Know your blood pressure numbers for a healthy heart

February 16, 2017 Providence Health Team


In this article: 

  • What your blood pressure numbers mean, and when it might be time for a diet or lifestyle change.

  • High blood pressure can lead to a lot of other health issues.

  • Providence physicians share strategies for prevention and steps you can take to improve your blood pressure.

There are many numbers to know relating to health, including blood pressure numbers. Although we know it is important, it can be challenging and even a bit confusing to understand what it all means. In a country where 1 in 3 adults has high blood pressure, it is crucial to know and understand your ideal numbers.

Your blood pressure numbers translate the condition of your heart and overall health, so knowing your numbers can make a significant difference in your daily life and longevity. However, knowing your numbers is half the battle. The other half is about knowing what you need to do to live a healthy lifestyle.

How to read your numbers

Blood pressure is a measurement of the force your blood is pushing against the sides of your blood vessels. The correct strength of blood flow (neither too weak nor too strong) is directly related to your heart and vascular health. You can determine your blood pressure health by a series of numbers that fall under one of four major categories: normal, prehypertension, stage 1 hypertension, and stage 2 hypertension.

When your blood pressure is tested, your doctor will reveal to you your blood pressure in a ratio or fraction. The top number (the numerator) represents your “systolic” pressure, which is the pressure when your heart contracts, or beats. The bottom number (denominator) is “diastolic” pressure, which is the pressure when your heart muscle rests in between beats. Your blood pressure numbers are measured in millimeters of mercury or mm Hg.

The American Heart Association has determined the following guidelines to gauge your blood pressure health:

  • Normal - Systolic below 120 mm Hg and Diastolic below 80 mm Hg
  • Prehypertension - Systolic between 120 -139 mm Hg and Diastolic between 80-89 mm Hg
  • Stage 1 hypertension - Systolic below 140-159 mm Hg and Diastolic between 89-90 mm Hg
  • Stage 2 hypertension - Systolic below 160 mm Hg or higher and Diastolic below 90-99 mm Hg

There are a variety of factors that go into determining your healthy heart numbers. Depression is one of the leading causes of high blood pressure that impacts the health of your heart.

What your blood pressure numbers mean


If your numbers fall into the normal range, congratulations! You are likely practicing a healthy lifestyle, consuming a healthy diet, or come from healthy genetics. Keep a good eye on your numbers, though, and remember that risk increases with age, so it is important to maintain these heart-healthy habits through the years and continue to get checked.


Prehypertension is a warning stage, letting you know that it is time to monitor your heart-healthy habits more closely. If your numbers are greater than 120/80 mm Hg, then you are at an increased risk for hypertension.

Stage 1 hypertension

Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. If your numbers qualify you to be in the Stage 1 Hypertension stage, it is advised to develop a healthy diet and lifestyle changes, and discuss with your doctor ways to improve.

Stage 2 hypertension

Those whose numbers fall into the Stage 2 category should be taking serious precautions to monitor their heart health. Diet and lifestyle changes should be in place, and the condition discussed with a health professional to determine other medical treatments available.

What normal numbers look like based on age and gender

The American Heart Association has established normal range considerations that are commonly referred to in regards to blood pressure numbers. However, like most health measurements, the numbers can differ based on age and gender. As a general rule, the AHA considers an optimal range to be at or less than 120/80 mm Hg for adults. There are gender differences in maintaining a healthy heart. For men, high blood pressure increases around age 45, and women are considered more susceptible to develop high blood pressure after age 65.

Although high blood pressure is more commonly found in adults, children are also at risk of hypertension. For every 100 children, approximately five have elevated blood pressure numbers. Although there isn't one cookie-cutter blood pressure reading that indicates high blood pressure for children of all ages, there are guidelines to help determine if you or your children are in the healthy and normal range.

  • Age 1 to 3: 80/34 to 120/75 for a male and 83/38 to 117/76 for a female.
  • Age 4 to 6: 88/47 to 128/84 for a male and 88/50 to 122/83
  • Age 7 to 10: 92/53 to 130/90 for a male and 93/55 to 129/88

Having normal blood pressure means that glucose, amino acids, and many other precious nutrients can be efficiently carried through your bloodstream on a daily basis from the heart to the body's tissues. Having high blood pressure can damage your arteries, heart, brain, and kidneys so it is important to know your numbers and invest in a lifestyle that ensures heart health and longevity.

Your blood pressure numbers can be improved by making healthy diet and lifestyle changes.


Find a doctor

If you are concerned about your blood pressure or are looking to get it checked, see your doctor as soon as possible. Providence has a renowned team of cardiologists and general practitioners. Find the physician that's right for you in our provider directory. Through Providence Express Care Virtual, you can also access a full range of healthcare services. 

Providence in your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter to get more educational and inspirational stories from the expert caregivers at Providence.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

Previous Article
In case you missed it
In case you missed it

Notable health news that caught our attention this week, including the latest research and health tips for ...

Next Article
Should coaches ban heading the soccer ball?
Should coaches ban heading the soccer ball?

You may want to think twice before you head that soccer ball coming at you—you may be hurting your brain mo...