When you go to the doctor's office, your healthcare provider will typically check both your blood pressure and your heart rate at the start of your appointment. While both of these cardiovascular vital signs can provide insights into your health, they provide distinctly different information. Understanding the difference between heart rate and blood pressure--as well as how the two measures can affect one another--can provide you with information you can use to boost your health.
What are heart rate and blood pressure?
Also known as your pulse, your heart rate measures the number of times your heart beats in each minute. There are many factors that can influence your heart rate, including your fitness level, current physical activity, certain medications, and your emotions.
Blood pressure doesn't measure how often your heart is beating, rather, it measures the force with which your blood is flowing against your arterial walls. Your blood pressure reading can provide you and your healthcare provider with insight into the health of your cardiovascular system.
When both your heart rate and your blood pressure reading fall within a healthy range, it's a sign that your cardiovascular health is solid. If your heart rate and/or blood pressure reading are too high or too low, it's a sign that you're in need of further testing for heart-related health conditions.
Blood pressure and heart rate: How they influence each other
While your blood pressure and heart rate aren't measures of the same thing in your body, they do tend to rise and fall together. Many people find that when their heart rate is very high, their blood pressure is very high as well, as the heart is working hard to get oxygen to various parts of the body.
Many people also find that when their heart rate is very low, their blood pressure is low as well. Typically, the ups and downs of heart rate and blood pressure measures are most noticeable during extreme circumstances, such as when you're experiencing a health crisis or during times of extreme emotional stress.
While the two measures often work in tandem, this isn't always the case. Some health issues--including dehydration, severe cases of infection, or severe blood loss--can cause blood pressure to decrease while the heart rate increases.
Factors affecting blood pressure and heart rate
If your blood pressure or heart rate are too high for your (or your healthcare provider's) liking, it's important to take steps to get both measures into a healthy range. Thankfully, activities that lower one of these measures will usually lower the other.
Some changes you can make to lower your blood pressure and heart rate include:
- Exercising regularly
- Managing stress through writing in a journal, listening to music, meditating, yoga, deep breathing, playing with pets, or spending time with family and friends
- Eating a healthy diet (and limiting the amount of added salt in your diet)
- Don't smoke, and if you do smoke, make a plan to quit
- Don't drink, and if you do drink, limit your alcohol intake
- Eat foods rich in magnesium and potassium (including pumpkin seeds, bananas, and leafy greens)
Sometimes, medication is necessary to support your heart health. Your doctor will be able to work with you to decide whether it makes sense for you to support your cardiovascular health with medication while you also implement lifestyle factors that can help you feel your best.
Measuring and monitoring: tips for tracking your vitals at home
Keeping track of changes in your heart rate and blood pressure can help you get an idea of how different factors, including stress, exercise, illness, and getting enough sleep, affect your cardiovascular health.
It's simple to take your heart rate and blood pressure measurements at home. Most automated machines that you can purchase for home use provide you with a blood pressure and pulse reading at the same time. While some smartphone apps claim to be able to measure blood pressure, these aren't approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and shouldn't be used to gather insights about your health.
A few tips to follow to help you get accurate heart rate and blood pressure readings at home:
- Be sure to take your readings at the same time every day
- Don't take your readings immediately after exercising unless you're working to measure your active heart rate and blood pressure
- Make sure you always take your blood pressure on the same arm, as the right arm tends to show higher blood pressure readings than the left arm
- Sit in a chair with your legs uncrossed during your blood pressure reading, as crossing your legs can cause up to a 10-point increase in your systolic blood pressure
- Consider your breathing when you take your blood pressure. Implementing a standardized breathing pattern can help to ensure that your mind is focused and your mind is as relaxed as possible
Some variation is normal in your day-to-day readings. If you notice sudden changes in your heart rate or blood pressure, it's important to reach out to a healthcare provider right away. If you notice gradual changes over time--for example, your blood pressure rises steadily over a few months--it's a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor to learn more about how to keep your blood pressure within a healthy range.
Whether you've been using your health data for years or you're just getting started with learning more about what works for your body, keeping track of your blood pressure and heart rate can help you see what's working for your health--and how some changes might benefit your well-being.
Download Evidation today
At Evidation, we're here to help you make the most of your health data. Whether you're starting to track your blood pressure readings, want to boost your activity levels, or want to learn more about your health conditions, we've got you covered. Our clear guidelines, tips, and support make it easier for our users to achieve their health goals. Download the app today to get started!