So you’re going for a check-up at the doctor’s office and you have your vitals taken, blood work done, and a general health screen is performed. In the end your are provided with a bunch of numbers including your blood pressure, heart rate, body mass index, cholesterol, etc. That’s nice and all, but what do all these numbers mean? What is a good rating for all of these tests?
Let’s start with blood pressure (BP). This is a measure that is taken at almost every doctor’s visit. The top number is your systolic BP which measures the pressure in the arteries when your heart beats. The bottom number is your diastolic BP which measures the pressure in your arteries between beats when the heart is at rest. The American Heart Association categorizes blood pressure levels in the following way:
Note that this chart does not provide any measures for abnormally low blood pressures. Typically individuals with low blood pressure will experience certain side effects like dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, nausea, and various other symptoms. It is normal for your blood pressure to rise during activity due to the increased need for oxygen to get to your muscles and therefore the heart has to pump out more oxygenated blood than at rest. Generally, to have a normal response to exercise, your top number (systolic BP) should rise (possibly up to 180 mm Hg) but your bottom number (diastolic BP) shoulder show little change.
Heart rate (HR) is another important measure that also fluctuates with activity. The normal range for heart rate is between 60-80 beats per minute (bpm) for adults. Depending on your age and level of exercise intensity, your heart rate will rise normally with activity. Your maximum heart rate is typically calculated by subtracting your age from 220. The following chart displays various normal ranges for heart rate depending on age and exercise intensity level.
A resting heart rate of over 100 bpm is called tachycardia, where as a heart rate less than 60 bpm is considered bradycardia. Elite athletes are often bradycardic at rest due to their improved heart function from exercise; however, each of these conditions could be a serious cause for concern regarding the heart. Tachycardia may leave an individual at higher risk for a stroke or cardiac arrest. Bradycardia may mean that the body isn’t getting enough blood pumped out of the heart which may require a pacemaker to help the heart maintain a proper rate. If you are concerned about any abnormalities in your heart rate, contact your doctor.