Guadagnare Salute

Epidemiologia e prevenzione delle malattie cerebro e cardiovascolari


Prevention and lifestyle

Arterial blood pressure

The heart is a pump which, through its contractions, delivers blood to all organs and tissues in the body. Blood pressure is the force exerted by the heart to send blood throughout the body.


Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg). Its value is given by two figures: the systolic blood pressure and the diastolic blood pressure:

  • systolic blood pressure is measured while the heart contracts and pumps blood into the arteries
  • diastolic blood pressure is measured between two contractions, while the heart relaxes and fills up with blood.

A “desirable” value should not exceed 120 mmHg for systolic and 80 for diastolic pressure.


The pressure value normally varies during the day: it increases as a consequence of effort, emotions, cold or pain and diminishes with rest or sleep.



How to keep blood pressure at a favorable level


In most cases hypertension is caused by incorrect lifestyle. It is advisable to keep the blood pressure at a favourable level since young age by adopting a few simple rules of behaviour.


Follow a healthy diet, more specifically:

  • reduce salt intake. Reducing daily salt intake by about 5 grams can reduce blood pressure by about 5 mmHg. The salt naturally present in food is enough to satisfy our body’s needs
  • eat a lot of fruit and vegetables. Fruit and vegetables are rich in potassium, a substance which helps keep blood pressure low
  • eat less
  • drink less coffee.

Exercise regularly. Regular moderate physical activity (30 minutes of brisk walking might be sufficient) helps keep blood pressure at a favourable level.


Do not smoke.


Keep your weight under control. If you gain weight, the heart is forced to pump more energetically to send blood to all tissues.


Relax. When you are angry, excited, frightened, stressed or when you smoke, the blood pressure increases.


It is never too late to improve your lifestyle!


Hypertension and cardiovascular disease


Hypertension (blood pressure higher than 140/90 mmHg) is asymptomatic. Therefore the only way to know if you are suffering from high blood pressure is by measuring it, preferably at least once a year.


Hypertension develops when the large artery walls lose their natural elasticity and become stiff, with smaller blood vessels getting narrower. Hypertension may place an enormous strain on the heart, make it larger and less effective and may favour atherosclerosis. For this reason, persons with high blood pressure are more at risk of myocardial infarction or stroke. Moreover, hypertension may cause kidney failure and damage eyesight.

© Istituto Superiore di Sanita (ISS)