Blood pressure is up since the pandemic – this is how to stay healthy

What with daily health anxiety, worries about loved ones, unemployment and the fear of the unknown, it’s safe to say that stress over the past year and a half has been at an all-time high.

But it’s not just our mental health that’s been put through its paces, our physical health has been impacted, too.

In fact, new research has confirmed that blood pressure has soared since the start of the pandemic

And not only day-to-day stress, brought on by the pandemic, but having Covid itself has had a knock-on effect on our heart health.

Earlier this week, scientists reported that blood pressure measurements of nearly a half-million adults showed a significant rise last year – compared with the previous year.

This is pretty concerning considering high blood pressure can lead to strokes, heart failure and heart attacks – as well as other issues, such as damage to the the brain, blood vessels, kidneys and eyes.

What’s more, both our blood pressure and heart rate aren’t things we typically think about day to day – and it’s usually a scare that prompts someone to take it more seriously. 

Dr Peta Simic, a medical director at Bupa, says: ‘High blood pressure develops silently. Most people only know they have a problem when they have their blood pressure checked by a medical professional, and some people only discover they have high blood pressure when they experience something like a heart attack or a stroke. 

‘So being aware of our blood pressure and heart rhythms can offer vital early warning signs.’

In other words, we really should be looking after our hearts – now more than ever before.

So what simple things can you do every day to promote better heart health, and lower blood pressure and heart rate as a result?

Experts have shared some things to keep in mind.

Try deep breathing

Breathing is one of the most effective techniques for bringing down blood pressure and heart rate – and the effects are often noticeable in minutes. 

A study earlier this year found that working out your breathing muscles for five minutes a day can lower your blood pressure more than exercise.

So whether it’s first thing in the morning, at your desk or when you’re relaxing in the evening – a five-minute breathing break could have incredible results. 

Chatty Dobson, a yoga teacher and owner of FLEX Chelsea, shares a simple breathing technique to try.

‘There are many simple ways to calm your mind and body utilising the breath – the easiest of which would be a “Box Breath,”’she tells 

‘Sit tall, close down the eyes – inhale deeply through the nose directing the breath into the belly for a slow count of four – hold for four counts – exhale through the nose for four – hold for four – repeat for as long as you like.’

Also remember if you feel stressed, try to do this to bring your heart rate back down. 

Move more

Since lockdown and working from home, our lives have become a lot more sedentary – so it’s vital to try and move as much as possible.

Whether it’s a lunchtime walk or a post-work workout, moving our bodies can help lower blood pressure in the long-run. Around 30 minutes of activity a day is a good target to aim for.

Aerobic exercise – such as walking, jogging, cycling, swimming or dancing – is particularly good for blood pressure. 

The cardiology team at the Mayo Clinic in London say: ‘It’s important to be consistent because if you stop exercising, your blood pressure can rise again. If you have elevated blood pressure, exercise can help you avoid developing hypertension. 

‘You can also try high-intensity interval training, which involves alternating short bursts of intense activity with subsequent recovery periods of lighter activity. 

‘Strength training also can help reduce blood pressure and this should be done at least two days a week.’

Reduce excess stress

Understandably, considering the current climate, keeping stress away is easier said than done.

But the pandemic is even more of a reason to cut out areas of your life that might be causing you even more stress. 

Whether it’s a chaotic friend or a family member putting pressure on you, remember to set boundaries for yourself – to protect your health.

Monitor caffeine

The cardiology team at the Mayo Clinic in London add that while the role caffeine plays in blood pressure is still debated, it varies per person. So it’s worth checking your blood pressure within 30 minutes of drinking a caffeinated beverage. 

They add: ‘If your blood pressure increases by 5 to 10 mm Hg, you may be sensitive to the blood pressure raising effects of caffeine. Although the long-term effects of caffeine on blood pressure aren’t clear, it’s possible blood pressure may slightly increase.’

Enhance your diet 

‘Diet is another key way to boost your heart health,’ adds Dr Peta Simic.

‘In effect any diet which reduces your waist size will give you the best chance of reducing your blood pressure.

‘Avoid too much alcohol, sugary foods and drinks. Keeping your carb-rich foods to a minimum and reducing portion sizes will also help. Including plenty of vegetables, pulses.’

What is a healthy blood pressure?

According to the NHS, ideal blood pressure is considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg, high blood pressure is considered to be 140/90mmHg or higher and low blood pressure is considered to be 90/60mmHg or lower.

But remember, it can vary.

‘It’s normal for blood pressure to vary all the time. Your blood pressure will be different when you have just got up compared to if you have just rushed around, it will alter if you are sitting or standing,’ adds Dr Peta Simic.

‘Therefore it’s not necessary to check your blood pressure often, unless a healthcare professional has asked you to monitor it and record it for a particular reason.’

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