What is blood pressure, anyway?

When you visit your doctor for a regular wellness checkup, you and your doctor will probably discuss two measurements that say a lot about your heart health: cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

Do you understand what blood pressure is and how it affects your heart health?

Imagine your circulatory system — your heart and blood vessels that carry blood throughout your body — as your heart’s highway. On a real highway, like Interstate 95, the average speed is affected by how many cars are on the road and how fast they’re trying to go. In your circulatory system, the average speed is based on how much blood is passing through and how much pressure is being applied by your heart to pump it.

Your heart will apply high pressure to deliver blood for numerous reasons. Blood thickness, genetics, hormones, dietary reactions or an electrical problem with the heart can make your heart use more force to deliver nutrients.

Medication side effects and blockages in the blood vessels also impact blood flow. These factors, combined with age and lack of useful exercise, can cause the arteries and veins to lose their elasticity — also known as hardening of the arteries. Imagine four lanes of traffic being forced into two lanes and you can visualize the unnecessary pressure.

High blood pressure takes a toll on the heart. You do not want to be in a high pressure situation all the time, and neither does your heart. Sooner or later, that pressure can lead to an accident, which might be heart disease or a heart attack.

There are things you can do to help your body to keep the blood flowing without high blood pressure. The best way to know which of these things you should be focusing on is to make an appointment with your doctor for a wellness checkup, and talk with your doctor about your heart health.

Your doctor may recommend a heart-healthy diet and exercise, or, in some cases, medication.

Cardiovascular exercise like walking, running or bicycling helps the arteries and veins to loosen up and widen to allow for this required blood flow. After exercise, blood pressure readings typically lower, and those highway lanes widen, relieving blood pressure.

Thank you, exercise!