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The 4 most important vital signs and how to improve them

Originally from Phoenix, Arizona, Mandy recently moved to Flagstaff to pursue a career in pediatric nursing. She attends Northern Arizona University and spends most of her free time with friends and family, hiking, running, and studying...

Get an A+ at your next physical

Learn about the four most important vital signs and how you can improve them, and you’ll be ready to get a clean bill of health.

Woman having blood pressure tested

Fear of the unknown is rather common, but when it comes to the doctor, this worry can be alleviated. At every visit, it is likely that your vital signs will be measured, and a lot can be based on these results.

Oxygen saturation

At your next checkup, it is likely that your doctor will place a pulse oximeter on your finger to measure your oxygen saturation, which indicates how much oxygen your blood is carrying. Ideally, you want your oxygen saturation at 100 percent, but anywhere above 95 percent is adequate. It is a measure of how much oxygen is being delivered as a percentage of the maximum your blood could deliver. It is crucial that all your organs receive oxygen to function efficiently.

Keeping your weight in an appropriate range is a great way to maintain adequate oxygen saturation. Problems associated with being overweight, such as sleep apnea and extra bulk around your midsection and chest, can hamper breathing and result in inadequate oxygen saturation. In addition, exercise and deep breathing can promote prompt oxygen delivery to tissues.

Respiratory rate

Respiratory rate, or the number of breaths you take per minute, should typically fall between 12 to 18 breaths per minute. Both a high and a low respiratory rate can signify to your doctor that there is a problem.

Asthma, dehydration and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can all cause an increase in respiratory rate. It can also be a signal that something is going wrong with the lungs, with lung cancer being one of the more extreme problems. Bleeding and infection can also make you breathe more rapidly, which creates low levels of carbon dioxide in your blood.

On the other hand, a very low respiratory rate can also be quite serious. There may be some metabolic issues going on that your body is trying to correct. Other reasons that your respiratory rate may be low include use of narcotics and alcohol, and sleep apnea and certain neurological conditions.

To keep your respiratory rate within its appropriate range, reducing stress is key. (Are you noticing a pattern?) It is also important to breathe properly by breathing in through nose and out through your mouth with your lips pursed. Take some time every day to deep-breathe, meditate and relax.

Blood pressure

Imagine a very thin tube with water running through it, similar to blood streaming through your blood vessels. As the force of the water increases and it exerts more and more pressure against the tube, the tube will have more trouble keeping the water in. As a result, the tube might harden to compensate for the added force, so it does not burst altogether. Similarly, your blood vessels can go through a process called atherosclerosis if blood pressure gets too high, which is hardening of the arteries. Because your arteries are no longer as elastic, the flow of blood will now be limited and your organs may not be getting sufficient oxygen. Atherosclerosis can lead to a series of diseases, including coronary artery disease, peripheral arterial disease and stroke.

Slightly low blood pressure can actually be a good thing in some cases; it puts you at a lower risk for heart disease and stroke. However, if you have low blood pressure along with symptoms such as dizziness, lack of concentration, depression and fatigue, it can be the result of a potentially detrimental health condition.

According to the American Heart Association, there are several serious heart conditions that result in low blood pressure. Some examples include problems with heart valves, an inability of the body to pump enough blood to meet your body’s demands, or, in more extreme cases, heart attack. It can also be the result of certain neurological or endocrine disorders.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, an optimal blood pressure hovers around 120/80. Aside from living a healthy lifestyle by exercising, eating healthy, keeping your weight in an appropriate range, and abstaining from smoking, there are many other key things you can do to keep your BP in check. According to a study conducted by Dr. Richard Weller, exposure to sunlight releases a compound in our vessels that keeps blood pressure low. Keeping stress low is also key to lowering blood pressure, so owning a pet and listening to calm music regularly can be beneficial.

So, want to keep blood pressure in check? Go to the beach, breathe fresh air and participate in relaxing, stress-free activities. Doesn’t sound so bad!

Pulse

Reducing stress is also very important in maintaining a low heart rate. Here are some tips to make this happen.

Although some stress is inevitable, keeping it to a minimum is one of the best ways to maintain a healthy resting heart rate, which the American Heart Association defines as 60 to 80 beats per minute.

As with blood pressure, a low resting pulse is typically not a bad thing. If your heart rate falls a little below the average range, it usually means your heart does not have to work as hard to get an adequate amount of blood through your body. According to researchers at Harvard Medical School, a high resting heart rate can be a sign of atherosclerosis or cardiovascular disease, while a lower resting pulse is usually an indicator of good health. Since your heart does not need to work as hard now, it may be able to work longer and give you a longer life!

Pulse rate is all about conditioning your heart, so exercise is very important in yielding a lower resting heart rate. By getting your heart rate up with a 30-minute cardiovascular workout every day, your resting heart rate will be lower the rest of the time. Foods that are high in potassium and magnesium and low in sodium are also great for lowering your resting pulse, so eat plenty of bananas, raisins and green vegetables, and put a limit on fast food, salty snacks and processed soups.

More on visiting your doctor

10 Appointments every woman should make
Pap smear basics
How to prepare your daughter for her first gynecologist visit

Photo credit: Fuse/Fuse/Getty Images
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