Relieving and monitoring high blood pressure

Despite an active lifestyle, Kenneth was shocked to learn he had high blood pressure. He explains how changes to his diet, along with medication, has helped get it under control.

Five years ago, at the age of 77, I discovered by sheer luck I had ‘severe hypertension’ when, out of curiosity, I took advantage of Unichem’s free blood pressure testing.

My 214 systolic blood pressure came as a shock. My previous readings had never exceeded about 164 and doctors frequently attributed this to (temporary) “white coat syndrome” - a high reading due to anxiety caused by the healthcare setting rather than an underlying problem. They believed my average blood pressure was most probably a safer lower level.

Alarmed by my discovery, I went to A&E at Whangarei Hospital, which recorded a systolic reading of 202 and I was prescribed medication for the first time. 

Over a period of more than two years, despite the medication, my BP fluctuated from the high 160s to the high 170s. 

The body ‘runs’ better on the right fuel

I was subsequently advised to limit my sodium to no more than 1,500mg a day – the New Zealand average intake is around 3,600mg. 

This marked the very first time I had been given any medical advice on diet, and it alerted me to what should be obvious: a highly complex body mechanism will ‘run’ better on an appropriate diet. 

I’ve walked and tramped extensively over five decades to counterbalance my largely sedentary architect occupation, maintained a healthy body mass index (BMI) and been a non-smoker for more than 50 years. However, I had never given serious thought to my diet.

The vital importance of a suitable diet for each individual, was reinforced three years ago when circumstances forced me to top-up my Jaguar with the wrong octane petrol. The engine revved erratically and ran sluggishly, which was later cured by adding ‘petrol cleaner’ and filling the tank with the right ‘diet’!

A visual BP record

Now, after adopting a more healthy diet, my BP averages around 137/78 which I am told is good for my age. 

As I have no medical or nutrition training it would be wrong for me to list my diet, as each individual reacts differently; but I encourage those who care about their health to graphically record BP readings (see my example pictured here). 

Blood pressure reading

That visual record, I find, is a more powerful incentive than numbers scattered on bits of paper. I can more readily see the combined effects of diet and medication and challenge myself to stick to a diet that obviously works. 

Persevere with lifestyle changes

Fifty years ago I quit smoking by dulling the pangs for nicotine with water. Adopting a more healthy diet is not easy, but through perseverance the taste buds change and the meals become equally appetizing.         

Finally, I believe all health providers should encourage the general public to take more responsibility for their health needs through appropriate diet and exercise earlier in life. We shouldn’t expect medication ‘at the bottom of the cliff’ will overcome years of neglect. 

Kenneth Lees

Former Deputy District Architect MWD Christchurch, and now living in Whangarei.  

 

 

Shared January 2019  

Please note: the views and opinions of the storyteller and related comments may not necessarily reflect those of the Heart Foundation NZ.

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