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Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of your blood vessels. It is measured as a ratio of systolic pressure (when your heart contracts) to diastolic pressure (when your heart relaxes). Generally, a healthy blood pressure is 120/80 or below. If your blood pressure rises above that number, you are at risk for organ damage, stroke, heart failure, kidney failure, and heart attack.

As many as 25 percent of Americans suffer from high blood pressure (hypertension). Almost a third of them don't know it, either. There are virtually no symptoms until blood pressure becomes dangerously high.

Know Your Risk
 Systolic Reading Diastolic ReadingRecommendation
Normal<120AND<80Check every 2 years
Pre-hypertension120-139OR80-89Check every year
Stage 1 hypertension140-159OR90-99See a medical professional for advice
Stage 2 hypertension160+OR100+See a medical professional for advice

Source: Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure

What You Can Do to Lower Your Blood Pressure

While medication is very effective in lowering blood pressure, there are simple changes you can make that can also help. Talk to a medical professional about whether these changes are right for you.

  1. Lose excess weight. More than 50 percent of people with high blood pressure weigh more than they should. Get safe, healthy advice on losing weight from a Health and Wellness educator.
  2. Eat a healthy diet. The DASH diet includes fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy. It has less saturated fat than the typical American diet. Schedule a consultation with a Health and Wellness nutrition counselor to see if this is a good choice for you. Your first visit each semester is free if you've paid the IU Health Fee.
  3. Reduce your salt intake. Keep sodium to 2,400 milligrams per day. Choose fewer processed foods to reduce sodium. Read labels to check sodium content.
  4. Be physically active. Regular aerobic activity, such as a brisk walk, can reduce your blood pressure. Try to exercise for 30 minutes a day most days of the week.
  5. Limit your alcohol consumption. If you drink, drink less. For men, that means two or fewer drinks a day. Women should limit themselves to one or fewer drinks a day. Or don't drink at all.
  6. If you smoke, quit. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your cardiovascular system. If you're ready to quit, we can help. Visit Health and Wellness Education's tobacco cessation clinic for free counseling, support, and nicotine replacement therapies.