Letting it all go while on vacation may be a pleasant way to relax, but according to new research, even a small amount of indulgence can have a noticeable impact on health – gaining just 5 pounds is enough to increase blood pressure in otherwise healthy adults.
“This is an important finding because a 5- to 7-pound weight gain may be normal for many during the holiday season, the first year of college or even while on vacation,” says Naima Covassin, Ph.D., lead author of the study and a research fellow at the Mayo Clinic.
Most people are aware of the health risks that come with carrying large amounts of extra body weight – coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers are all conditions linked with obesity – but Covassin and her team wanted to know what kind of impact a relatively small weight gain would have:
“To our knowledge, for the first time, we showed that the blood pressure increase was specifically related to increases in abdominal visceral fat, which is the fat inside the abdomen. Our research suggests that healthy people who are more likely to gain weight in the stomach area are also more likely to have their blood pressure increased.”
Although high blood pressure can lead to the development of further medical problems such as respiratory problems and chest pain, there is no guarantee that someone with high blood pressure will present any symptoms of their condition. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), 78 million American adults have been diagnosed with high blood pressure.
The study ran for 8 weeks. To begin with, the researchers tested the blood pressure of 16 healthy people aged between 18 and 48 years with a 24-hour monitor.
The researchers then fed the participants between 400 and 1,200 extra calories every day with a choice of chocolate bar, energy drink or ice cream shake in order to increase their weight by around 5%. After doing this for the 8-week period, the researchers then tested the participants’ blood pressure with another 24-hour monitor.
The blood pressure readings for the 16 participants were then compared with readings for 10 other healthy participants who had maintained the same weight for the 8-week period.
The researchers found that the participants who gained weight during the study had an average systolic blood pressure increase from 114 mm Hg to 118 mm Hg. Also, the participants who gained more weight inside the abdomen experienced greater increases in blood pressure.
Systolic blood pressure is the pressure within the arteries when the heart beats. A normal systolic reading is less than 120 mm Hg, and high systolic blood pressure is known to be a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease for people over 50 years old.
While the average blood pressure readings observed within the study remained within the normal levels for healthy people, the results suggest that it is easy for an individual’s blood pressure to be affected by short-term lifestyle changes.
“The public awareness of the adverse health effects of obesity is increasing,” says Covassin. “However, it seems most people are not aware of the risks of a few extra pounds.”
The authors say that the next step for this research will be to conduct further studies in order to identify whether these results would be repeated in different focus groups, such as different age groups and people with a family history of high blood pressure.
The researchers presented the study at the AHA’s High Blood Pressure Research Scientific Sessions 2014. Their work was funded by both the National Institutes of Health and the AHA.
As hypertension can often develop without any obvious symptoms, the AHA recommend that blood pressure should be checked once every 2 years, even if it is within normal levels. Recently, Medical News Today reviewed a selection of home blood pressure monitors as part of a new series examining wearable technology.