If I'm being honest, the only time I really think about my blood pressure is when I'm making a joke about how stressed or overwhelmed I feel about something. Whether it's due to cliffhangers at the end of my favorite TV show, delayed trains, or even grad school exams, I've definitely lamented about my blood pressure being "through the roof," and if I had to guess, you probably have, too. But the thing is, your blood pressure can affect the rest of your health in serious ways, and according to medical experts, maintaining well-balanced levels here is crucial to functioning at your best.
Think I'm exaggerating? Well, for one thing, a new study published in the medical journal Neurology examined over 400 people in their 20s and 30s and found that having even slightly high blood pressure could negatively affect certain parts of the brain, including areas that control memory, motor skills, and emotions, per U.S. News Health. Treating blood pressure issues early, the study's authors concluded, would be key to preventing such changes in the brain.
If you're already feeling a bit overwhelmed by this information, let's take a step back for a moment to talk about what blood pressure even is. "Blood pressure is the pressure in the blood vessels that help circulate blood throughout the body. Blood pressures can vary for each individual, but your overall health can be affected by consistent high or low blood pressures," Shivani Reddy Scharf, DO, FACP, medical director of the Loma Linda University Health Primary Care Institute, tells Elite Daily in an email. "It is crucial to prevent consistent high blood pressures to avoid serious conditions like heart attacks and strokes."
If you're under 30, you might assume that high blood pressure is something that's more likely to affect your grandparents, but it's actually never too early to start keeping an eye on things. "Blood pressure is often overlooked because we tend to assume it is an issue that only pertains to us the older we get," urologist Dr. David Shusterman tells Elite Daily in an email. "In reality, understanding and taking care of your blood pressure is just as important as taking immediate care of any medical issue that rises, whether frequent or in an emergency."
Basically, when your blood pressure rises, it's usually signaling to you that there's something going on in the body, and that your heart is working extra hard to address the issue, explains Dr. Shusterman. This might sound scary, but in reality, small changes in blood pressure are both normal and healthy. "In a healthy amount, this influx can be normal and a good thing because, just like any other muscle in the body," he explains, "when it is not properly exercised, our bodies act just like any other natural biological or organic matter. When we are not using a part of the body, the body then decomposes and becomes inactive in many ways."
That being said, too much of a shift in blood pressure can put dangerous pressure on your body. "Regular checkups are recommended for everyone, regardless of age," says Dr. Hervé Damas, a physician and former NFL player. "In addition, simple home blood pressure monitoring kits can be purchased for as little as $10 online. But those should not be treated as a replacement for getting your blood pressure checked by a licensed medical professional."
One-hundred twenty over 80 and below is considered a healthy blood pressure level, says Dr. Damas. In case those numbers don't make a ton of sense, according to Blood Pressure UK, the first number refers to the highest pressure when your heart beats, and the second refers to the lowest pressure when your heart pauses between beats.
As far as knowing when something in your blood pressure is off, you can definitely test for these types of issues, but you'll probably notice some additional symptoms if things are far off from where they should be. "You may feel lightheaded or dizzy," Dr. Damas tells Elite Daily, adding that you could also experience headaches, visual disturbances, chest pain, blood in your urine, and a strong pulsing sensation in your head and/or neck. If you notice problems like this, it's probably worth a visit to your primary care doctor to make sure everything is OK.
You can also set yourself up for solid heart health by eating nutritious foods and finding a type of exercise that you really enjoy. "For many, it comes mainly down to making lifestyle changes," Dr. Amber Robins, a family medicine doctor in Washington, D.C., tells Elite Daily. "Eating a healthier diet with lean meats, vegetables, and fruits can be a game-changer in a good way. Exercise can also set you up for a healthy heart."
Having an idea of whether high blood pressure runs in your family can also help set you up for success. "Go to your primary care doctor," suggests Dr. Robins. "This is the first step in making sure your overall health is on track. It also is a great place to talk with your doctor or medical provider about your family history. Sometimes our genes set us up for disease. Knowing these things and how to prevent them can help maintain your health."