Slipping your arm into a cuff to get your blood pressure checked has probably been a routine part of your doctor visit since you were young.

But what do you really know about blood pressure and how it affects your heart health? 

With each heartbeat, your heart pumps blood through your arteries to deliver blood to the many areas where your body needs it most. When your nurse or doctor checks your blood pressure, he or she is obtaining a measurement of how forceful your blood pushes against your arteries when your heart pumps blood.

When measuring blood pressure, there are two important numbers to keep in mind:

  • The first number records the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats
  • The second number refers to the pressure in your arteries when your heart is relaxed, or the time between each heartbeat.

These two numbers are then recorded as a ratio (pressure in arteries during heartbeats/pressure in arteries during heart rest) to give you your blood pressure.

A normal blood pressure remains lower than 120 over 80 (120/80), whereas a high blood pressure is 140/90 or higher.

High blood pressure is also known as hypertension, and it affects one in three Americans. With no signs or symptoms, checking your blood pressure regularly is the best way to watch for hypertension.

You may be at risk for high blood pressure if you:

  • Are overweight or obese
  • Smoke
  • Have a family history of hypertension
  • Regularly consume foods high in salt
  • Exercise or incorporate less than 30 minutes of activity each day
  • Consume more than the moderate amount of alcohol each day (two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women)

Keeping your blood pressure at a healthy level by lowering your intake of foods high in sodium and saturated fat, increasing your physical activity to two and a half hours per week and even losing weight can significantly contribute to your overall health and longevity and even reduce your risk of heart disease, kidney failure and stroke. So start getting your blood pressure checked regularly – knowing your numbers is the first step in preventing hypertension.