The long-term disruption and chronic stress brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll on the American public in countless ways.
In the adult population, the overall health impact manifests in the form of higher blood pressure, especially in women, and doctors are now concerned about the long-term risks if their patients do not take medication. concerted action to resolve the problem.
A new large-scale study from the Cleveland Clinic and Quest Diagnostics followed the blood pressure readings of more than 464,500 U.S. workers and their spouses who participated in corporate wellness programs over a period of three years, from 2018 to 2020.
The research, published Monday in the journal Circulation, found that average readings increased significantly between April 2020 and December 2020 compared to the previous year. Unsurprisingly, these months directly overlap with the onset of the pandemic and the dotted routines that have seen many Americans give up exercise, turn to alcohol, eat poorly, and skip routine medicals – all of which may contribute to higher blood pressure readings.
High blood pressure refers to the measurement of blood against the walls of the arteries and is determined by a reading of two numbers in millimeters of mercury, or mmHg. The upper number, the systolic reading, is a measure of the pressure as the heart contracts, while the lower number, the diastolic reading, measures the pressure when the heart is resting between beats.
While there is an ongoing medical debate about ideal blood pressure, the normal range is considered to be around 120/80 mmHg or less.
Between April and December of last year, blood pressure readings increased on a monthly average of 1.1 to 2.5 mmHg for systolic blood pressure and 0.14 to 0.53 mmHg for diastolic blood pressure per month. compared to the previous year.
The researchers hypothesized that the increase in blood pressure in women, who made up just over half of the study participants, may be due in part to the heavier loads placed on working women during the shift. pandemic. The average age of all study participants was around 45 years old.
“We saw more pronounced increases in blood pressure in women,” lead study author Dr. Luke Laffin, preventive cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinc, told CNN. âNow we don’t know the exact reason for this. However, we do know and there is data to suggest that the pandemic has tended to place a greater burden on women, especially working women, and so on. is an employer-sponsored wellness program. “
The study’s exclusion of race and ethnicity data was also criticized, The New York Times reported. Hypertension, the long-term condition associated with high blood pressure, disproportionately affects black Americans, who have also been hit hardest by the pandemic.
Laffin said the higher readings during the pandemic are likely the result of several factors rather than something. Higher alcohol consumption, chronic stress, poor diet, and lack of medication adherence can all contribute to higher blood pressure.
âI think a key piece is that we know that so many people have lost touch with the health care system and have lost control of their blood pressure and diabetes,â Laffin told The Times.
Healthy habits to lower blood pressure
Hypertension affects nearly half of American adults and is among the nation’s deadliest chronic diseases, killing more than 516,000 people in 2019, according to the CDC. Since it is often asymptomatic, medical visits are prioritized for groups that may be at greater risk – people over 35, pregnant women, overweight people, and people who are not very active or who consume too much fat or fat. hypertrophy. sodium foods.
If left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to a series of health problems that can lead to heart attacks, strokes, aneurysms, heart failure, or narrowing of the blood vessels in the kidneys. It can also lead to cognitive impairment which worsens over time.
For those who have seen their blood pressure rise during the pandemic, there are a number of steps that can be taken to help get them back to a normal range.
Regular exercise – such as walking, jogging, cycling, and swimming – are all helpful in lowering blood pressure and maintaining weight. High-intensity interval training, which involves short bursts of energy followed by lighter recovery periods, can be a particularly effective part of an exercise program alongside weight training. Those who may not have a clear idea of ââtheir limits are advised to see a doctor to develop a physical activity plan.
More conscious dieting can also have a beneficial impact for people with high blood pressure. Eating less foods high in salt, sugar, and refined carbohydrates will help normalize blood pressure, while focusing on foods high in potassium will go a long way.
Some recommended foods include low-fat dairy products such as milk and yogurt, fish, and a range of fruits and vegetables, including bananas, apricots, oranges, avocados, sweet potatoes, and spinach.
The National Institutes of Health uses the Diet Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet as a helpful guideline for people with high blood pressure. A high protein diet paired with a high fiber content can help maintain a healthy balance without giving up on your favorite meals.
Avoiding processed foods – cold cuts, snacks like chips and crackers, canned soup, and pizza – will help reduce the intake of sodium, sugar, and refined carbohydrates.
Dark chocolate, for those in need of a good treat, offers many health benefits, including the flavonoids in cocoa that help widen blood vessels.
Another important goal for those who want to lower their blood pressure is to find ways to reduce stress, whether that’s simplifying a chaotic and demanding lifestyle, or looking for activities that help relieve stress. Yoga and meditation are valuable tools for managing stress better, as is the consumption of green tea and oolong tea. Getting good, restful sleep on a regular basis can also have a profound impact on stress management.
Certain supplements and herbs can be used to supplement dietary and lifestyle changes. Garlic and garlic extract are both known to lower blood pressure, while ginger root, sesame oil, tomato extract, and cinnamon are some of the herbs associated with better readings. , according to Healthline. Whey protein, magnesium, and citrulline can also be added to a supplement routine.
A critical step to take if high blood pressure has become a problem in the past year is to assess any lifestyle changes that may have occurred during that time. Drinking more alcohol, smoking, and consuming large amounts of caffeine are common culprits and should be avoided or reduced as part of a larger health plan.
The most important thing for people at risk to do is make a doctor’s appointment to see your options, which may include prescription drugs to help lower blood pressure.
Making a series of small changes can make a big difference when it comes to avoiding or managing hypertension, and as research continues to reveal the pandemic’s broader health consequences, taking proactive steps to lead a healthier life will prevent these changes from leading to long term conditions.