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Man holding salt and blood pressure monitor

Blood Pressure Numbers…What do They Mean?

When the blood pressure cuff goes around your arm it’s to measure your systolic and diastolic readings. But what do these numbers mean?

In This Healthy Insight:

  1. Which Number is More Important?
  2. Who Is at Risk?
  3. What You Can Do
  • Systolic blood pressure (the first or top number) – indicates how much pressure your blood exerts against your artery walls when your heart is beating. With normal blood pressure, this number should be 120
  • Diastolic blood pressure (the second or bottom number) – indicates how much pressure your blood exerts against your artery walls while your heart is resting between beats. This number should be 80.

In some people, the system that regulates blood pressure goes awry for a number of reasons. Arteries stay constricted and drive up the pressure in the larger blood vessels. Recent studies have revealed that both numbers are important to closely monitor. Make sure you do the same.

Which Number Is More Important?

Both blood pressure numbers tend to creep up with age. Historically, more attention was given to the systolic blood pressure as a major risk factor since age increases stiffness in the arteries and plaque builds up. Now it’s recognized that both numbers are important. In fact, your risk for serious heart concerns doubles with every 20 mm Hg systolic or 10 mm Hg diastolic that it increases.

Who Is at Risk?

Blood pressure issues are common in the United States, typically 1 in 3 adults struggle with it. Here are some of the risk factors:


You’re more likely to develop blood pressure issues if you’re overweight or obese. This factor is one you can control with a reduced diet and exercise plan.


More men than women develop blood pressure concerns, so men, take note!


If you’re a male over 45 or a female over 55, you’re at increased risk. More than half of all Americans aged 60 and older have blood pressure concerns, especially with a high systolic number (the top number). The good news is that blood pressure concerns don’t have to be accepted as a “normal” part of aging. Diet and lifestyle changes can help. 


While blood pressure concerns can affect any race, it’s more common in African Americans who often have more severe cases.

Unhealthy Lifestyle Habits

  • Too much salt in the diet
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Not getting enough potassium in your diet
  • Smoking


You can’t change your family history, so if close relatives worry about their blood pressure numbers, then you should closely monitor yours too.

It’s important to note that in many cases there is no clearly identifiable risk factor, so no one is exempt from this important health concern.

What You Can Do

  1. Lose weight
  2. Exercise regularly
  3. Eat a healthy diet
  4. Reduce sodium in your diet
  5. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink
  6. Quit smoking
  7. Cut back on caffeine
  8. Reduce your stress
  9. Monitor your blood pressure at home and see your doctor regularly.
  10. Get support from friends and family

If your blood pressure is already in the normal range…and you want to keep it that way, in addition to the above, you may want to check out nutritional supplements specifically developed to support healthy blood pressure. For more ideas, check these out.

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