People should be aware of the health benefits associated with good blood pressure, cholesterol, BMI and blood sugar control, a London-based doctor has said.

Dr Ann Nainan believes that managing these four factors well is the key to living a fulfilled, healthy life.

According to healthcare professionals, people with poor blood pressure, cholesterol, BMI and blood sugar control are more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes or having a heart attack.

Blood pressure

Otherwise known as hypertension, high blood pressure is when the pressure in your blood vessels is unusually high. If left untreated, the condition can be serious and can even lead to death.

Healthcare professionals are often unable to determine what causes high blood pressure, but people who are overweight, consume a high amount of salt and rarely exercise are more at risk of developing the condition.

Hypertension impacts some of the body’s most vital organs such as the heart, brain and blood vessels.

By straining these organs, high blood pressure can trigger a heart attack or stroke, as well as causing dementia. One in four adults in the UK are affected by high blood pressure.

People living with the condition are also at risk of experiencing frequent nosebleeds, headaches, blurred or double vision and shortness of breath.

The NHS offers adults aged between 40 and 74 in England a blood pressure check every five years.

Dr Nainan said: “If your blood pressure is high, you might not have any symptoms, so it is worth going for your annual checks with your GP. But if it is very high, in rare cases you could have headaches, vomiting and dizziness. You can also suffer vision changes when it becomes very high.”

Low blood pressure is not usually a health concern; however, in some cases it can make people feel faint or dizzy.

“When your cardiovascular health is poor, things like stroke and a heart attack are more likely along with an overall less healthy life,” said Dr Nainan.

She added: “If you are dizzy and confused and you have got vision changes you are also not going to be able to do your daily living.

“As you get older looking after your heart health makes a big difference to things like blood pressure, as you age it becomes more important to look after it because you are more likely to get raised blood pressure.”

Healthcare professionals measure blood pressure in millimetres of mercury (mmHg), and they receive two numbers, systolic and diastolic.

Systolic blood pressure, the top number, measures the force the heart exerts on the calls of the arteries each time it beats.

Diastolic blood pressure, the bottom number, measures the force the heart exerts on the walls of the arteries in between beats.

People with normal blood pressure will have a reading between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg, whereas those with hypertension will have a reading of 135/85mmHg or higher. Meanwhile, individuals with low blood pressure will show a reading below 89/59mmHg.

High blood pressure can be reduced by losing weight, not smoking, eating less salt, drinking less caffeine and frequently exercising.

According to Dr Nainan, people with high blood pressure should drink plenty of water, go for walks, eat a healthy diet, getting a good amount of sleep and resting to reduce stress.

She said: “’It is not just your blood pressure that dictates your heart health, it is your age, sugar, your cholesterol and your BMI. These are the building blocks of your cardiovascular health.”

Blood sugar

Having high blood sugar is associated with also having type 2 diabetes. More than four million people in the UK have the condition.

Signs of high blood sugar include blurred vision, feeling very thirsty, tiredness and regularly urinating.

High blood sugar happens when the body is not able to produce the right amount of insulin and the cells are unable to react correctly to the hormone. You are only offered a routine blood test to check sugars if you have type 2 diabetes.

“You wouldn’t normally need a sugar level check unless your GP has request for it,” said Dr Nainan.

There are a variety of options to test your blood sugar levels, either at home or by a doctor. A finger prick test shows your current blood sugar level, but this does change throughout the day.

Dr Nainan noted: “The finger prick test just shows your blood sugar level at that moment in time. So, we don’t use it usually for diabetes diagnosis, we use it just as a clue towards that.”

A Hba1C test works out your average blood sugars over the last three months, with a normal result being below 42.

A result between 42 and 47 highlights pre-diabetes or hyperglycaemia, while more than 48 could indicate that you have type 2 diabetes.

People with high blood sugar are advised to consume a limited amount of fat, salt and sugar. In addition, they should exercise, lose weight and reduce their stress levels.

“Getting enough sleep, eating healthily, drinking lots of water and reducing stress can help lower blood sugar levels. But change in diet is one of the primary factors of type 2 diabetes,” said Dr Nainan.

Cholesterol

High cholesterol is when you have too much of the fatty substance in your blood, mainly caused by being overweight, eating foods high in fat, regularly drinking alcohol and not exercising frequently.

The condition can also run in families, meaning it can get passed down to you if your parents have high cholesterol.

People with high cholesterol are more at risk of having a stroke or cardiovascular complications because the fatty substance can block the body’s blood vessels.

“’Most of the time you do not get any symptoms with high cholesterol. But if you have very high levels of cholesterol and it runs in your family you could have colour changes in the eyes and the skin, particularly on the face,” said Dr Nainan.

Doctors can carry out a blood test to measure your cholesterol levels. To get an accurate reading, people undergoing the blood test are told to fast beforehand.

Dr Nainan noted: “When we look at cholesterol, we look at several components. Your total cholesterol, which is the amount of good and bad cholesterol you have, we look at the good cholesterol which is the HDL and we look at your LDL, good cholesterol.

“If you have high total raised cholesterol, but you have a lot of good cholesterol in your system then we would be less concerned.”

She added: “We might produce a ratio on how much good cholesterol you have verse bad. A lot of athletes for example have high cholesterol, but a lot of it is good cholesterol.”

According to GPs, total cholesterol should be 5mmoI/L or below, while the total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol ratio should be below six.

Otherwise known as HDL, good cholesterol should be 1mmoI/L or above for males and a bit higher at 1.2mmoI/L or above for females. Meanwhile, non-HDL is known as bad cholesterol and should be 4mmoI/L or below.

Following a healthy diet and some medication can help people reduce their cholesterol level. Exercising and reducing your stress level can also help lower your cholesterol.

People with high cholesterol should eat more oily fish and nuts rather than sausages, cakes, biscuits and cheese.

BMI

Being overweight or obese can be detrimental to your health. One in four adults in the UK are obese, the NHS has revealed.

Dr Nainan said: “Being overweight can have an effect on your quality of life, your cardiovascular risk, risk of heart attacks, strokes, type 2 diabetes and even some types of cancer such as bowel, thyroid and breast cancer.”

Cancer Research UK has found a link between being overweight and having an increase in sex and growth hormones and inflammation.

Doctors use an individual’s body mass index (BMI) to test if they are overweight or obese. A BMI examination includes weight and height measurements.

“For BMI, we would need to consider age, ethnicity and gender. It is not for everyone; it is more of a rough estimate to give us clues of where to look. It could just be an indicator,” said Dr Nainan.

Having a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 means you are at a healthy weight. People with a BMI of 18.5 are underweight, while those with a BMI between 25 and 29.9 are overweight. Individuals with a BMI of 30 and above are obese.

People can reduce their BMI by following a low-calorie diet and taking part in frequent physical activities.

Dr Nainan said: “When you are trying to lose weight or gain weight always try to make small steps as opposed to large diet changes.

“Just start small and build on small regular habits. Drastic overnight changes can be very hard to stick to long-term.”

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