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Blood pressure

Your blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries.

Blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. As your heart beats, the ventricles squeeze blood out into the aorta and arteries to travel around the body. At this point, your blood pressure is highest and this is called systolic pressure. When the ventricles of your heart relax and fill, between beats, your blood pressure falls. This is the diastolic pressure.

Why is it important to have a healthy blood pressure?

Maintaining a healthy blood pressure will help to keep your  blood circulation at a healthy level – protecting your heart, arteries and blood vessels from becoming damaged. It will also reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure, stroke and other health issues.

Video: Blood pressure animation NZ Heart Foundation, 2015

How blood pressure is measured

Blood pressure is measured at two points in your hearts cycle:

  • As your heart beats, special chambers called ventricles squeeze blood out into the aorta and arteries to travel around the body. At this point, your blood pressure is highest and this is called systolic pressure.
  • When the ventricles of your heart relax and fill, between beats, your blood pressure falls. This is the diastolic pressure.

undefinedYour blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury, which is written as mmHg,  and is recorded as systolic blood pressure over diastolic blood pressure, for example 120/70 mmHg. 

An ideal blood pressure for most people is less than 130/80. 

Your blood pressure changes all the time to meet your body's needs and many things can change your blood pressure including how much you exercise, what you eat and if you smoke or drink alcohol.

Should I get my blood pressure checked?

Every adult should have their blood pressure checked regularly. How often depends on your age, your risk factors and your general health.

If you say YES to any of these questions, have your blood pressure checked more often:

  • Are you aged 45 or over (for men) or aged 55 or over for women?
  • Have you had high blood pressure at any stage in the past (such as during pregnancy for women)?
  • Have you had a heart attack, raised blood cholesterol, or diabetes?
  • Are you a smoker?
  • Are you overweight? (check your weight here)
  • Women: are you pregnant or taking an oral contraceptive pill?
  • Do you have any family members with a history of heart disease?

Sustaining a healthy blood pressure

These tips will help you to either reduce your blood pressure, or to keep it at a healthy level:

  • exercise
  • eat healthily
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • don't drink too much alcohol
  • don't smoke
  • eat less salt
  • avoid liquorice

Learn more

What is blood pressure? NHS Choices, UK, 2014 
Blood pressure NZ Heart Foundation, 2015
Blood pressure – Explained Watch, Learn, Live: Interactive Cardiovascular Library – American Heart Association
The anatomy of blood pressure Watch, Learn, Live: Interactive Cardiovascular Library – American Heart Association



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Source: Health Navigator