Is Your Blood Pressure Low Enough?

In Ireland it is estimated that up to 50% of adults aged between 45 and 54 have hypertension (high blood pressure). This trend increases as we examine older cohorts within the Irish population with approximately 77% of over 75’s suffering from hypertension. Currently, the Irish Heart foundation recommend that blood pressure is kept below 140mmHg systolic and 90mmHg diastolic.

Why is lower blood pressure important?

Numerous longitudinal studies have found that lower blood pressure is correlated with a decreased risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease. For example, The SPRINT trial in the US divided 9,300 patients into two groups to assess the health benefits and differences between having a systolic blood pressure of 140mmHg or less versus 120mmHg or less. The results surprised many and found that the group with a systolic blood pressure of 120mmHg or less had a 25% lower mortality rate and a 33% reduction in cardiovascular morbidity.

It is important to note that in the SPRINT trial, medication was the primary means of lowering the patient’s blood pressure. Lifestyle changes such as participating in physical exercise and eating a healthy diet are also two important ways that people can use to improve their blood pressure profile.

Following a Mediterriean diet that is high in vegetables and healthy fats can have a positive effect on both blood pressure and cholesterol. More recent research in particular has found that vegetables high in nitrates (kale, spinach or beatroot) can cause vasodilation thereby decreasing blood pressure. It is important to note that Warfarin patients should limit their intake of leafy greens due to their high Vitamin K content.

Aerobic exercise can also reduce blood pressure in both the long and short term. The short term effects of lowering blood pressure usually last 24-48 hours which is why regular aerobic exercise is so important. The American College of Sports Medicine recommend that everyone engages in moderate aerobic exercise (such as walking) for at least 30 minutes on five or more days per week.

Exercise and Aging

Why do some individuals appear to age gracefully, while others are more likely to show and feel their years? Of course genetics play an important role but lifestyle factors  and chronic illness are also important considerations. 

The body’s physiological systems are inevitably affected by changes related to normal aging, but the extent to which deterioration occurs is, in part, related to the older adults physical activity level. Regular physical exercise can prevent, manage and even reverse┬áthese harmful changes. Dr Barry Franklyn is a cardiac rehabilitation specialist who argues that the most important fitness components for health aging are muscular strength and endurance, aerobic endurance, flexibility and balance.

Strength training is particularly beneficial for older adults because of its role in increasing muscle mass, strengthening muscles and bones, improving balance, decreasing risk of falls and bone fractures and mitigating the discomfort associated with arthritis. Improvements in muscle strength can be achieved with modest investments in time. Resistance training twice a week using exercises that target major muscle groups can enhance older adults strength.

Regular aerobic training (such as brisk walking) can increase stamina, improve blood sugar control, assist with weight management, aid with blood pressure control and improve cholesterol profile. The American College of Sports Medicine that adults engage in 150 minutes of moderate physical activity (such as brisk walking) per week. This equates to 30 minutes per day. More importantly this 30 minutes can be accumulated throughout the day in bouts as short as 10 minutes.