It Comes Out of Nowhere
The other day, I was on my way home from the gym when I decided to pull into a local convenience store to purchase a lottery ticket. I don’t usually play the lottery but as the jackpot was over $400 million dollars, I figured it was worth risking two dollars.
I had asked four dear friends to each give me a number and told them if we won, we would split it five ways. I didn’t want to be rich and leave my friends behind. They’re all good, kind people, have paid their dues and each would help their own families. They deserve an easier life.
As I pulled into the lot I was recalling Forrest Gump talking about never having to worry about money again. He was sitting on the bench and said casually, “That’s good. One less thing.”
At that moment, my brake line snapped and I was suddenly and terrifyingly trying to navigate in a parking lot with lots of gas tanks and lots of cars. I eventually clipped a pylon near a dumpster on the side of the building, was able to shut off the engine and the car rolled to a stop. No one was hurt, save for the pylon and my car, and then it was a matter of filing a police report and waiting for a tow truck in the rain while still in sweaty gym clothes.
“One less thing,” had suddenly turned into a lot of scary things and you can bet your bottom dollar that while I was trying not to die or kill anyone else (and swearing a blue streak,) my blood pressure was skyrocketing. Fortunately, I had just had my blood pressure checked while at the dentist’s office a few weeks earlier and my numbers were quite good. Sometimes being proactive about your health really does pay off.
Age and High Blood Pressure
Having high blood pressure at any age is a concern, but as a senior, the condition can be more difficult to manage as the metabolism slows down and the body takes longer to respond to treatment. Poor eating habits, an increase in stress and a lack of physical activity are all common culprits that can lead to high blood pressure.
The Silent Killer
What makes high blood pressure more worrisome is that there are no symptoms that go along with the condition and by the time it has been discovered, it’s quite possible that damage is already happening to vital organs. That is why high blood pressure is referred to as, “the silent killer.”
Just like the rest of Life, it can come out of nowhere.
Dealing with high blood pressure in your senior years is no different than at any other age as the key ingredients to fighting this condition include a healthy diet, regular exercise and the management of stress levels (we didn’t say it would be easy). What’s most important at this point in your life is that you are more aggressive in your treatment plan since the effects are more severe. Heart disease is still the number one killer and it’s caused by factors like chronic high blood pressure and obesity.
Are You On a Blood Pressure Pill Yet?
Sitting in one of my favorite restaurants and catching up with an old friend who is a nurse, she suddenly asked, “Are you on a blood pressure pill yet?”
“Yet?” She asked as if this was an inevitability. I had a blank look on my face. It had never occurred to me that this was my inescapable fate. That it was the fate we all faced if we were lucky enough to live a long life.
Was she, a trained medical professional, right in assuming this?
Approximately 60 percent of people over the age of 60 have high blood pressure yet medically speaking, having high blood pressure is not part of the natural process of aging if you live a reasonably healthy lifestyle.
What is more disturbing is that only half of those affected know they have high blood pressure and even less are actively treating the condition. For these reasons, it’s important that you have your numbers checked regularly either by your physician, a clinic or with your own machine. If you discover you have high blood pressure, please understand that this isn’t the time to self-medicate, but with simple lifestyle changes that can you can go over with your doctor, you can begin to get a handle on this potentially deadly condition.
Simple Lifestyle Changes
If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, you can complement your doctor’s recommendations with some simple changes in your lifestyle.
This would be a no-brainer but sometimes you just have put the obvious changes out there. To lower your blood pressure by diet, the changes you have to make here are simple: eat more vegetables than fruits and eat more fruits than foods with sugar and saturated fats. Beets are fantastic for this. Pro cyclists drink beet juice before endurance races like Le Tour de France because of how much oxygen gets delivered to your bloodstream.
It’s really more just common sense. Fill up on nutrient-rich foods and you’ll be less likely to eat the entire carton of ice cream for dinner.
Don’t think you’ll have time to get out and pick fresh produce? There are new services that offer “Farm to Door” groceries. That’s right, you can support the farmers John Mellencamp sang about by ordering organic produce directly from their fields.
Here’s one thing you can add that seems to work well for some people. One tablespoon of flaxseed a day. Add to a smoothie, cereal, yogurt, even a veggie burger and you’ve got your flaxseed in.
Reduce Your Salt and Sodium Intake
This one, while easy to say, can be really difficult to implement, especially if you frequently dine in restaurants. The easiest way to manage this at home is to reduce the number of processed foods you eat. This would include bread, boxes of crackers and cookies, cheese and cured meats like ham, pepperoni, salami and bacon (I know! I know!) Read the labels. You’ll be surprised to discover what’s trying to kill you. Once you get used to eating this way at home, the restaurant food will suddenly taste very salty to you. This is a sign that you’re on the right track. You’ll find yourself avoiding the heavy sauces and creams just because they don’t taste right anymore.
Not only will your arteries thank you, your stomach will probably thank you, too.
Get the blood flowing any way you can. If all you can do is walk up and down your hallway, do it. If all you can do is move your arms to music while sitting on a chair, do it! Exercise has so many benefits and you don’t have to train like an American Ninja Warrior to reap the benefits of being physically active. Be sure and drink plenty of water. It helps the flush the toxins out of your body that build up when you move your muscles.
Maintain a Healthy Body Weight
You don’t have to look like Thor or Captain Marvel but obesity is a tough hurdle to overcome and can be a contributing factor to hypertension. By just following the above suggestions, you’ll have a fighting chance to keep the excess weight off.
Limit Your Alcohol Intake
Yes, we’ve all seen the memes and merchandise about crocheting and wine, sporting events and beer, and all of the other cute sayings about how much we love our lives when we’re hanging out with great friends and great libations, but after the party’s over, your body will still be processing the alcohol and sugars. Take it easy on the drinking, learn to love your body more than your vodka and you’ll be able to enjoy a drink every now and then without destroying yourself.
I don’t even know why we still have to say this. Nicotine – smoking anything – constricts your arteries, thus reducing blood flow and eventually takes its toll with permanent damage such as hardening of the arteries and blood vessel damage.
A quick experiment: If you have a home blood pressure machine, take your blood pressure right before you light up and again right after. Then do it again every 20 minutes for an hour. Note the difference in your numbers and ask yourself if it’s worth it to put your body through that multiple times a day.
Learning to meditate while still in high school was probably one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. Who would’ve thought that you could lower your blood pressure with meditation? I learned before apps (okay, I learned before the World Wide Web was World Wide) but there are plenty of apps out there that can help you learn to recognize your body’s stress signals and how to overcome them. This is an enormously helpful skill set to learn for a variety of situations like talking to police officers after an accident.
Listen to Music
Lowering your blood pressure with music is one of the easiest techniques listed here. Just grab 30 minutes of some of your favorite tunes and decompress every day. As a former musician, I find that most of my problems are more easily solved if I face the insurance company… um, I mean, issue, with a song that makes me smile.
Stick With It
You didn’t get through multiple decades of life without stress. No one does. But years of stress take a toll on the body and you are more than likely being subjected to multiple stressors on a daily basis. Perhaps you’re caring for a loved one, have other factors that limit your physical abilities or, like so many, are in a daily tug-o-war with trying to live on a fixed income.
It would be easy for you to fall back into old habits like eating too many unhealthy foods or skipping out on daily exercise but with practice, you’ll find a way to easily navigate back to a safe and healthy track. Your overall attitude and mood will improve as you find yourself becoming unburdened by the risks of having high blood pressure.
That’s good. One less thing.