If you asked the average millennial what their blood pressure, cholesterol, or body mass index numbers were, it’s doubtful that you would get an answer, especially for all three. But ask the same question of an adult over 60 and you might be surprised by how many digits they can rattle off without missing a beat. For most adults, beginning in middle age, doctors pay close attention to health readings that if not within the normal range can be an indication of a greater risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and some cancers.
According to a recent McMaster Optimal Aging Portal post, adults over the age of 60 with a systolic blood pressure of 150 mm Hg or more should be treated with a goal of lowering this number to below 150 mm Hg. The systolic blood pressure is the first (top) reading and it refers to how much pressure your blood exerts against your artery walls when your heart beats.
The second number of a blood pressure report is the diastolic blood pressure – it tells you how much pressure your blood exerts on the artery walls between heartbeats. Researchers have found that older adults who have had a stroke or a mini-stroke (transient ischemic attack) or are at high risk for a heart attack should be treated to lower their systolic blood pressure to less than 140 mm Hg.
High blood pressure is common among older adults and can be monitored at home using a well-fitting cuff in a resting, seating position, with the arm supported on an armrest. It is advised to take readings at different times of day, before meals, and while avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and vigorous exercise before taking a blood pressure reading. Avoid taking a measurement in times of stress or anxiety. Measuring blood pressure at home provides a more accurate reading that is not influenced by anxiety caused by a doctor’s office visit or masked by removing stressors in the home.
Look for a cuff that is approved by a national health agency and keep track of readings with a journal or using a smartphone app to bring with you to doctor appointments. The latest guidelines indicate a normal blood pressure reading is below 120/80, an elevated number is between 120-129 for systolic and less than 80 for diastolic. Patients with a systolic between 130-139 or diastolic between 80-89 are considered in stage 1 hypertension and stage 2 is a systolic at least 140 or diastolic at least 90 mm Hg. A hypertensive crisis occurs when systolic is over 180/and or diastolic is over 120. This condition will require immediate medication changes or hospitalization if there are signs of organ damage, according to the American College of Cardiology.
Lifestyle changes may be recommended for patients with hypertension, with or without prescription medication. A heart-healthy diet, weight loss for overweight people, and increased physical activity are advisable for anyone concerned about their blood pressure. Limiting alcohol to no more than one drink per day for women and two for men is also recommended. Your doctor may also suggest a low sodium, low-fat diet with more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Read more about the most recent guidelines for high blood pressure in adults by following this link to the American College of Cardiology website.