Protect your health and heart by checking your blood pressure

Lower your risk of heart disease by becoming familiar with your blood pressure number.

February is National Heart Month. What steps can you take to protect your heart and health? Start by knowing what your blood pressure is. One in every three Americans has high blood pressure, which puts them at increased risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke. High blood pressure is often called the “silent killer” because many adults with high blood pressure live normal lives and have no symptoms or warning signs. Michigan State University Extension encourages that this makes it even more crucial that we all know what our blood pressure is.

Blood pressure measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart is beating and when the heart is at rest. The systolic pressure is the heart beat (top number) and diastolic is the pressure when your heart rests between beats (bottom number). Normal blood pressure is under 120 for the top number (systolic) and under 80 for the bottom number (diastolic).

According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these are blood pressure levels you should be aware of:

Blood Pressure Levels


Systolic: less than 120 mmHg
Diastolic: less than 80 mmHg

At risk (prehypertension)

Systolic: 120–139 mmHg
Diastolic: 80–89 mmHg


Systolic: 140 mmHg or higher
Diastolic: 90 mmHg or higher

Here are some steps you can take to prevent high blood pressure:

  • Know your numbers. Get your blood pressure checked on a regular basis. This can be done by your doctor, with a self-monitoring cuff at home or at your local pharmacy. Many pharmacies offer free blood pressure checks, especially during National Heart Month in February.
  • Aim for a healthy weight. If you’re overweight, losing pounds can lower your blood pressure.
  • Plan healthy meals. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables is a healthy way to increase the nutrients like potassium and fiber which your body needs for a healthy heart. Fruits and veggies will also fill you up for fewer calories than many other food choices.
  • Avoid eating processed foods and eating out, especially at fast food restaurants, as many of these food choices are high in sodium.
  • Limit sodium from other sources too, including the salt you use when cooking and the salt you add to your meals.
  • Be physically active. Most adults need at least 30 minutes of activity at least five days a week. If you have not been active, check with your doctor before you start.
  • Take your medication if you’ve already been diagnosed with high blood pressure. Don’t stop if you feel OK. Remember that high blood pressure is the silent killer.

For other tips on planning healthy meals or reducing your risk for chronic disease visit the food and health topic on the MSU Extension website.

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