Four ways to avoid hypertension

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Last week I reported some bad news about hypertension which deserves to be repeated:

High blood pressure (hypertension) is an epidemic here in our overfed, stressed-out country. Dangerous when left untreated, it can create that slippery slope to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and erectile dysfunction.

Smoke doesn't come out of your ears when you have it and you have probably never seen anyone who has actually blown the top off their head. In other words, you can't see it, and it usually doesn't announce itself with any troubling symptoms. That is why it is known as a silent killer.

The good news is that hypertension appears to be highly related to our lifestyle. It is therefore sensitive to whatever different, healthier choices we may be willing to make.

Here are some healthier choices you can make to lower those blood pressure numbers.

Weight reduction: Being overweight is one of the biggest contributors to hypertension. There is an excellent diet specifically designed to lower blood pressure. It's called the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet and it focuses on eating fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products. Saturated fats are a no-no (that means no cheeseburgers), and it is strongly suggested we get as much of our dietary fats from non-animal sources (think olive oil, not butter).

Better nutrition: Although not all people with high blood pressure are "salt sensitive," moderating its use is generally sound advice. Experts suggest reducing total daily dietary sodium to the equivalent to one teaspoon (2400 milligrams).

Moderating alcohol intake; minimizing refined sugar intake; increasing intake of potassium, calcium and magnesium and omega-3 oils (through eating more salmon) have all been shown to positively affect blood pressure numbers.

Aerobic exercise: Borderline high blood pressure can be brought into healthy bounds by the simple act of getting a daily dose of aerobic exercise. You don't have to become Lance Armstrong, by the way. Just taking that half-hour to 45-minute daily walk can do the trick. My personal strategy is wearing a pedometer and walking at least 10,000 steps a day.

Anger management: Stress is an obvious contributor to hypertension and chronic anger is especially problematic. Studies have shown that those who have developed the "habit of anger" but who are unaware of it are the most prone to hypertension. The first step is becoming aware of your own anger patterns.

Compliance: OK, so we all know we need to lose weight, eat better, exercise more and chill. The real challenge is not finding out what to do to reduce our blood pressure, but committing to it. Here are a couple of suggestions.

Monitor your blood pressure at home. Buy a reliable digital blood pressure cuff and then use it regularly. It can motivate you to stay with your new healthy lifestyle choices.

Also, relax. In our hectic lives, we almost forget to breathe. We certainly forget to breathe consciously. Schedule 10 minutes of conscious breathing, meditation, or looking at the flowers grow. Best would be 20 minutes twice a day.

Medical experts have gotten stricter with us when it comes to blood pressure. They now want to see numbers below 120 (systolic) over 80 (diastolic). So it is definitely time to make those healthier choices and comply with them.

Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh, a Cape Girardeau native, is a clinical psychologist who lives and works in Santa Barbara, Calif. Contact him at mseabaugh@ semissourian.com.

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