Tracking Your Blood Pressure

Succeeding at anything requires keeping score; we all need a quantitative scale to chart our progress. The simplest health index most people use is climbing on the bathroom scale to chart weight loss, or measuring their waist.

If you want to get your blood pressure into line, you’ve got to keep track of your progress and keep track of what that all-important pump, your heart, is doing!

Measuring Your Pulse

Measuring your pulse is easy. Your pulse can be taken in many places, but I recommend the wrist. You’ll need a watch or clock with a second hand; don’t use a stopwatch.

While sitting, place your arm on a table so your elbow is about as high as your heart. Later on when you get good at it, you might want to measure your pulse while standing, holding your arm up in the air, or after exercising to get a feeling for its range during a typical day.

Now find your pulse at your wrist. If you’re right-handed, use your left hand on your right wrist, pressing with the first two or three fingers on the right side of the wrist with the palm up. Keep trying until you find a steady beat.

When you can feel it consistently, time it for a full minute. (When you get good you can time it for ten seconds and multiply by six, but for the time being, count it for a full minute to be accurate.)

We know that the peripheral pressure results from both the number of beats per minute and the volume of each surge of blood your heart pumps. This implies that a lower pulse rate when resting is consistent with lower blood pressure.

Generally, it’s that way with most people; however, there are limits. Generally, the pulse rate should be below 80 beats per minute, with an average of about 70.

Most people seldom have a pulse rate below about 60 beats per minute. Well-conditioned athletes and a minority of others have a low pulse rate; for example, I once measured a runner whose resting rate was 40! Many things, such as exercise, eating, drinking, tension, and anxiety, to name a few, can cause variations in your pulse.

However, if you take your pulse and your blood pressure consistently at the same time, under the conditions described above (sitting with your elbow as high as your heart), you can establish your norm and use it to set your objectives.

Can You Reduce Your Resting Pulse Rate?

In most cases, yes! It’s done by improving your physical fitness developing an exercise program, getting your weight into line, and improving your diet. Jogging both improves the muscle tone of your legs and the muscle tone of your cardiovascular system.

Your heart is a muscle and your arteries and arterioles are lined with muscle cells. To improve the fitness of these muscles, they need to be exercised beyond the normal everyday level.

As they become more fit, they don’t have to work as hard to get all that blood moved around; consequently, as fitness improves, your resting pulse and blood pressure usually decline. Exercise can be swimming, brisk walking, cycling, rowing, skating, skiing, and other activities, including skill sports like tennis, handball, and so on.

I’ll return to exercise, but for now, see it as the means to improve cardiovascular fitness as well as muscle tone. A word of caution: If you’re starting an exercise program for the first time, start slowly.

Discuss your plans with your doctor to be sure that the program you select is ambitious enough to be effective but not dangerous for you. If you’re out of shape, you didn’t get that way in a day or two.

To get into shape, you’ll require more than a day or two; in fact, it will require a month or two. People can lower their pulse and blood pressure by willpower alone through biofeedback.

Biofeedback enables you to monitor your pulse and blood pressure, which you can then, through conscious effort, lower. With practice, it can help reduce high blood pressure. Meditation is another form of mental conditioning that reduces pulse rate and blood pressure.

Measure Your Own Blood Pressure

Measuring your own blood pressure has become convenient. You can do it on a coin-operated machine in some stores or purchase a device like the one your doctor uses or one of the new electronic, battery-operated devices.

The device for measuring blood pressure is called a sphygmomanometer. Measuring blood pressure is simple. You wrap a band (the cuff ) around your arm and stop all blood flow.

Then, just below the band, you listen with a stethoscope to an artery and slowly release the band. As the blood starts flowing, the left ventricle or the systolic pressure comes through (the high number).

As the lower pressure comes through, the beats stop, and the second sound is steady; that’s the background pressure or the diastolic pressure (the low number).

The cuff is hooked to a pressure-sensing device, which is activated by pumping up the cuff. In the doctor’s office, mercury is used to measure pressure, but many newer electronic devices are calibrated against a standard column of mercury and are almost as accurate.

The electronic sphygmomanometer has a sound-sensing device more sensitive and objective than the human ear, so there’s no need for a stethoscope.

I suggest you purchase one of the newer battery-operated, electronic sphygmomanometers that give you your systolic and diastolic blood pressures and pulse rate in one reading.

They are sold in most drugstores, some discount and health stores, through mail order catalogs, and over the Internet. The sphygmomanometer you purchase will have directions on its use.

There are a few commonalities that apply to all of them.

  • Wrap the cuff snugly but not tightly.
  • Pump the pressure in the cuff sufficiently to stop blood flow; about 200 to 225 millimeters is enough. When you’re back in shape, 150 will be plenty.
  • Let the air drain from the cuff slowly and steadily. Many devices do this automatically.
  • Do not take only one measurement; use several measurements.
  • Always measure with your elbow resting on a table at about the level of your heart, or midchest.

The battery-operated devices don’t always give consistent measurements when used repeatedly in succession due to current surges and charge buildup. Inaccurate readings can also result from low batteries.

If you opt for this type, be sure the batteries are good and always allow a few minutes between measurements. If you’re a purist, you may purchase the mechanical type, which requires a stethoscope to read the column of mercury.

Once you become adept at using the stethoscope, your readings will be more accurate than those of battery-operated devices. You only need to learn how to listen for the blood flow at two different pressures: The first one is a beat-beat-beat and the second a steady flow.

Keep practicing and you will get it correct. If you have trouble, ask a nurse or your doctor to show you. The more you know and understand about your body, the greater respect you’ll have for it, and the better care you’ll take of it.

To quote Satchel Paige as an old man, “Boy, if I’d a known I’d need this body so long, I’d a taken better care of it.” It’s crucial to monitor your blood pressure daily whether you do it or you have someone else do it, such as a nurse where you work, or a friend.

The one measurement taken at the doctor’s office every six or twelve months, when you’re nervous or even anxious, is inadequate, and it’s not practical to go to her office daily, let alone once weekly.

Besides the impracticality, studies have shown that when a doctor takes a patient’s blood pressure, it’s generally on the high side. This problem even has a name, white-coat hypertension.

If you seriously want to control your blood pressure without drugs, you should measure progress daily, or at the very least every three days. And you should keep the data you accumulate on your-self in a diary.

Blood pressure measured regularly and consistently is a quantitative picture of how your vascular system is working and the wear and tear it is receiving. It is more quantitative and more precise than most other measurements, such as weight, cholesterol, blood sugar, and so on.

And the beauty of taking your blood pres- sure is that you can do it yourself quickly and gain an intimate knowledge of the inner workings of your body. But there’s more. As you make progress in gaining control, you’ll begin to see how much you control your own health.

You’ll realize that small changes in diet, a moderate amount of exercise, and a diversion or hobby can have a profound influence on your health. And you will realize that you are more in control of your health than you ever thought.