Let’s be honest: annual physical exams aren’t easy to maintain. They can be tough to fit into your schedule and for many, the expense keeps their exams out of reach. As a result, only about 20% of US adults get annual preventative exams.
As important as those exams are, you can also help your health by keeping track of some key numbers at home. One of the most crucial numbers you need is your blood pressure.
High blood pressure puts extra strain on your heart and arteries. This makes your arteries become narrower and weaker, putting you at risk for a heart attack and stroke.
The good news is that you can track this yourself. Here’s how to measure blood pressure on your own.
How to Measure Blood Pressure at Home
Tracking your blood pressure is easier than you might think. Here’s your step-by-step guide.
Step 1: Get a Blood Pressure Monitor
An electronic blood pressure monitor is easy to use with no medical training. It’s important to get a reliable one so you know your numbers are accurate.
You can find plenty of great options on this page. You could also ask your doctor for their recommendations.
Step 2: Choose Your Timing
Knowing when to take your blood pressure is part of getting an accurate reading. Always monitor your pressure when you’re relaxed. You should sit down and calm your mind for at least five minutes before you start the reading.
The time of day you choose matters too. Did you know your blood pressure tends to be lower in the morning than in the afternoon?
The important thing to remember is to take your pressure around the same time each day. This helps you remove the time of day as a variable.
Step 3: Find the Right Position
Now that you’re relaxed and ready to measure your pressure, you need to find the right sitting position. You should always be seated with your back supported in a comfortable way.
It’s also important that your legs are both flat on the ground. Don’t cross your legs or prop them up on an ottoman.
You need to position your arm the right way as well. Your arm should be resting on a surface that’s level with your heart. The level doesn’t have to be exact, but the closer it is, the better.
Step 4: Place the Cuff
When you’re in the right position, it’s time to put on the cuff for your blood pressure monitor. Most cuffs have velcro fasteners so they’re easy to adjust.
The cuff should sit about half an inch above your elbow. Your monitor might include specific instructions about where the cord should be, so read them with care.
Make sure the cuff is snug but not tight. It shouldn’t be squeezing your skin before the reading begins. If it does, it might squeeze too tight during the reading. This can be painful and lead to an inaccurate reading.
Step 5: Activate the Monitor
When your body and your cuff is in place, you can press the “start” button to activate the monitor. It only takes about ten or fifteen seconds for the cuff to get a reading.
During the reading, it’s important to sit still. Moving or talking can make your reading inaccurate. Remember that stress can raise your blood pressure too. Keep your mind and body relaxed and comfortable during your reading.
Step 6: Take a Series of Readings
As you’ll notice after you start tracking your blood pressure, the pressure can vary a lot from one reading to the next. The key is to take a cluster of readings so you know you’re getting reliable numbers.
Make sure you wait at least one minute between readings. If you don’t, your readings could be lower than your pressure really is.
Step 7: Interpret Your Readings
As important as it is to monitor your blood pressure, it won’t do any good if you don’t know how to interpret your numbers. Take careful notes over time and look for patterns.
Your blood pressure readings will give you two numbers. The top number, which should be the higher number, will be your systolic blood pressure. The bottom number will be your diastolic blood pressure. You’ll read this as “systolic/diastolic” or “systolic over diastolic.”
A normal, healthy blood pressure, is considered anything under 120/80. 120 is the systolic pressure and 80 is the diastolic pressure.
For anything over 120/80, the higher your pressure is, the worse it is. “Elevated” blood pressure, sometimes called prehypertension, is the next stage. This includes a systolic reading of 120-129 and a diastolic reading under 80.
Stage 1 hypertension is 130-139 systolic or a diastolic pressure of 80-89. If your systolic pressure is above 140 or if your diastolic pressure is above 90, you have stage 2 hypertension.
It’s also possible to be in a hypertensive crisis. This happens when your systolic pressure is above 180 or your diastolic pressure is above 120. A hypertensive crisis requires prompt medical attention.
Step 8: Take Action if Needed
Be sure to maintain notes with all your blood pressure readings. If your pressure is regularly above 120/80, it tells you that you should talk to your doctor.
For mild hypertension, your doctor may just tell you to make lifestyle changes. For instance, you may be able to lower your blood pressure by exercising more, changing your diet, or losing weight.
In other cases, medication is necessary to treat hypertension. While that can sound daunting, remember that treating and controlling hypertension now can prevent life-threatening illnesses later.
Taking Charge of Your Health
Your health is one of those things you take for granted until it’s at risk. Controlling your blood pressure is one of the most effective ways to take charge of your health and lengthen your life. The first step is learning how to measure blood pressure the right way.
For more great ways to live a healthier, happier, longer life, check out our blog for men’s health and women’s health tips.