New Normal Blood Pressure For Seniors

Senior woman checking blood pressure

Don’t have high blood pressure? That’s great! But are you sure you’re interpreting your readings correctly?

In 2017, the American Heart Association, in conjunction with the American College of Cardiology and a handful of other health organizations, officially lowered the cut-off numbers required to meet the diagnosis for high blood pressure, or hypertension. 

For many people, that means that you may now have high blood pressure even if your readings haven’t changed in the slightest.

So what kind of blood pressure measurements should you be looking for – and what can you do to make sure you stay within a healthy range? In this post, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the new normal blood pressure for seniors. 

Key Takeaways

  • In order to be prescribed medication for high blood pressure, your readings need to be 130/80 mm Hg or higher – down from the previous recommendation of 150/90 mm Hg. This is regardless of your age!
  • Monitor your blood pressure on a regular basis to ensure that it is within a normal range.
  • Lifestyle modifications, like exercising and eating a healthy diet, can go a long way when it comes to lowering your blood pressure.

What is Blood Pressure? 

Although it sounds quite difficult to understand, blood pressure is actually a relatively simple concept. It is simply the force of blood pressing against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood. 

When you measure your blood pressure (or a healthcare professional does it), they’ll place a cuff around your arm that gradually tightens. You’ll be given two readings. The first number, the systolic blood pressure, is the pressure that is caused by your heart’s contractions and pushing out blood.

The second number is the pressure when your heart relaxes and fills back up with blood. This is known as the diastolic blood pressure reading. 

When you get your blood pressure measurement, it will be in the form of the systolic blood pressure listed over the diastolic blood pressure. Your blood pressure levels are classified based on those two numbers.

Low Blood Pressure vs. High Blood Pressure

Not sure whether you have high or low blood pressure – or a normal reading? Here’s a chart to break things down for you. 

Readings Causes Symptoms
Low Blood Pressure Systolic lower than 90 mm Hg, diastolic pressure lower than 60 mm Hg Dehydration, blood loss, certain medical conditions and medications Lightheadedness, weakness, dizziness, fainting
Normal Blood Pressure Systolic less than 120 mm Hg, diastolic less than 80 mm Hg N/A N/A
Elevated Blood Pressure Systolic between 120-129 mm Hg, diastolic less than 80 mm Hg Medical conditions, age, gender, family history, race, lifestyle (lack of physical activity, poor diet), stress Breathlessness, lightheadedness, headache, fatigue, vision problems, heart disease
High Blood Pressure Systolic pressure higher than 130 mm Hg, diastolic higher than 80 mm Hg Medical conditions, age, gender, family history, race, lifestyle (lack of exercise, poor diet), stress Breathlessness, lightheadedness, headache, fatigue, vision problems, chest pain, heart disease, heart attacks, and arrhythmias

Keep in mind that, if you’re an older adult, your first number will often be 130 or higher, but the second number will be less than 80. This is an issue called isolated systolic hypertension and is caused by age-related stiffening of the major arteries.

Technically a form of high blood pressure, it can lead to serious health problems and make the risk of falling more severe. Yet another reason to check your blood pressure (and take action!) on a regular basis. 

New Normal Blood Pressure for Seniors

The American Heart Association recently altered its guidelines on high blood pressure standards for seniors.

Before, high blood pressure in older adults (65+) was classified as being 150/90 mm Hg or higher. That measurement served as the threshold required in order to take medication. For people younger than that, the threshold was 140/90 mm Hg. 

Now, the guidelines are lowered to 130/80 mm Hg- regardless of age. As a result of this change, 70 to 79% of men aged 55 and older now meet the diagnostic criteria for having hypertension – men who previously would have been considered healthy. 

Blood pressure guidelines are not regularly updated, instead changed only when sufficient evidence suggests that the old measurements are no longer relevant. By changing the guidelines, it will be easier for patients and their doctors to identify high blood pressure early on – and take steps to address it and related cardiovascular disease. 

And what is considered the “ideal” blood pressure? While anything under 130/80 mm Hg won’t meet the criteria for a diagnosis of hypertension, all people (regardless of age) should aim for a blood pressure of 120/80 mm Hg. 

Low blood pressure guidelines haven’t changed much. These are still demarcated at 90/60 mm Hg or below. The good news is that lower blood pressure tends to be less of a concern for seniors than high blood pressure. However, it’s still worth paying attention to, since it can indicate a variety of underlying issues.

These include:

Left untreated, low blood pressure can cause symptoms like:

  • Fainting
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Shallow breathing 

Do I Have High Blood Pressure?

Anybody can have high blood pressure, but there are certain groups of people who face a higher risk of this disease. 

If you’re concerned that you might have high blood pressure, get your readings taken at regular intervals. While you shouldn’t be alarmed by one or two readings that are high or low on the spectrum, it’s important to regularly monitor your readings and to keep your doctor apprised of any changes. 

Lifestyle Factors

While some high blood pressure causes might be beyond your control (and we’ll take a deeper dive into these below), there are some lifestyle factors that put you at an increased risk of having high blood pressure.

These include:

Making a few simple lifestyle changes can go a long way in reducing your high blood pressure, even under the new guidelines. 

Seniors

Unfortunately, as you get older, the chances of having high blood pressure also increase. Again, isolated systolic hypertension is much more common for older people, too.

Men

Across all age groups, men are more likely to have high blood pressure – that disparity widens even more when men are younger than 55. After menopause, however, hormonal changes make women just as likely to have high blood pressure, too. 

Family History

In some families, having high blood pressure is just a fact of life – even if all family members follow a healthy lifestyle. 

Race

African Americans also tend to be at an increased risk for high blood pressure. 

High Blood Pressure for Older Adults

While there are all kinds of risk factors that influence your blood pressure that are well within your control (such as your diet and exercise habits), there are some conditions that are beyond it. 

For example, your family history, gender, and even race can play a role in how susceptible you are to getting high blood pressure as you age. Men, for example, are much more likely to have high blood pressure than women.

This is why it’s so important to regularly check your blood pressure, even if you’re at a healthy weight and live a healthy lifestyle. 

The new normal blood pressure guidelines for seniors recommend that you purchase a system to test yourself at home. You can often find a quality blood pressure monitor for less than $100, and in many cases, your insurance might pay for it. That way, you can measure your blood pressure a few times a week to see if you notice any significant changes.

When shopping for a blood pressure monitor, make sure you choose one that has a display screen large enough for you to read your results along with an automated monitor. The cuff should naturally inflate itself and it should fit comfortably around your upper arm. 

How to Keep Your Blood Pressure In Check

The good news about this new normal blood pressure for seniors? The steps for keeping your blood pressure under control and preventing all the related complications that go along with hypertension are still the same.

The most commonly touted guidelines are to treat and prevent high blood pressure via a combination of exercise, diet, medication, and weight loss. 

Adjust Your Diet

Take a look at your diet to see what can be improved. Being overweight, even only slightly, adds to your risk of having high blood pressure. 

Focus on including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and protein in your diet. Eat a heart-healthy diet to lower your high risk of elevated blood pressure numbers. Reduce the amount of sodium you eat, as your blood pressure becomes more sensitive to salt as you get older. 

Get Moving

Exercise is a crucial tool when it comes to keeping a healthy blood pressure. Work your way up to at least 2.5 hours of exercise each week. Even brisk walking counts – so get moving! 

Stop Smoking and Drinking

Don’t smoke! This increases your risk for high blood pressure along with stroke, heart disease, heart failure, and many other problems. The benefits of quitting can be seen at any age, so don’t think you’re too old for it to make a difference.

Alcohol should be consumed only in moderation. Women should consume no more than one drink per day and men no more than two to see the greatest blood pressure benefits. 

Rest and Manage Your Stress

Learn how to manage your stress! Although this is certainly easier said than done, living a stress-free lifestyle is one easy way to reduce your risk of high blood pressure.

Sleep is an integral tool when it comes to fighting high blood pressure, too. Aim for at least seven hours of sleep per night and talk to your doctor if you’ve been told you snore. This can be a sign of sleep apnea, which can increase your likelihood of high blood pressure, too. 

Consider Medication

Medication should be used as a last line of defense in treating high blood pressure, but the good news is that if you weren’t previously eligible to go on hypertension medication, you may now be able to since the cut-offs have changed.

There are several different types of medications you can choose from, so you’ll want to talk to your doctor about which is best for you. The six major categories of blood pressure medications include:

  • Diuretics
  • Vasodilators
  • Beta-blockers
  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors
  • Calcium-channel blockers 

Remember – it’s always best to adjust and engage in a lifestyle that will promote healthy blood pressure before you turn to medication, but certain medications may still be helpful tools in helping you manage this condition. 

The Bottom Line

“There’s no such thing as normal” – except as it relates to your blood pressure! By shooting for blood pressure readings that are in normal ranges, you can prevent a wide variety of diseases. Follow the tips above to get your blood pressure in check and keep it that way – even under the guidelines for the new normal blood pressure for seniors. 

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