Many people are oblivious to the fact that some diseases that they suffer are considered “lifestyle diseases”. In short, these are diseases that come about due to the individuals lifestyle choices. These choices range from diet and lack of exercise to how they handle stress. Hypertension is one of the most common PREVENTABLE lifestyle diseases that I see impacting more and more people at younger ageS.
Hypertension is simply the medical term for what many call high blood pressure. Blood pressure can elevate and decrease throughout the day due to stress, exercise, hydration, and other things. This is normal. However, when your blood pressure remains elevated without the added stressors then it becomes problematic.
Why is high blood pressure an issue? High blood pressure becomes an issue when it is uncontrolled because it can lead to other problems down the road. Hypertension can lead to damage to the heart, brain, kidneys, eyes, and sexual dysfunction. All of these things can be prevented simply by managing your lifestyle. (Click Here to read more about the impact of hypertension on the body)
High blood pressure is usually a result of lifestyle decisions. So thinking that you are doomed to suffer from hypertension because one or both of your parents have it is incorrect. For the most part, if you are diagnosed with high blood pressure and you have a family history, it is usually due to the fact that you and your family consume the same types of foods prepared in the same way, you have similar physical activity patterns, habits and similar ways of dealing with stress in your lives. If you make different lifestyle choices your fate will likely be different than theirs.
I see the body as a perfect machine with built in checks and balances to keep itself running optimally. It sends you messages when things are not right that many fail to pay attention to. Headaches, blurred vision, and swelling of your feet and hands are tell-tale signs that your blood pressure needs to be checked. Instead of doing that, many people will simply take an Advil or an extra fluid pill and think they’re fixing the problem. WRONG! You are simply putting a band-aid over a bullet wound. The source of the problem is not being resolved and these symptoms will continue to present themselves until something changes or the system breaks down and you have a stroke or heart attack.
Lifestyle changes are imperative for managing and reducing blood pressure. Here are a few changes you can make:
Do some form of exercise at least 2 and 1/2 hours per week. Stop lying to yourself by saying you don’t have time. You DO have time! You have time to watch TV, you have time to get on social media… so you have time to save your life! You can exercise while you watch TV.
Some options to get started include:
- dancing- put on your favorite play list and dance hard. I’m talking MC Hammer hard… Beyonce hard. Pull out those Bobby Brown moves… get to sweating!
- jump rope- challenge yourself by switching up the pace, try to do 100 jumps without stopping, etc.
- do jumping jacks, mountain climbers, and run in place during each commercial while watching your favorite show. Bonus points if you switch it and exercise during the show and rest during the commercials.
- take a brisk walk – walk at a pace where it’s uncomfortable to talk but not impossible
- ride a bike- take the family out for a bike ride. Go up a few hills and find new ways to challenge yourself
Reduce your stress or learn to manage it
I get it… life can be stressful. The key is in how you deal with it. If you’re like me you tend to allow stress to build up until you pop. I have found that exercise helps me manage my stress. I lift weights and do cardio and leave all my stress in the form of sweat on the gym floor. That may not work for everybody.
Other options include:
- Kick boxing- being able to kick and punch something can help relieve a lot of stress
- Start meditating- start with 5-10 minutes twice a day and focus on your breathing.
- Do yoga- You’ll be so focused on trying to hold the poses you won’t have energy to worry about the things that stress you out.
- Journal- write out your thoughts and frustrations. If you’re worried about people reading it you can write it down then shred it or burn it in the kitchen sink.
- Seek professional help and go see a psychiatrist- no I don’t think you’re crazy but talking to someone who is outside your situation may help you clarify the issues you really may be having.
- Get a massage- if anything it will get all the tension out of your body and have you feeling great!
- Have (safe) sex! And lots of it. Sex causes a release in “feel good” hormones that play an active role in reducing the levels of stress hormones in the body.
Clean up your diet- Eat REAL Food.
Let’s get real here. Too many of us are out here eating like we’re 17 when we’re actually 40. You can’t continue to live life eating crap every day and think everything is going to be okay forever. Heart attacks and strokes are not cute and WILL become your reality if you refuse to change. It often confuses me how people are more conscious about the gas they put in their cars than they are of the food they put in their bodies! Something is very wrong with that. Dietary changes do not have to be hard or traumatizing and can make huge improvements in your life.
Some ways to clean up the diet:
- Increase your vegetable intake. Half of your plate should be vegetables for each meal. Period. And I don’t mean collard greens cooked with 1/4 cup salt and 3 ham-hocks or green beans boiled into grayness topped with a package of bacon fried in bacon fat. I mean fresh green vegetables that your vegetarian friends could actually eat.
- Decrease your salt intake. Be mindful of how much salt you use when cooking. Read labels and pay attention to how much sodium the packaged items you are eating contain PER SERVING. Your goal is to consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.
- Cut down on your consumption of packaged foods. If you tend to eat packaged foods for 2 out of 3 meals and every snack, try to cut it down to 1 meal and 1 snack.
- Swap out fresh fruit for packaged snacks like chips and cookies. Also kale chips are an awesome alternative to chips.
- Decrease your meat intake. I’m not saying eliminate meat… I’m just saying reduce your intake. Typically a serving of meat should be about the size of your palm. Most people eat a portion of meat the size of their foot. Not a good look! Try incorporating a Meatless Monday where you don’t have any meat for the entire day or at least skip the meat for dinner.
- Cut out soda and drink more water. If you are among those who hate water try infusing your water with fresh fruit and herbs. Let the fruit/herbs sit in the water for at least an hour and you can actually taste a little bit of the fruit flavors in the water. Some people also purchase machines to carbonate water so they can still get the fizz of soda without all the other junk that’s in the commercial stuff.
- Reduce your alcohol intake. Alcohol can increase your blood pressure. As many as 3 drinks can temporarily raise blood pressure. Continuous consumption of 3 or more drinks per day can lead to long term increases in blood pressure.
Smoking is one of the key causes of premature death in the United States. Not only does smoking contribute to hypertension but it also contributes to many other diseases American suffer from. Smoking causes an immediate increase in blood pressure. The chemicals in tobacco also damage the lining of your arteries which causes them to narrow and increase blood pressure (and risk of stroke). Bottom line… QUIT.
I didn’t intend for this post to be as long as it is but I am passionate about informing people of how their lifestyle choices can impact their future health. Hypertension is a silent disease. Many aren’t aware that they have it because it doesn’t have any symptoms until it starts to get out of control. The sad thing is you can prevent high blood pressure and even reverse it! You don’t have to be burdened with it. Consider making a few lifestyle changes to save yourself the headache of dealing with preventable diseases as you continue to age. You are your biggest advocate. Love yourself enough to protect your health.