Blood pressure: Polluted cities increase BP readings but exercise can still manage risk

Hypertension can lead to a range of health problems, including heart disease and stroke. Thankfully, exercise can help lower blood pressure readings whether you’re in a polluted area or not. “Regular physical activity is a safe approach for people living in relatively polluted regions to prevent high blood pressure,” reassured study author Xiang Qian Lao. The associate professor at the Jockey Club School of Public Health noted that exercise “continued to have a protective effect even when people were exposed to high pollution levels”. More than 140,000 people were involved in the research, who didn’t have high blood pressure (i.e. hypertension) at the beginning of the study.

Over a five-year period, researchers classified the weekly physical activity levels of each adults as either:

  • Inactive
  • Moderately active
  • Highly active

The scientists also recored exposure of PM2.5 as either low, moderate or high.

Overall, people who were highly active and exposed to low levels of pollution had the lowest risk of developing high blood pressure.

Meanwhile, each increase in PM2.5 level was associated with a 38 percent increased risk of high blood pressure.

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However, each increase in physical activity lead to a six percent lower risk of high blood pressure.

These results suggest that reducing air pollution is more effective in preventing high blood pressure.

Is your nearest area highly polluted?

The Cities Outlook report demonstrated the proportion of local deaths that can be attributed to long-term exposure to PM2.5.

This is demonstrated in their graph, where London is the most deadly city and Aberdeen is the least.

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People who were the least active and lived in the most polluted areas were more at risk of high blood pressure.

Yet, even those in highly polluted areas had a 13 percent lower risk of high blood pressure if they were “highly active” when it came to exercise.

“This is the largest study to analyze the combined effects of air pollution and regular physical activity on high blood pressure,” said Lao.

“Our findings indicate that regular physical activity is a safe approach for people living in relatively polluted regions to prevent high blood pressure.”

Lao added: “The findings also put a spotlight on how strongly pollution can impact blood pressure.”

His research most definitely highlighted the importance of controlling pollution to prevent hypertension.

The health dangers of pollution

The Royal College of Physicians estimated that air pollution is responsible for more than 20,000 hospital admissions annually due to respiratory or cardiovascular diseases.

King’s College London estimated the following effects of air pollution on nine UK cities.

Living near a busy road…

  • In London contributes to 230 hospital admission of strokes
  • In London may stunt lung growth in children
  • In Oxford may stunt lung growth in children

On high pollution days…

  • In Birmingham, the risk of outside-hospital cardiac arrest is 2.3 percent higher
  • In Southampton, 43 more people are admitted to hospital for respiratory disease
  • In Bristol, this number increased to 68
  • In Liverpool, this number further increase to 98

Public Health England predicted there will be around 2.6 million new cases of coronary hear disease, stroke, and lung cancer by 2035 if pollution levels remain the same.

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