Habits you should avoid that contribute to elevated blood pressure

Some of the long-established routines in our lives exert adverse effects on our bodies that we tend to overlook. These effects slowly add up and become all the more perceptible in how we feel and what shape we are in. Let’s review some of the worst practices that you might want to quit or cut down on for the sake of improving the health of your circulatory system.

Cigarettes

Smoking a cigarette stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which in turn causes an immediate increase in blood pressure and heart rate. What is more, short-term smoking leads to an increase in arterial stiffness that increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Researchers also postulate that smoking could disrupt body’s blood pressure regulatory systems responsible for maintaining cardiovascular stability. In habitual smokers, the natural response to blood pressure spikes is impaired and the resting heart rate is significantly higher than it should be [1].

Chronic effects of smoking on blood pressure are, however, a controversial issue. Studies show inconclusive results and no unambiguous link can be made between prolonged smoking and elevated blood pressure or a risk of developing sustained hypertension. Authors even argue that, as opposed to long-term smoking, abrupt smoking cessation might be associated with an increased risk of hypertension [2].

Obesity / Insufficient physical activity

Excess weight promotes the development of hypertension. A recent study in this field performed on over 7000 participants at the age >30 attributed 27 % and 19 % prevalence of high blood pressure to obesity in men and women, respectively [3].

The prevalence of hypertension is reported to be twice that of persons with a normal weight in people aged below 40 and 50% higher than that of persons with a normal weight in people aged over 40 [4]. As pointed out by Swedish scientists, obesity and low fitness level in young men can increase their risk of developing hypertension over 3.5-fold [5].

Weight loss can revert elevated blood pressure to a normal level, which means that in the case of obesity-related condition, high blood pressure can be just a secondary effect, rather than essential hypertension [6]. As indicated by research, aerobic activity of medium to high intensity as well as isometric exercises can lower blood pressure by an average of approximately 11/5 mm Hg [7].

Bad Diet

Elevated blood pressure may be associated with poor dietary habits, one of which is alcohol consumption. Due to its high calories and sugar content, alcohol also favors weight gain. Reduction in alcohol consumption was proved to lower blood pressure in a dose-dependent manner at an intake of 12 g alcohol a day (two drinks). No significant reduction was reported below this consumption threshold [8].

Excessive intake of sodium (salt) is another widely recognized contributor to hypertension. A lot of highly-processed foods are supplemented with salt, which accounts for a surplus over the WHO-recommended intake < 5 g a day. The amount of sodium found naturally in basic foods, like milk or sunflower seeds, satisfies body requirement for this mineral.

Sleep deprivation

Insufficient sleep duration (below 4.5 h) as well as too long sleep (above 9.5 h) are associated with the risk of developing hypertension and elevated morning BP [9]. Night time spikes in blood pressure, dubbed nocturnal hypertension, thus entail a higher probability of life-threatening cardiovascular events, like stroke or coronary artery disease. Those who suffer from stress and chronic insomnia are burdened with a 3-fold higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease [10].

Although all of the above described bad habits pertain to elevated blood pressure, their impact is much wider and substantially more universal. A healthy diet, regular physical activity, avoidance of stimulants and a good night’s sleep are recommended even if your blood pressure is perfectly normal.

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