Ask the Expert: Healthy Blood Pressure

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Sally Nacca, an exercise physiologist affiliated with Sharp, explains the importance of normal blood pressure.

What is normal blood pressure?
We used to call normal, average blood pressure 120/80 and that's still OK. However, many doctors and nurses would now like to see slightly lower blood pressures, somewhere around 100 to 110 for the systolic, or upper number, and 60 to 70 for the diastolic, or lower number — in particular, if one has heart disease or risk factors for heart disease.

For the average healthy adult, the upper systolic number should go up with exercise and the lower, or diastolic number, should stay about the same or it may even go down slightly in number with exercise. It's probably a good idea for you to know what both your heart rate and blood pressure are at rest, with exercise and later after exercise. This way you know what's normal for you.

What is high blood pressure?
We used to regard borderline high blood pressure as 140/90, and 145/95, or above, as high blood pressure. Now those numbers also have come down. For example, 130 on the upper number is considered elevated borderline.

What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?
High blood pressure has no symptoms, so many people are walking around with dangerously high blood pressure and don't know it. This is why this is called "The Silent Killer."

How often should I take my blood pressure?
High blood pressure is one of the risk factors for heart disease. It's important to have one's blood pressure checked regularly to make certain that it's not too high. Also, many people are on blood pressure lowering medications and it is important for them to know whether their medication is keeping their blood pressure in check.

What factors contribute to healthy blood pressure levels?
Important factors involved in keeping our blood pressure at healthy levels include maintaining a healthy weight and eating a low-sodium or low-salt diet. A low-salt diet is considered 2,000 milligrams of sodium a day or less. With regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a low-sodium diet and, if you're on medication, taking it regularly, you can maintain healthy levels of blood pressure.

For More Information
To learn more about Sharp's senior health services or to find a Sharp-affiliated physician, search for San Diego doctors or call 1-800-82-SHARP (1-800-827-4277), Monday through Friday, 8 am to 6 pm. To find general information about senior health, read the Senior Health News archive.

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About the Expert
Sally Nacca is a Sharp-affiliated exercise physiologist.