Each time your heart beats, blood is pumped out of the heart into arteries that carry the blood throughout your body. Your blood pressure is a measurement of the pressure or force inside your arteries with each heartbeat. Your blood pressure is recorded as two measurements: systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure is the first or top number. This represents the pressure in the arteries when the heart is beating and the arteries are filled with blood. Diastolic blood pressure is the second or bottom number. This represents pressure in the arteries when the heart is resting in between beats (1)(3). Your blood pressure does not stay the same at all times. When you are exercising, excited, or stressed out your blood pressure goes up. When you are resting or calm, your blood pressure is lower. Your blood pressure can also change due to age, medications you take, and even changes in position.
Each number of our blood pressure is equally important to pay attention to. Typically, more attention is given to systolic blood pressure as a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease for people over 50. In most people, systolic blood pressure rises steadily with age due to the increasing stiffness of large arteries, long-term buildup of plaque and an increased incidence of cardiac and vascular disease. However, either an elevated systolic or an elevated diastolic blood pressure reading may be used to make a diagnosis of high blood pressure. According to recent studies, the risk of death from ischemic heart disease and stroke doubles with every 20 mm Hg systolic or 10 mm Hg diastolic increase among people from age 40 to 89 (6).
The five blood pressure ranges as recognized by the American Heart Association are normal, elevated, hypertension stage 1, hypertension stage 2, and hypertensive crisis. Normal Blood pressure numbers of less than 120/80 mm Hg are considered within the normal range. If your results fall into this category, stick with heart-healthy habits like following a balanced diet and getting regular exercise. Elevated blood pressure is when readings consistently range from 120-129 systolic and less than 80 mm Hg diastolic. People with elevated blood pressure are likely to develop high blood pressure unless steps are taken to control the condition. Hypertension Stage 1 is when blood pressure consistently ranges from 130-139 systolic or 80-89 mm Hg diastolic. At this stage of high blood pressure, doctors are likely to prescribe lifestyle changes and may consider adding blood pressure medication based on your risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, such as heart attack or stroke. Hypertension Stage 2 is when blood pressure consistently ranges at 140/90 mm Hg or higher. At this stage of high blood pressure, doctors are likely to prescribe a combination of blood pressure medications and lifestyle changes.
Hypertensive crisis is when high blood pressure requires medical attention. If your blood pressure readings suddenly exceed 180/120 mm Hg, wait five minutes and then test your blood pressure again. If your readings are still unusually high, contact your doctor immediately. You could be experiencing a hypertensive crisis. If your blood pressure is higher than 180/120 mm Hg and you are experiencing signs of possible organ damage such as chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness/weakness, change in vision or difficulty speaking, do not wait to see if your pressure comes down on its own. Call 911 (6).
Long term effects on heart rate with regular exercise doesn't just strengthen the muscles you can see, it also strengthens your heart and keeps your blood vessels healthy. After a few months of regular exercise, your resting heart rate may slowly decrease because your stronger heart pumps more efficiently. Your resting heart rate affects your risk for heart disease. One study of more than 29,000 men and women whose resting heart rate increased over 10 years were found more likely to die of heart disease, according to a December 2011 JAMA report (5).
Long term effects of regular exercise has blood-pressure-lowering effects in people with or without high blood pressure, or hypertension. The American Heart Association recommends regular exercise to help treat hypertension and prevent heart disease and stroke. A review article published in the spring 2001 issue of Preventive Cardiology reported that regular aerobic exercise decreases blood pressure 4 to 5 percent in people with hypertension and 1 to 2 percent in people with normal blood pressure (4). A January 2005 "Journal of Applied Physiology" review article reported significant blood pressure reductions after 12 weeks of regular exercise. The authors noted benefits with both aerobic and strength-training exercise (2).
Author: Quinn Butler, M.S., CPT
1.“Blood Pressure.” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/ 17649-your-blood-pressure.
2. “Effects of Exercise and Diet on Chronic Disease.” American Physiological Society Journal | Home, www.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/japplphysiol.00852.2004.
3. James PA, Oparil S, Carter BL, et al. 2014 evidence-based guideline for the management of high blood pressure in adults: report from the panel members appointed to the Eighth Joint National Committee (JNC 8). JAMA. 2014; Feb 5;311(5):507-20
4. Kelley, George A., et al. “The Effects of Exercise on Resting Blood Pressure in Children and Adolescents: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.” Preventive Cardiology, vol. 6, no. 1, 2003, pp. 8–16., doi:10.1111/j.1520-037x.2003.01224.x.
5. Nauman, Javaid. “Temporal Changes in Resting Heart Rate and Deaths From Ischemic Heart Disease.” JAMA, American Medical Association, 21 Dec. 2011, jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1104748.
6. “Understanding Blood Pressure Readings.” About Heart Attacks, www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/understanding-blood-pressure-readings.