What's raising your blood pressure?

Jane Murphy / 28 June 2016

Regular exercise and a healthy weight are key to keeping blood pressure under control. But which surprising factors might be putting it at risk?

1. You have irregular mealtimes

Skipped breakfast? Delayed lunch until 4pm? Beware! When we eat could be as important as what we eat, say two studies published in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. Researchers found that eating irregularly is linked to a higher risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and obesity. The reason? It's thought inconsistent mealtimes can play havoc with our 24-hour internal body clock.

10 ways to lower your blood pressure

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2. You've been listening to pop music

German researchers recently set out to test the cardiovascular effects of three different types of music – Mozart, Strauss and Abba. After 25 minutes, people who'd been listening to the classics had significantly lower blood pressure – while those who'd listened to Abba saw no such improvement. It's thought music with lyrics may stimulate, rather than calm, the mind. It's not all bad news for Abba fans, though: all three groups saw a notable drop in levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

How else does music affect your health?

3. You live under a flight path

Long-term exposure to aircraft noise is linked to a big threat to blood pressure, say researchers from Jagiellonian University Medical College in Krakow, Poland. In the study of 201 adults, those who'd lived in a high-noise area for at least three years were more susceptible to high blood pressure.

What stress does to your health

4. You don't eat enough yoghurt

Women who eat five or more servings of yoghurt each week, especially as part of a healthy diet, enjoy a 20 per cent reduction in risk of high blood pressure, compared to those who consume just one serving a month, says a study from Boston University School of Medicine in the US. Several daily servings of milk and cheese also appear to have beneficial effects on blood pressure, although the effects of yoghurt appeared stronger.

The benefits of prebiotics and probiotics

5. You eat too many potatoes

While you're upping your yoghurt intake, it may pay to lay off the spuds! That's according to researchers at Harvard Medical School, who found that eating potatoes four times a week – whether boiled, baked or fried – raises risk of high blood pressure. The effect may be down to the high starch content: this triggers a rapid rise in blood sugar levels, which may cause blood pressure problems over time.

6. You watched too much TV as a child

Kids who spend more than two hours watching TV each day are 30 per cent higher more likely to develop high blood pressure, according to a recent study of 5,000 European children. The researchers say this may be due to reduced levels of physical activity. Taking regular exercise at any age, of course, plays a vital role in maintaining healthy blood pressure.

Blood pressure: causes and upper ranges

7. You live on a noisy road

Like aircraft noise, the constant sound of heavy traffic can negatively affect heart health. People exposed to high levels of noise from nearby roads are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, say researchers from Lund University Hospital in Sweden. Another UK study found that living in a noisy traffic area can reduce life expectancy, as well as increase risk of stroke.

8. You're not getting enough sun

Exposing skin to sunlight may help reduce blood pressure, says a study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. Researchers found that sunlight alters skin and blood levels of nitric oxide, which plays a major role in the regulation of blood pressure.

Why your heart needs vitamin D

9. You sleep in the day

People who snooze during the daytime are up to 19 per cent more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, according to researchers at the Mayo Clinic in the US. The team pooled data from nine previous studies with a total of 112,267 participants. However, as the study leaders agree, more research is needed to ascertain what's behind this link. As previous studies have indicated, afternoon naps in themselves may actually be of benefit for some people.

Sleep myths examined

10. You suffer from 'white coat syndrome'

Having your blood pressure taken in a clinical setting – especially by a doctor – can cause it to rise temporarily, simply because you're feeling tense. There are ways to mitigate this, such as taking steps to control your anxiety: arrive in plenty of time for your appointment and take a few deep breaths beforehand, for example. You could also try using a monitor to measure your blood pressure at home or talk to your GP about 24-hour monitoring.

How to monitor your blood pressure

Questions for your GP - how to make the most of your appointment

For more information about high blood pressure – and how to reduce it – contact Blood Pressure UK.

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The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.