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Watch your pressure, don’t blow a gasket

Just another day on the road. People racing by just to cut you off; turtles on four wheels travelling in the two left lanes and you're seeing red.Does this sound familiar? If so, consider this a frien...

Just another day on the road. People racing by just to cut you off; turtles on four wheels travelling in the two left lanes and you’re seeing red.

Does this sound familiar? If so, consider this a friendly warning.

You’d better watch out or your blood pressure may land you in a situation far worse than facing unexpected downtime.

Keeping your blood pressure (BP) within the normal limits may be hard but it’s vital for a long, healthy life.

A reading of 120/80 is ideal. 130/85 is okay, but as the numbers increase so does the danger.

Your BP is a critical measurement of the pressure within your arteries as blood is pumped through them.

The larger number (systolic pressure) measures arterial pressure when the heart is fully contracted.

The smaller one (diastolic pressure) measures arterial pressure as the heart refills after it’s pumped out the blood.

So the higher the numbers, the harder your heart is pumping to force the blood around your body, carrying nutrients in, and wastes out.

Three factors affect your BP: arteries, blood volume and kidneys.

Arteries: nutrients and wastes can be passed across the capillary walls thanks to the back-pressure arteries put against the blood flow.

Blood Volume: obviously the amount of blood you’re moving affects how efficiently your heart pumps.

Kidneys: they regulate your fluid level as they control the amount of water your body retains, or excretes.

When one of these areas gets out of whack, you’re in trouble and you put your heart under stress.

When the lining of the arteries becomes thicker through atherosclerosis, your heart has to pump harder, and up goes your blood pressure.

If you’re overweight, your body has to grow miles of capillaries to supply that adipose tissue. Pumping blood through these extra blood vessels strains your heart.

(Poor eating habits often cause a combination of both atherosclerosis and obesity – a double whammy.)

Being overweight can also cause your body to become resistant to insulin. So, your pancreas produces extra insulin.

Unfortunately, high concentrations of insulin trigger your kidneys to retain sodium (which, in turn, causes your body to retain water).

It’s really a vicious cycle.

What happens when your BP stays high for a long period of time?

The backflow pressure causes the heart’s left ventricle to weaken, enlarge and fatigue – the result is eventual heart failure.

As well, if an artery is continually under extreme pressure it may start to balloon out in a weak spot (an aneurysm) and eventually burst (and may kill you).

If an artery starts leaking, but you don’t know about it, you could have a massive, internal bleed – if in the brain, you’ll have a stroke; if in your eye, you’ll go blind.

Backflow pressure also hurts your kidneys.

As you can see all of these issues can quickly become serious, but how can you avoid high blood pressure?

Sorry, but some risk factors are out of your control – like heredity, age and race.

If you have a family history of high blood pressure, you’re in the high-risk group. If you are over 60 – pay attention, this is when high BP usually becomes a problem (but, then again, looking at the only alternative to aging I think I’ll gladly take the aging thank you very much).

Also, for some reason, African Americans have the highest rate of high blood pressure in the world. If you fall into any of these categories, take the time to have your blood pressure checked regularly. Most drug stores – and even the odd U.S. truck stop – have an automatic cuff so you can take your blood pressure at your convenience. Use it.

But, there are other risk factors you can try to avoid.

Smoking increases the heart’s workload; eating fatty foods leads to atherosclerosis; diabetes causes insulin disruptions; being overweight especially if you store the fat around the waist; stress increases the blood pressure to internal organs; alcohol consumption keep it under two drinks per day.

Excessive drinking is closely linked to strokes, even without high blood pressure. Inactivity and poor diet also play a part in this serious health problem.

If you already know your blood pressure is high – stay away from a lot of salt as it causes your body to retain water.

As well, the servings in the food groups are a little different than in the normal diet.

Eat seven or eight grain products; four or five vegetables; four or five fruits; two or three (low-fat) milks; and two (or less) lean meats.

Stress, and some of the other risk factors, are quite hard to control on the road. But, take time to unwind, eat right and get your BP checked. Don’t wait until you blow a gasket.

Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail at


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