We all know that having high blood pressure isn’t good for our overall health, but a new study has linked the condition to increased brain damage in the elderly.
The research, published in the European Heart Journal, suggests there’s a strong association between your blood pressure before the age of 50 and more extensive brain damage in later life.
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is essentially the pressure of blood in your arteries, which carry your blood from your heart to the rest of your body.
The body relies on a certain amount of pressure to get the blood moving, and Dr Sarah Brewer, medical director for Healthspan, explains that if it’s forced through your system at high pressure, it can damage the arteries and makes them less elastic.
Unsurprisingly, this can cause all kinds of serious health problems in the long-run. Here, Brewer explains some of the major benefits of keeping your blood pressure to a healthy limit.
1. It can reduce your risk of angina
Uncontrolled hypertension or high blood pressure can lead to damage to the coronary arteries, increasing your risk of chest pain.
“When the heart muscle doesn’t receive the oxygen it needs to work harder than normal, or when your coronary arteries become narrowed, you can experience pain in this area,” explains Brewer.
2. You’re less likely to have a heart attack
Heart attacks are one of the major risks of living with high blood pressure.
Brewer explains “Heart attacks can occur when the blood supply through damaged coronary arteries becomes blocked due to a spasm, or a build-up of porridge-like atheroma and clotted blood.”
3. You lower your chances of stroke
Blood vessels that are damaged can disrupt the blood supply to brain cells, warns Brewer, which can cause an ischaemic stroke. There’s also an extra risk of the blood vessels bursting due to damage, which can cause a haemorrhagic stroke.
4. You’re less likely to have problems exercising
High blood pressure can cause something called peripheral vascular disease, which can derail your training efforts. “This is when blood supply to the legs is reduced, and it can effect exercise tolerance and how far you can walk without muscle pain,” says Brewer.
5. Men can lower their risk of erectile dysfunction
ED is the most common sexual problem in men, and can have a major impact on your self-confidence and mental health. “A damaged blood supply from high blood pressure reduces the strength or occurrence of erections,” notes Brewer.
6. You can keep your kidneys healthy
“When blood vessels are damaged in the kidneys, it can reduce the filtering of excess fluid and water-soluble toxins from the circulation,” warns Brewer. When your kidneys lose their natural ability to filter, dangerous levels of wastes can build up in your body and cause kidney failure.
7. Your eyes will be healthier
Not many people are aware that high bloody pressure can effect your eyesight. “Damaged blood vessels in the eyes can reduce vision, sometimes suddenly if there is a bleed within the retina,” says Brewer.
How can I lower my blood pressure?
The good news is that there are certain lifestyle changes that can help to reduce high blood pressure, or help to control it if you’ve already been diagnosed with the condition.
“Studies suggest that following the DASH diet (Dietary Approach to Stopping Hypertension) can help,” she explains. “The diet is based around a healthy Mediterranean way of eating, which includes eating olive oil, garlic, fruit, vegetables, nuts, low-fat dairy products and lean meat with reduced intakes of salt, saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar and refined carbohydrates.”
“You should also cut back on salt intake as this has an effect on the kidneys to retain water. At least one in two people are unable to process excess salt which contributes to high blood pressure,” she notes.
Her other tip is to breathe deeply, as this stimulates blood pressure receptors in your chest wall to quickly reduce your blood pressure. Brewer also suggests taking a daily vitamin D supplement and drinking beetroot juice, which contains nitrates which are absorbed into your circulation to make nitric oxide – one of the most powerful known blood vessel dilating substances.
If you’re concerned about your blood pressure, your GP can advise on changes you can make to your lifestyle, and discuss whether they think you should also take medication to help keep the problem in check.