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August 2022

High Blood Pressure: Beyond the Numbers

In many ways, high blood pressure is a condition of facts and figures. After all, it’s defined by two digits: the pressure when your heart beats (systolic) over the pressure when it relaxes (diastolic).  

Together, these numbers describe the force with which your blood travels through your arteries:

  • Normal is less than 120 mmHg and less than 80 mmHg

  • Elevated is 120 to 129 mmHg and less than 80 mmHg

  • High is 130 mmHg or higher or 80 mmHg or higher

But the numbers alone don’t tell the whole story.

A narrative, not a math problem

To better manage high blood pressure (also called hypertension), step back and look at the bigger picture. High numbers can signal habits that might be affecting your broader health and well-being.

Some factors that contribute to hypertension can’t be changed, such as being older than 55, being African American, or having a family history of high blood pressure. But there are others you can address. For example, switching from being sedentary to active, focusing on a nutritious diet, and quitting smoking can all help.

Working with your healthcare team

Start with an open, honest conversation with your healthcare provider. Ask what your numbers mean for your health. Talk about your goals for treatment, and how to accomplish them.

While this may mean a prescription, it doesn’t have to. Discuss the power of healthy lifestyle changes, like:

  • Choosing heart-healthy foods, such as vegetables, whole grains, and fish

  • Cutting back on salt

  • Exercising regularly

  • Coping with stress

Managing high blood pressure involves a lifelong commitment—but it pays off in greater well-being and resilience. Whether you take medicine or not, approaching the task comprehensively can make all the difference.




Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, MSN, BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2022
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