Нaving even slightly high blood pressure in mid-life can dramatically increase your risk of dementia in later life, according to a major new study.
Researchers from the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) and University College London (UCL) recently found that the current threshold of high blood pressure – 140/90 mmHg – could be too high.
They found those with a blood pressure reading greater than 130/80 mmHg – which is only considered slightly raised – could still put you at a 45% increased risk of dementia, which is a known side effect of high blood pressure.
Currently, seven million Britons with high blood pressure are recommended by their GP to take medication to control it. But there are now calls for the threshold to come down to 130/80 mmHg, which is in line with the US, meaning another seven million British people would qualify for medication.
“Our work confirms the detrimental effects of midlife hypertension for risk of dementia,” says study leader Professor Archana Singh-Manoux. “It also suggests that at age 50, the risk of dementia may be increased in people who have raised levels of systolic blood pressure below the threshold commonly used to treat hypertension.”
“It’s vital more people are diagnosed and treated effectively for high blood pressure, so we can prevent countless heart attacks and strokes and stop people going on to develop dementia,” says Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation(BHF).
But until any changes are made, how can you naturally lower your blood pressure?
Move every day
“Aim to do some moderate exercise every day,” says Philippa Hobson, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the BHF, whether that’s walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, gardening or dog-walking, in bouts of ten minutes or more. “If you’re currently sedentary, start small and build exercise into your day. This is especially important if you spend most of your day sitting at a desk.”
Keep a healthy weight
According to the BHF, for people who are overweight, losing weight is sometimes all they need to get their blood pressure down to a normal level. “Again, start small,” advises Philippa. “Keep a food diary, watch your portion sizes and as a guide follow the government’s Eatwell guide, which suggests roughly a third of our diet should come from fruit and vegetables, another third from starchy food like bread, rice, potatoes and pasta, around 15% from milk and other dairy, 12% from meat, fish, eggs and legumes, and just 8% from foods high in fat or sugar, which should be eaten sparingly.”
Cut down on salt
The BHF recommendations include not cooking with it, adding it to your meals at the table, and avoiding (or limiting) salty foods like cheese, butter, certain sauces (soy and fish sauce are particularly salty), salty nibbles (like anchovies and olives), certain ready meals and crisps.
Don’t drink too much
Too much alcohol can increase your blood pressure, so drink sensibly and sparingly. The BHF recommend sticking to the government recommended limits, which is no more than three to four units a day for men and no more than two to three units for women (a pint of beer contains around two to three units, and a 250ml glass of wine almost three units).
For more information on drinking safely, visit www.drinkaware.co.uk
Watch your latte intake
Experts have established caffeine raises blood pressure, but whether or not people with high blood pressure should drink it has been widely debated. However, the official NHS advice is this: “Drinking more than four cups of coffee a day may increase your blood pressure. If you’re a big fan of coffee, tea, or other caffeine-rich drinks, such as cola and some energy drinks, consider cutting down. It’s fine to drink tea and coffee as part of a balanced diet, but it’s important that these drinks are not your main or only source of fluid.”
Don’t stress about your blood pressure
Stress is another known factor in high blood pressure, so take steps to manage it. A study recently presented by the American Physiological Society found meditation can reduce anxiety and stress on the heart. “Our results show a clear reduction in anxiety in the first hour after the meditation session,” says study author Professor John J. Durocher from Michigan Technological University. “Participants also had reduced mechanical stress on their arteries an hour after the session. This could help to reduce stress on organs like the brain and kidneys, and help prevent conditions such as high blood pressure.”
Lastly, if you are on it, don’t forget to take your medication. “Unfortunately, around 40% of people with high blood pressure are undiagnosed and many more aren’t managing their condition properly,” says Professor Pearson.
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