Blood pressure and other concerns of the heart

February 16, 2024

For business owners, plan sponsors and administrators 

When people talk about listening to their hearts it’s usually regarding some sort of important life decision – often of a romantic nature.1 But just as our hearts can help us navigate life’s complex emotional puzzles, they are even better (and more accurate) guides to understanding and improving our own, personal health.

Listen to your heart

If you’ve watched a movie or television show that involves a hospital emergency room, you’ve heard actors shout out a patient’s blood pressure numbers during dramatic, tension-filled scenes. There’s good reason for that. Blood pressure is an easily obtained vital sign that can give doctors valuable insight into a person’s current health and risks for future illness. It’s one of the ways your heart is trying to tell you something.

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is expressed as 2 numbers. These numbers represent the force that blood exerts on the walls of your arteries a) when the heart beats and b) when the heart is at rest.2


Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and is often expressed as one number over another number:


“128 over 78”

  • The first number (128 mmHg) is the force exerted when the heart beats (the technical term is “systolic” pressure),
  • The second number (78 mmHg) is the force exerted when the heart is at rest (also known as “diastolic” pressure).

When measured in the doctor’s office, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, normal blood pressure should be 140/90 mmHg or lower for most people. If measured at home, blood pressure is considered normal if it is 135/85 mmHg or lower.3 This is because blood pressure tends to be higher when people feel the stress of having their blood pressure measured in a doctor’s office. This can be part of a phenomenon often referred to as “white coat hypertension.”4

Because people with diabetes are often at risk of other cardiovascular conditions, people with diabetes should usually aim for slightly lower blood pressures in discussion with their doctors. If you have concerns about your blood pressure readings, always consult with your doctor.

It’s also important to note that your blood pressure will change throughout the day, and it’s influenced by everything from how you are feeling, to what you ate or drank, to what you are doing at that moment. For example, stressful situations such as hurrying through traffic to reach an appointment on time, delivering a special presentation, or even drinking an extra cup of coffee may all influence blood pressure.5

Age, gender, overall health, and many other factors can also affect blood pressure. That’s why regular check-ups are recommended to detect any chronic problems early.2

Why is high blood pressure a concern?

Over time, when blood pressure is consistently high, this can lead to a diagnosis of hypertension. Unfortunately, about half of people with hypertension are not aware that their blood pressure is high even though the condition can have major impacts on health by damaging the arteries throughout the body, including those in the heart, brain, kidneys, eyes, arms, and legs.2

Those damaging effects to our cardiovascular system increase the risk of:

  • Stroke,
  • Dementia,
  • Kidney failure,
  • Vision problems, and
  • Heart failure and heart attacks.3

Additionally, many people with high blood pressure do not experience symptoms of the condition. Because of this, having blood pressure checked on a regular basis is the best way to detect early changes and to address high blood pressure levels before they lead to more significant health concerns.

Can blood pressure go too low?

Low blood pressure, or hypotension, is usually defined as readings below 90/60 mmHg. Readings below this number may cause symptoms for some people or suggest an underlying health problem, such as dehydration or an infection.

The human body has ways to automatically control blood pressure to ensure blood pressure doesn’t drop too low, which can result in inadequate blood flow throughout the body. If blood pressure drops too low, this can lead to symptoms including:

  • Dizziness, light headedness, and fainting,
  • Nausea and vomiting,
  • Blurred vision,
  • Weakness, and
  • Confusion, agitation, or changes in behaviour.2

Speak to your doctor if your blood pressure seems low or your blood pressure readings have suddenly changed, particularly if you aren’t feeling well or have symptoms.

The role of employers

Help your people get to know their numbers

Organizations can take several steps to help their employees get familiar with their blood pressure numbers. If your worksite has a Health and Wellness office, consider adding blood pressure cuffs to the facility. That way, employees can measure their blood pressure when it is convenient for them.

In addition to supporting regular blood pressure checks, organizations can also find creative ways to support individuals who are working to manage high blood pressure. For most individuals, managing high blood pressure will involve addressing lifestyle habits related to diet, physical activity, stress, smoking, alcohol use, and sleep.

You can also schedule workplace health screening clinics and invite your employees to participate. These on-site health clinics can make it easier for employees to get key health readings and scores without leaving their place of employment. As needed, employees receive coaching about any follow-up steps that might be required (such as lifestyle changes) or a recommendation to see their doctor if their results are out of range.

Screenings can be designed to include other important health assessments or reviews that help employees understand their health risks. Screening packages can include (but are not limited to) blood pressure, body mass index, body composition, blood tests (for total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, triglycerides, and blood sugar), and recommended vaccinations.

The benefits of health screening clinics

Employers who choose to schedule these screenings might receive results, reported in aggregate, which can be a valuable way to track the health risks of your employee population. However, all aggregate reporting is dependent on attendance thresholds to protect privacy and confidentiality.

Workplace health screening clinics are also a practical and proactive way for employers to demonstrate the importance of routine medical care, serve as periodic reminders to employees about the benefits of regular health screenings, and, when appropriate, be the catalyst for appointments with their doctors and other primary care providers including nurse practitioners.

As a result, onsite clinics can be a key way to show an organization’s interest in supporting the health of employees, and in promoting health and well-being. This is especially important since many respondents in The Wellness Report survey in 2022 reported that, “work commitments are their biggest roadblock to making healthy choices.”6 Clinics can be a tool to change that perspective and remove the barriers that might stand between employees and healthier lives.

Read more and learn how Manulife’s Workplace Well-being team can support your organization: Why workplace health clinics should be part of your wellness program

Do you want to provide counselling or educational resources to employees to help them adopt diets and activities that support a healthy heart? Manulife’s Workplace Well-being team offers educational webinars on nutrition, heart health, and other health-related topics. As well, Manulife’s Guide to Healthy Living is a resource that can be shared with employees. It includes advice for people planning to make meaningful improvements in diet, physical activity, sleep, stress relief, and social connections – all of which can play a role in a healthy cardiovascular system. Download and share it with your employees now.

Medications are commonly used to manage high blood pressure as well. Organizations can provide support by ensuring that their benefits plans have adequate coverage for key medications, and by providing educational information around the importance of taking medications as prescribed. Within the benefits plan, services such as Healthcare Online, Virtual Health Coaching, the Employee and Family Assistance Plan and nutritional counselling by dietitians can help remove barriers to care for employees. They might also provide the support people need to successfully make important lifestyle changes. Setting goals around physical activity, diet, sleep, alcohol consumption, smoking, and stress management are all steps that may help people manage or prevent high blood pressure.7

Listen closely. Then follow your heart

People may make decisions based on the direction their hearts lead them. From a health, wellness, and longevity perspective, there’s no better story to listen to than the one the heart is telling. Learning to understand what blood pressure numbers mean, knowing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, receiving regular check-ups, monitoring blood pressure at home, and making key lifestyle changes are all important steps people can take to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stay as healthy as possible.


1,%2C%20we%20should%20be%2C%20too, 2022

2 https ://, 2023

3 Signs and symptoms of high blood pressure -, 2017

4 Hypertension Canada, 2020 – 2022 Hypertension Canada Guidelines, 2020

5 Stress and high blood pressure: What's the connection? - Mayo Clinic, 2022

6 The Wellness Report, Manulife, 2022

7, undated, accessed January 2024

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