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Blood pressure and your brain

You probably associate blood pressure with heart health. And fair enough. But you mightn’t realise that heart health is a risk factor for brain health. So now we’re looking at whether blood pressure that creeps up in middle age could be a red flag for dementia. 

But let’s take a step back and get clear on what ‘blood pressure’ is. It’s the pressure that your blood exerts against the walls of your arteries. It’s presented as two numbers — a bigger one and a smaller one. 

The bigger number reflects the pressure at the moment when your heart pumps out blood to go around the body, and the smaller number represents the pressure between beats, when your heart is resting.

You probably know that we call 120/80 a ‘normal’ blood pressure, though doctors are keen to see readings dip below this. ‘Hypertension’ or high blood pressure is diagnosed at 140/90.

But there’s a gap between 120-139 for the higher number and between 80-89 for the lower number. This is being called ‘pre-hypertension’ and at these levels we’re usually not taking medication.

But a Melbourne study — known as the Women’s Healthy Ageing Project —suggests that this pre-hypertensive stage is important.

The researchers on the study collected data on the health of over 400 middle-aged women annually for the best part of 10 years. When they analysed the data on blood pressure they found that pre-hypertension at age 50 was a good predictor of reduced brain function 10 years later. 

Yes, we all think we have poor brain function from about age 50, but these women were performing significantly worse on cognitive tests than their peers who had ‘normal’ blood pressure. 

While blood pressure isn't the only influence on brain function, the message is to take any elevation as a sign to modify our lifestyles.

This means sitting as little as possible, meeting the minimum guidelines for physical activity (150 minutes a week of moderate activity, which works out at 30 minutes a day for five out of seven days), cutting out or at least down on processed food, and no more than one alcoholic drink per day. 

A small price to pay for a healthy brain. 

Photo Source: Bigstock

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017 | Rhonda Anderson