Think of five adults you know. Chances are, one of them suffers from high blood pressure, or hypertension. Hypertension is so common, many of us think it is not worth worrying about.
Don’t be fooled, hypertension is a serial killer. In fact, Council for Health Research and Development describes it as “the biggest single risk factor for deaths worldwide.”
What makes hypertension so deadly?
First, it often shows no symptoms. Many of its victims don’t even have a clue that they are already being attacked. Second, the complications of hypertension target some of the body’s most vital organs: the renal system, the blood vessels, the heart, and the brain.
There are several things that increase our risk for hypertension. Some of them, we can’t really do much about:
· Age. A survey conducted in 2013 found that twice as many people in their fifties have hypertension compared to those in their thirties. In other words, the older you get, the more likely you are to have high blood pressure.
· Family history. A study published in 2015 at the BMC Public Health journal confirmed that if at least one of your grandparents, parents, or siblings has hypertension, you are at higher risk than someone whose family members do not have the disease.
However, there are also hypertension risk factors that we can control and avoid:
· Salty diet. When we eat salty food, our kidneys raise our blood pressure to speed up the removal of salt from our body. If our kidneys do not do this, the excess salt would easily kill us. But the side effect of this life-saving mechanism is hypertension.
· Physical inactivity. Low activity levels are associated with higher heart rates and greater amounts of force exerted on the artery walls every time the heart pushes blood through the blood vessels. This greater force results in higher blood pressure.
· Smoking. Smoking causes a short-term increase in blood pressure and arterial stiffness. This increases the likelihood of an acute cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack.
· Heavy drinking. While alcohol consumption has been found to be beneficial when done in moderation, drinking more than two servings per day can make you hypertensive. Women are more susceptible. The recommended limit for females is only one serving of alcohol per day, and by one serving, we mean a 12-oz mug of beer, a 5-oz glass of wine, or a 1.5-oz shot of vodka.
Aside from these factors mentioned, stress and excessive weight are also risk factors for hypertension. However, stressors and body fat are less easy to control than, say, alcohol and cigarettes. While quitting smoking is certainly hard, it is somewhat easier to not light up for one day than to lose five pounds. And while it takes a small amount of willpower to say no to that second glass of wine, it takes even more willpower to say no to stressors like a pushy client, colleague, or boss.
The good thing about hypertension is that you can actually manage it through simple lifestyle changes:
· Stop sitting down so much. Take a walk. Walk faster. Do leg raises and crunches before you get up in the morning. Instead of just watching your children play, get up and play with them.
· Manage stress. Easier said than done, but it must be done not only for your hypertension but for your overall well-being as well. So learn to meditate. And find the funny side in annoying things.
Accept the things you cannot change. Limit what you say yes to. Once you commit, do it; do not procrastinate. Say thank you more often, even when you’re the only one who can hear it.
· Take your maintenance medication. Remember that although hypertension is more common than diabetes, it is not less dangerous. In fact, while diabetes only ranked eighth in the leading causes of death in the world in 2012, hypertension complications – ischaemic heart disease and stroke – ranked first and second, respectively.
· Do the DASH. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It has been found to lower blood pressure in just two weeks.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again because it is worth repeating: hypertension is far more deadly than diabetes, lung diseases, road injuries, cancer, and AIDS.
We are not sitting ducks waiting to be struck. Hypertension can be managed. A moderate change in diet, a moderate increase in physical activity, consistency in maintenance medication, and an attitude of gratitude – all these can go far in reducing our risks.
Remember that no matter how quick and often hypertension may strike all over the world, the choice is ours whether we fall victim to it or not. Yes, hypertension is a killer, but it is definitely one that we can beat.
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