Today marks the 17th annual World Hypertension Day. Did you know that increased blood pressure is the leading cause of death and disability? Globally, 18% of deaths are attributed to hypertension. In the United States, nearly one out of every three adults suffers from hypertension. It’s true that dietary salt is one of the major factors of hypertension, but there’s also a link between hypertension and noise. Read on to see how turning it down just might save your life.
Research indicates that certain sound levels can lead to decreased motivation, decreased productivity, decreased memory retention, and increased levels of stress-related hormones. While not directly linked to hypertension, stress-related hormones such as cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine are contributing factors in the development of high blood pressure. While all necessary, at high levels these hormones can increase restlessness, anxiety and suppress an immune system.
The $64,000 question is: What kind of noise increases stress?
First, we have to understand a few things about sound. Noise is defined simply as unwanted sound. What is noise to someone may be music to someone else’s ears, literally. If enjoyable, loud music is not likely to increase stress levels in the listener, although prolonged exposure could cause hearing damage. There are three main factors that define noise: frequency (or pitch), duration, and intensity (or loudness). Intensity is measured in units of decibels (dB). Because human hearing is more sensitive to sound at some frequencies more than others, A-weighting is used to express decibels in a way to represent our hearing at typical listening levels, resulting in units of dBA.
Buildings can be lively places. HVAC systems, intruding exterior noise, sound masking systems, and human activity can create a cacophony of sound.
The majority of research suggests that noise-induced stress occurs when the sound levels are above 70 dBA. However, one study specific to the office environment has found a link between slightly elevated stress and noise levels as low as 55 dBA. This research suggests offices should be designed for background sound levels below 55 dBA. As luck would have it, the industry standard for office space is 40 to 50 dBA; therefore, a properly designed workplace should not be noisy enough to induce stress.
In honor of World Hypertension Day, there are a few things you can do to lower stress and hypertension, in addition to the typical lifestyle modifications of incorporating a healthy diet, regular exercise, and restorative sleep and limiting sodium, alcohol, caffeine and smoking. Studies have shown that small periods of restoration can be very effective at reducing stress. One indicated that a seven-minute period of listening to relaxing music or watching relaxing videos can decrease your stress levels. Keep these tips in mind for the next time you feel stressed, and you may find that taking a break from the noise of life may improve your health.
Happy World Hypertension Day!