Health

Try Taking a Deep Breath

I have a condition called “white coat syndrome”. It’s where your blood pressure (BP) shoots through the stratosphere when readings are taken at the doctor’s office. This makes it challenging to know if you actually have high blood pressure. So what I do is take measurements at home. So far everything has been OK.

But in the run up to this year’s July physical, my BP was well above the new guidelines published in November 2017 by the American Heart Association (AHA). According to the AHA, high BP is now >130 over >80. My readings were more like 130-145 over 85 – 99 which places me in Stage 1 hypertension. Not good.

I’m Not Alone

high blood pressureAccording to the AHA 85 million people (1 out of 3 adults) have high blood pressure. And that percent increases to 2/3 of people over 65. High BP is also known as the silent killer because symptoms are not always obvious. When not treated hypertension can lead to heart failure, stroke, kidney disease and other unpleasant conditions. This is not something to simply ignore and hope it goes away.

Do Your Homework

My initial take was along the lines of “I wonder what BP drugs my doctor will prescribe”? I’d better do some research to make sure that we come up with the best solution. So I read articles and watched videos starring doctors. One article and one video in particular caught my attention.

The article is: What’s to know about high blood pressure?It appears in the November 2017 issue of Medical News today. The article identifies 15 causes of high BP ranging from things you can control (like diet, exercise, smoking and alcohol) to things you cannot control (age, race, gender and family history). I do a good job on the things in my control except #12) mental stress of which the authors say: “various studies show compelling evidence that mental stress, especially over the long term, can have a serious impact on the risk of developing high blood pressure later in life.” This factor really stands out for me because I am a life-long gifted worrier.

As for the video (How to lower blood pressure in minutes), it features a chiropractor showing how deep breathing can lower BP. He begins by taking a baseline reading which of course is elevated. After 5 minutes of deep breathing (the video doesn’t show this thankfully), he takes another measurement which is significantly lower.

So the question for me then is: have I done enough to manage my stress?

Breathe

I spend a fair part of the day sitting in front of my PC researching, writing, editing and producing articles and podcasts for Retire Hoppy. I find these creative processes to be challenging and at times stressful. How well things are going (or not) can affect my mental state, breathing (as in shallow breathing) and muscle tightness. Taken together it’s not much of a stretch to link it to my high BP.

I haven’t tried some of the things that people tout as helpful for stress management such as meditation and yoga. I don’t think I’m flexible enough for either. But an idea did come to mind. In my last job I teamed with the ergonomics department to ensure that my work area and habits were healthy. One of the things they did was install software on my PC that reminded me to get up and take a break. So that gave me the idea to look for something similar that I can use today.

high blood pressureWhat I found is an extension to Google Chrome (my preferred browser) called Break Time which is a highly configurable pop up reminder.

I set Break Time to remind me to take a break every 25 minutes. My pop up message says “breathe, get up, relax, and stretch”. When its break time, I get up, move to a different chair and practice deep breathing for 2 minutes. It’s really quite simple. Plus as a bonus I find myself breathing more deeply at other times during the course of the day. It appears that I may be developing a good habit!

Early Returns

It’s still early, but initial results are very encouraging. My BP is close to normal and sometimes even below! To ensure that these results are sustainable, I’m monitoring my BP over the next 4 to 6 weeks and will share results with my doctor. Hopefully I’ll receive approval to skip hypertension medication.

However, even with these encouraging results, I worry whether it can really be this simple. Then I remind myself to relax, inhale, hold it, exhale. Ah, maybe it is.

Feel free to contact me if you’d like more information about Break Time.

Here’s an earlier article I wrote about how short term stress (or so I thought) was affecting me: One Effect of Short Term Stress

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