By Jonathon Stavres PhD, ACSM-EP-C
High blood pressure is a very common illness among American’s, with nearly 75 million adults in the United States suffering from this condition. According to the American Heart Assoc., more than 40 percent of non-Hispanic African American men and women have high blood pressure. Research has shown that for African-Americans, high blood pressure also develops earlier in life and is usually more severe.
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, increases the pressure against the left ventricle, which requires the heart to contract with more force to push blood out to the body. This can cause hypertrophy of the left ventricle, potentially leading to congestive heart failure. Common measures for prevention and treatment of high blood pressure include regular aerobic exercise and reducing sodium intake.
Stress influences blood pressure
Stress is a significant factor influencing blood pressure. Stress hormones such as adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), cortisol, and adrenaline combine to cause vasoconstriction and an elevation in heart rate leading to a substantial increase in blood pressure. This would be most apparent in an acute response, which are instances that occur and dissipate very quickly (i.e. a traumatic event that causes intense fear or anger).
Chronic stress response can be even more dangerous
A stressful lifestyle can elicit a blunted but maintained stress response that results in a constant elevation in blood pressure. Therefore, even regular exercise and a healthy diet can be countered by chronic stress.
Reducing stress is easier than you think
Reducing stress might not always seem possible, but it is far easier than you may think. It is important to remember that because you’re stressed, you’re more likely to be skeptical of a stress reduction technique. Nevertheless, reducing stress can be as easy as performing yoga each day or even picking up a new hobby that you can focus your attention on.
For those whose stress is job-related, it may be worthwhile to spend less time at work and more time with your family. These may seem like cliché recommendations, but sometimes the most common statements are also the most tested ones.
Stress is manageable
Ultimately, stress is an unavoidable, but manageable, part of life. Some stress can be beneficial and help someone achieve their goals and meet deadlines, but too much stress can be detrimental to your health. Along with proper diet and exercise, employing stress reduction techniques can lower blood pressure and keep you living the healthy life you’re striving for.
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Dimeo, F., Pagonas, N., Seibert, F., Arndt, R., Zidek, W., & Westhoff, T. H. (2012). Aerobic exercise reduces blood pressure in resistant hypertension. Hypertension, 60(3), 653-658. doi: 10.1161/hypertensionaha.112.197780
Kannan, A., & Janardhanan, R. (2014). Hypertension as a risk factor for heart failure. Curr Hypertens Rep, 16(7), 447. doi: 10.1007/s11906-014-0447-7
Siervo, M., Lara, J., Chowdhury, S., Ashor, A., Oggioni, C., & Mathers, J. C. (2015). Effects of the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet on cardiovascular risk factors: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Nutr, 113(1), 1-15. doi: 10.1017/s0007114514003341