People whose blood pressure falls at the higher end of the normal recommended range might still be at risk of accelerated brain ageing, suggests a new study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.
Researchers from The Australian National University (ANU) found that optimal blood pressure helps our brains stay biologically six months younger than our real age, but this effect decreases with higher blood pressure.
Furthermore, they found that people with higher blood pressure had ‘older’ brains, increasing risk of heart disease, stroke and dementia.
“This thinking that one’s brain becomes unhealthy because of high blood pressure later in life is not completely true,” says Professor Nicolas Cherbuin, head of the ANU Centre for Research on Ageing, Health and Wellbeing.
“It starts earlier, and it starts in people who have normal blood pressure.”
‘Normal’ blood pressure sits below 120/80, but optimal blood pressure is closer to 110/70.
“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,” says cardiologist and co-author Walter Abhayaratna.
“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.”
To learn this, the team examined 2000 brain scans of 646 healthy people between 44 and 76 years of age and compared to blood pressure levels over 12 years, but they hope to collect more data about young people.
“Australian adults should take the opportunity to check their blood pressure at least once a year when they see their GP, with an aim to ensure that their target blood pressure is closer to 110/70, particularly in younger and middle age groups,” says Abhayaratna.
“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.”
Deborah Devis is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Science (Honours) in biology and philosophy from the University of Sydney, and a PhD in plant molecular genetics from the University of Adelaide.
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