With guidelines about "healthy" blood pressure changing faster than it takes to get a reading, you may be wondering whether what's acceptable changes with age. After all, blood pressure does tend to naturally rise as people age. Here's how to make sense of all the numbers.
Essentially, your blood pressure should fall within the same range no matter how old you are, says Prachant Vaishnava, MD, an assistant professor in medicine and cardiology and a cardiologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. The latest guidelines from multiple organizations, including the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, suggest a blood pressure goal below 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) regardless of age.
"That means normal blood pressure range for a 70-year-old female should be the same as for a 45-year-old female," Dr. Vaishnava says.
However, you could be swimming against the tide — many people find their blood pressure rises as they get older. The reason is that blood vessels become less elastic with age and are likely to respond more slowly when you change positions, say from sitting to standing, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Get With the Guidelines
In 2017, the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology and nine other health organizations published revised guidelines for blood pressure.
They were updated "because research suggested that you can have complications from high blood pressure at lower levels than previously thought," says Laura Andromalos, RD, CDE, nutrition program manager at Northwest Weight and Wellness Center in Everett, Washington, and a certified diabetes educator coach in the telehealth setting for Cecelia Health. "Previously, adults over 65 years old were considered to have high blood pressure at levels over 150/80 mmHg."
We now know that the ideal of 120/80 lowers the risks for both heart attacks and strokes, according to the American Heart Association. However, each person is unique, so at every age, it's important to work with your doctor to be sure your numbers fall within a range that is ideal for you and your overall health, Dr. Vaishnava says.
Annual blood pressure screenings uncover this symptomless disease. Andromalos offers these additional screening guidelines:
- If your blood pressure is normal, have it checked once a year.
- If either number is greater than 120/80, get checked again in three to six months.
- If you are starting a new therapy for high blood pressure, you may need to have it checked as soon as one month after beginning the new medication.
"Bring a notebook to your doctor's appointments and take notes," Andromalos says. Your doctor may encourage you to check your blood pressure regularly at home in between office visits. Set reminders in your paper or digital calendar to stay on track.
How to Lower Blood Pressure
If you're over 70 and have been told that your blood pressure is too high, don't let the condition's lack of symptoms keep you from working to get it into a healthy range. Make it a point to:
Review all your medications with your doctor. "Many people will need medication to manage their blood pressure," Andromalos says. But be sure to tell your doctor about all other prescriptions you may have and any over-the-counter medications that you take, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen) or decongestants because they can raise your blood pressure, Dr. Vaishnava says.
Move more. Regular, moderate exercise can help you lower your blood pressure, the Mayo Clinic states. Find an activity you enjoy so that you'll stick with it — cycling, walking, swimming or dancing, for instance. Strength training and high intensity interval training also can help lower your blood pressure.
Lose weight. The higher your body mass, the harder your heart has to work to pump critical blood. Losing even a small amount of weight can help lower your blood pressure, the Mayo Clinic states.
Make dietary changes. Eat less salt and processed foods, Dr. Vaishnava says. Salt causes you to retain water, and extra water stored in your body can raise your blood pressure, according to Blood Pressure UK. Read nutrition labels when grocery shopping and pay attention to the sodium content of the foods you buy, suggests the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, especially canned items. Fresh fruits, vegetables, seafood and lean meats have the least amount of sodium.
Is This an Emergency?
- Prashant Vaishnava, MD, assistant professor, medicine and cardiology, cardiologist, Mount Sinai Hospital, New York.
- National Institutes of Health: “Effects of Age on Blood Pressure.”
- Laura Andromalos, RD, CDE, Nutrition Program Manager, Northwest Weight and Wellness Center, Everett, Wash., Certified Diabetes Educator Coach, Cecelia Health.
- Blood Pressure UK: “Why Salt Is Bad”
- American College of Cardiology: “2017 Guideline for High Blood Pressure in Adults”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Sodium’s Role in Processed Foods”
- American Heart Association: “Detailed Summary From the 2017 Guideline for the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults”
- Mayo Clinic: “10 Ways to Control High Blood Pressure Without Medication”