/90 or higher.
Reducing Blood Pressure
When attempting to lower or manage blood pressure levels, the first and often most effective steps are changes to diet and activity levels:
• Body Weight/Composition—Since high blood pressure is often associated with body fat, specifically the level of abdominal fat, losing weight is a critical step in reducing blood pressure.
• Healthy Food Choices—Diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, lean meats, fish, and dairy are associated with reductions in blood pressure.
• Regular aerobic exercise—Performing aerobic activities such as jogging, bicycling, and group exercise classes can help lower blood pressure.
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