Every time you go to the doctor they take your blood pressure when you arrive. Come to the hospital, we monitor your blood pressure throughout your stay. Go to the pharmacy to pick up your prescriptions and while you wait you can check your blood pressure at that little stand.
Blood pressure here, blood pressure there. We all have heard about blood pressure our entire lives, but do you understand the importance of your blood pressure and what the numbers mean? Let’s start with the basics.
Your blood pressure is the pressure of blood on your artery walls, in your circulatory system. Think of your heart as a pump. When it pumps blood into your arteries, there is a certain amount of force on the walls of your blood vessels, and this is essentially your blood pressure.
The higher number, the first number, is your systolic blood pressure. This is the pressure of the blood on your vessel walls coming out of your heart when it is contracting.
The lower number, the second number, is your diastolic blood pressure. This is your baseline blood pressure when your heart is at rest. It’s during this time that your heart is filling up with blood, preparing for the next heart beat to pump blood throughout your body.
Optimal blood pressure is a systolic pressure less than 120 (although some medical professionals are now saying 110), and a diastolic pressure less than 80. Anything higher than that can bring you into dangerous territory, which we will talk about it a bit.
Now let’s take 120/80 for example. That means when your heart is contracting, the pressure on your artery walls is 120 mm of mercury and when it is at rest the pressure is 80 mm of mercury.
Why mercury? Mercury was used in the first accurate pressure gauges and is still used as the standard unit of measurement for pressure in medicine (American Heart Association, 2018).
But again, what does this mean and why do you need to understand it?
Well, your blood pressure is an indicator of your overall health and what is going on inside your body. But monitoring your blood pressure, we can learn how effective your blood is at delivering oxygen and nutrients to nourish your organs and tissues.
Think of it like this. If you have a car engine, there are optimum conditions that allow it to run as efficiently as possible. If you mess with any system or component, you can throw off the entire engine. Maintaining a healthy blood pressure is like creating the optimum condition for your engine to run at maximum efficiency.
However, a great deal of Americans are running their engines in a compromised state.
One of the biggest problems in America is high blood pressure, known as hypertension. 1 out of every 3 adult Americans suffers from hypertension and it’s one of the biggest contributing factors to poor overall health. When the force of your blood on your blood vessel walls is too high, you put yourself at risk for a great number of problems including heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, even death.
Next week, I’m going to dive a bit deeper into understanding high blood pressure and what we can all do to improve our blood pressure and overall health. In the meantime, let’s get our engines running smoothly by making healthy lifestyle choices and getting our blood pressures into a normal range.
(PS, the engine reference is for our telemetry technician Andrea who is in Florida today attending the Daytona 500! Have fun!)