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If you don’t take care of your heart, it can become a ticking time bomb.

One way to pamper your heart is by maintaining a healthy blood pressure, medical experts say.

May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month and officials from the Tennessee Department of Health are encouraging adults statewide to get to know their blood pressure numbers and how to protect their hearts.

“High blood pressure is often a silent and slow killer. It can shorten our own lives and since it often runs in families, our kids and grandkids can be at risk, too — a risk that our awareness, good example and encouragement can reduce or even eliminate entirely,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH, in a news release issued last week.

“The only way to know if we have high blood pressure is to check it and have our health care team explain to us what our numbers mean and what we can do about it,” Dreyzehner continued.

“If it’s high, it can be treated with diet, exercise and medication, and we can tell the kids and get after them. They won’t want to hear it, but if we lead by example and encourage them, we can add good years to their lives as well as our own,” the state health commissioner added.


These simple actions can help lower one’s risk of high blood pressure, state health officials say:

• Quit nicotine use and stay away from secondhand smoke. Get free help to quit smoking from the Tennessee Tobacco QuitLine by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW or visiting

• Limit your salt intake every day.

• Get active every day.

• Get to and maintain a healthy weight.

• Avoid alcohol and drug use.

• Control your cholesterol levels.

• Eat a healthy diet every day. Talk with your health care provider about an eating plan that’s right for you. One to consider is the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH, diet.

• If your health care provider prescribes high blood pressure medication, take it as directed and discuss any issues with your provider.

“You can choose to make simple, healthy lifestyle changes to lower your risk of developing high blood pressure,” said TDH Assistant Commissioner for Family Health and Wellness Morgan McDonald, MD, in the release. “Taking charge of what you eat and increasing physical activity help prevent high blood pressure and are key parts of treating it.”


A blood pressure reading includes two numbers. So what do they mean?

Systolic blood pressure, the top number, is a measure of the force or pressure created in the blood vessels when your heart beats and pushes blood through the arteries to the rest of your body, information from the health department says.

Diastolic blood pressure, the bottom number, is a measure of pressure in your arteries when the heart rests between beats and the heart fills with blood, it adds.

The American Heart Association defines normal blood pressure as less than 120 over 80 and recommends adults begin regular blood pressure screenings starting at age 20. Having your blood pressure measured is quick and painless.

Talk with your health care provider about your results.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three Americans, or 23 percent of adults have been diagnosed with high blood pressure. In Tennessee, 38.5 percent of adults have high blood pressure.

Certain traits, conditions, behaviors and habits can raise your risk of having high blood pressure. The more of these risk factors you have, the more likely you are to develop high blood pressure, the CDC says.


Risk factors provided by the TDH include:

• age — the older you get, the higher your risk for high blood pressure;

• race — high blood pressure is more common in African Americans;

• family history of high blood pressure;

• using tobacco or nicotine-containing products including electronic cigarettes;

• eating too much sodium (salt);

• not getting enough physical activity;

• being obese or overweight;

• drinking too much alcohol, using illegal drugs or misusing prescription medications;

• having high cholesterol levels; and

• not eating healthy foods.

To learn more about high blood pressure and how to protect your heart, visit

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