Is Your Blood Pressure Normal? Here’s What Those Numbers REALLY Mean


Most of us have experienced this scenario: you’re in the medical clinic with your arm wrapped in a blood pressure cuff while the doctor pumps away until your arm feels like it’s about to fall off.

Then the doctor carefully reads the numbers off the gauge and jots them down in his or her diary. But what exactly do those numbers mean? And what do they indicate about your current heart condition?

Blood pressure readings above 120/80 mm Hg indicate high blood pressure which can damage your arteries over time

Understanding Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is simply a measure of the force with which blood flows through the veins in your body. Cardiologist Lara Kovell explains that our heart works as an oxygen pump that is carried in blood and distributed to organs and tissues around the body.

If you were able to hold an artery between your fingers, the force you would feel against your skin is the pressure at which the blood is flowing through the vessels. But a stronger force isn’t necessarily an indication of good health. High blood pressure can cause damage to the inner lining of your arteries and veins, making them weaker and more prone to bursting over time.

According to Kovell, blood should flow gently through the body – almost like the gentle stream of a garden hose sprinkling water over delicate flowers, if the water pressure is too high, it can destroy the plants. Similarly, high blood pressure can be damaging for your arteries and organs.

What do the Numbers Mean?

When you get your blood pressure measured from a doctor, the two numbers on the reader are often represented in the form of a fraction – the most common example is 120/80 mm Hg, which also happens to be ideal blood pressure for a normal, healthy adult.

The number on top of the fraction (also called systolic pressure) is the measure of the force with which blood flows through the arteries with each contraction of your heart muscle. Whereas the number at the bottom of the fraction (also called diastolic pressure) is your blood pressure between each heartbeat.

Blood pressure reading is a crucial indicator of your heart health. Any number higher that the ideal range means that your heart is working harder than it should for blood circulation.

According to the American Heart Association, the normal range for systolic pressure is between 90 and 120, and for diastolic pressure, 60 and 80. The abbreviation ‘mm Hg’ used at the end of readings stands for millimeters of mercury, which is the standard measure for blood pressure. A healthy adult should have a blood pressure reading no less than 90/60 mm Hg and no more than 120/80 mm Hg.

Healthy lifestyle and good eating and exercising habits are crucial for keeping your blood pressure in the normal range so that no medical intervention is required. If you’re genetically predisposed towards hypertension, you may need to pay even more attention to lifestyle habits.

A blood pressure reading higher that the ideal range means that your heart is working harder than it should to pump blood


Blood pressure reading above 120/80 mm Hg is the first warning sign that you need to change your lifestyle in order to keep your heart healthy.

If your systolic pressure is higher than 120 and diastolic lower than 80, you have elevated blood pressure which can turn into stage 1 and then stage 2 hypertension if no preventive steps are taken. At this stage, you can keep your blood pressure under control by just focusing on your diet and exercising regularly.

Hypertension: Stage 1

In stage 1 hypertension, blood pressure can range anywhere between 130/80 to 139/89 mm Hg. Depending on how often your blood pressure increases over a period of a few weeks, your doctor will determine whether or not you should be put on medication

Hypertension: Stage 2

Your heart health is in serious danger if your blood pressure reading climbs higher than 140/90 mm Hg. At this stage of hypertension, your doctor will most likely recommend regular medication and lifestyle change in order to keep the blood pressure under control.

Preventive Steps

Whether you are a healthy adult with normal blood pressure or suffer from hypertension, there are certain preventive measures you can take to keep your blood pressure under control:

  • If you’re sensitive to sodium, keep your daily intake below 2,300 mg. Adults with stage 1 or 2 of hypertension could benefit from lowering their sodium consumption to 1,500 mg or less.
  • Reduce caffeine intake if you’re sensitive to it.
  • Exercising regularly is beneficial for lowering high blood pressure
  • Losing excess weight can make a significant impact on your blood pressure levels.
  • Perform exercises such as meditation or yoga to keep your stress levels low.