Data on hypertension and its effects on health and mortality has in recent years indicated that even modest increases above optimal blood pressure, increases that are not considered hypertension, and even fall within what is thought of as the normal healthy range for blood pressure, nonetheless cause an accelerated pace of damage and dysfunction over the course of later life. Raised blood pressure leads to pressure damage to sensitive tissues in the body and brain, as well as accelerating the progression of atherosclerosis. It appears that there is no sudden threshold above which these problems arise, but it is instead the case that the harms scale by the degree to which blood pressure is raised above the optimal level.
People with elevated blood pressure that falls within the normal recommended range are at risk of accelerated brain ageing, according to new research. If we maintain optimal blood pressure our brains will remain younger and healthier as we age. “It’s important we introduce lifestyle and diet changes early on in life to prevent our blood pressure from rising too much, rather than waiting for it to become a problem. Compared to a person with a high blood pressure of 135/85, someone with an optimal reading of 110/70 was found to have a brain age that appears more than six months younger by the time they reach middle age.”
Researchers examined more than 2,000 brain scans of 686 healthy individuals aged 44 to 76. The blood pressure of the participants was measured up to four times across a 12-year period. The brain scan and blood pressure data was used to determine a person’s brain age, which is a measure of brain health. The findings highlight a particular concern for young people aged in their 20s and 30s because it takes time for the effects of increased blood pressure to impact the brain. “By detecting the impact of increased blood pressure on the brain health of people in their 40s and older, we have to assume the effects of elevated blood pressure must build up over many years and could start in their 20s. This means that a young person’s brain is already vulnerable.”
The research findings show the need for everyone, including young people, to check their blood pressure regularly. “Adults should take the opportunity to check their blood pressure at least once a year, with an aim to ensure that their target blood pressure is closer to 110/70, particularly in younger and middle age groups. If your blood pressure levels are elevated, you should take the opportunity to speak with your GP about ways to reduce your blood pressure, including the modification of lifestyle factors such as diet and physical activity.”