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Thinking About Graduate School? Higher Degrees Mean Lower Blood Pressure

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Competitive advantages in the workplace and increased earning potential aren’t the only benefits of going to graduate school after earning a bachelor’s degree.

A major Brown University research project has found that advanced education correlates with lower blood pressure, particularly among women.

Higher Education Influences Blood Pressure

“Does education influence heart disease?” asked Eric B. Loucks, an assistant professor of community health at Brown University. “One of the ways to get at that is to see if education is related to the biological underpinnings of heart disease, and one of those is blood pressure.

A longitudinal study led by Loucks offers strong supporting evidence that the privilege of obtaining an advanced education does indeed correspond with decades of lower blood pressure.

Loucks’ analysis of nearly 4,000 patient records from the 30-year Framingham Offspring Study, a large research project to identify heart-disease risk factors among residents of the town of Framingham, Massachusetts, was recently published online in the BMC Public Health journal. The 3,890 individuals were all in their 30s when the study began. They were followed from 1971 through 2001 and were assessed seven times during that period.

Blood pressure is measured on a scale of millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Normal systolic pressure is less than 120; a reading of 120 to 139 is considered borderline; and anything above that is high.

The study found that when compared to individuals who had a high school diploma or less, those whose education went beyond a bachelor’s degree had blood pressure that was lower by several points, even after risk factors like smoking were taken into account, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Advanced Degrees Affect Women’s Blood Pressure More than Men’s

According to a press release issued by Brown University, when Loucks and his co-authors controlled just for age they found that women who completed 17 years of schooling or more had systolic blood pressure readings that were an average of 3.26 mmHg lower than women who did not graduate from high school. Women who went to college but did not pursue graduate studies had a 2 mmHg benefit compared to less educated women. For men, going to graduate school versus not finishing high school made a 2.26 mmHg difference, with a lesser benefit for going to college.

Although at a lower level, the lower blood pressure and graduate school link persisted even after Louks and his team controlled for outside influences such as smoking, drinking, obesity and blood pressure medication. A graduate school education lowered blood pressure readings an average of 2.86 mmHg for women and 1.25 mmHg for men.

Study’s Findings are a Helpful Piece of the High Blood Pressure Puzzle

Loucks admits that the numbers are not enough to be clinically significant for any single individual. “But spread over a population, it can have an important effect, like decreasing overall salt intake a little bit,” he said.

“It’s a very interesting finding, and definitely a piece of the puzzle,” Nora Franceschini, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who studies risk factors for hypertension, agreed in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

In the Brown press release, Loucks said that the study “adds to a chorus of others” suggesting that policy makers who want to improve public health and are struggling to do it in other ways, might want to look at improving access to education.

“Socioeconomic gradients in health are very complex,” he said. “But there’s the question of what do we do about it. One of the big potential areas to intervene on is education.”

The American Heart Association reports that about 74.5 million people in the United States over the age of 20 have high blood pressure, which translates into one in three adults.

Reduce Your Chances of High Blood Pressure During College

A University of New Hampshire study of more than 800 undergraduates during the 2005-06 school year found that high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity are among the serious health problems plaguing college students. Sixty-six percent of male students and 50% of female students had at least one symptom of metabolic syndrome, which includes high blood pressure, excess abdominal fat, high blood glucose, high triglycerides and low levels of good cholesterol, reports Inside Higher Ed. All of the conditions mentioned are risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.

It’s all-too-easy to overeat, quit exercising and drink a lot of alcohol during college. A TeensHealth article offers some helpful explanations and advice about high blood pressure. To reduce your chances of developing high blood pressure during college:

  • Maintain a normal weight for your height.
  • Exercise regularly. It’s easy to remain sedentary and snack in your dorm. Get out there and move!
  • Eat a healthy diet that includes mostly whole grains, low-fat dairy products, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking and high blood pressure are both major risk factors for heart attack and stroke later in life.
  • Keep your stress levels in check. Relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises may help with this.
  • Watch your salt. Consuming less sodium has been proven to help lower blood pressure in some people and may prevent developing high blood pressure in the first place.
  • Watch your alcohol intake. Alcohol is associated with high blood pressure.
  • Know your usual blood pressure and have it checked regularly.
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Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.


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