We know high blood pressure as being not so good. As being the thing that puts you at heightened risk of a cardiac event. Well, a revelatory piece of health news suggests that, in fact, some people might benefit from higher blood pressure levels. Those would be older adults whose bodies are frail.
Published in the world-renowned “Journal of the American Medical Association,” the study looked at a sample of 2,340 adults aged 65 and older. It found that lower blood pressure protected healthier, robust older adults — but that the same may not be true for their more weakened counterparts.
Blood pressure rises naturally as people age. The study used walking speed as a measure of frailty. Participants were asked to walk a distance of about 20 feet at their normal rate. Those who walked less than 0.8 meters per second were defined as slower walkers and those faster as more robust adults, who had lower rates of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and heart failure. A third group included those who were not able to complete the walking test for various reasons, including an inability to walk 20 feet.
Among the faster walkers, those with high blood pressure had a 35% greater risk of dying compared with those with normal blood pressure. Yet there was no link between high blood pressure and mortality in the slow walking group. Amazingly, those who couldn’t complete the walking test had the opposite results — those with higher blood pressure had a 62% lower mortality rate.
As we age, our blood vessels lose elasticity and stiffen. Higher blood pressure could compensate for this loss of elasticity and keep fresh blood pumping to the brain and heart. The mortality differences between the fast walkers, and slow walkers or those who couldn’t walk 20 feet is due to the fact that everyone ages differently.
For instance, there is a profound difference in the physiological age of an 80-year-old man who golfs every day and that of someone who needs a walker to get around. So, in a fast walker, high blood pressure could suggest an underlying disease rather than a symptom of aging.
This proves to be an interesting consideration for aging adults who find their ability and mobility to be not good as the years go by. Blood pressure, high or low, is not something to take lightly, but should you be frail and on blood pressure-lowering drugs, it might be time to speak to your doctor about whether that is the best approach. However, never stop taking medication without your doctor’s advice.