How Hypertension Affects your Health

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is often called a “silent disease” because you usually don’t know that you have it. There may be no symptoms or signs. Nonetheless, it damages the body and eventually may cause problems like heart disease

hypertension

It’s important to regularly monitor your blood pressure, especially if yours has ever been high or above the “normal” range, or if you have a family history of hypertension. Because hypertension can cause heart disease, you may also need to be tested for heart disease.

Measuring Blood Pressure

You can get your blood pressure measured by a health care provider, at a pharmacy or you can purchase a blood pressure monitor for your home.

Blood pressure is measured in two ways: systolic and diastolic.

  • Systolic blood pressure is the pressure during a heartbeat.
  • Diastolic blood pressure is the pressure between heartbeats.

Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and is written systolic over diastolic (for example, 120/80 mm Hg, or “120 over 80”). According to the most recent guidelines, a normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg. Pre-hypertension consists of blood pressure that is 120-139/80-89. Blood pressure that is 140/90 or greater is high blood pressure, or hypertension.

Blood pressure may increase or decrease, depending on your age, heart condition, emotions, activity, and the medications you take. One high reading does not mean you have the diagnosis of high blood pressure. It is necessary to measure your blood pressure at different times while resting comfortably for at least five minutes to find out your typical value.

In addition to measuring your blood pressure, you need to take into account your medical history (whether you’ve had heart problems before), assess your risk factors (whether you smoke, have high cholesterol, diabetes etc.), and your family history (whether any members of your family have had high blood pressure or heart disease).

If you suspect you have high blood pressure, you need to consult your doctor.  If heart disease is suspected, your doctor may recommend other tests, such as:

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG): A test that measures the electrical activity, rate, and rhythm of your heartbeat via electrodes attached to your arms, legs, and chest. The results are recorded on graph paper.
  • Echocardiogram:   This is a test that uses ultrasound waves to provide pictures of the heart’s valves and chambers so the pumping action of the heart can be studied and measurement of the chambers and wall thickness of the heart can be made.
  • Cardiac stress test: During this test you may exercise on a stationary bicycle or treadmill to increase your heart rate while EKG readings are taken. A stress test can also be combined with an echocardiogram or nuclear medicine X-ray to get additional information.
  • Cardiac catheterization: A catheter, a small flexible tube, is inserted into the femoral artery in your groin or one of the arteries in your arm and guided to the coronary arteries. Your doctor can locate any blockages in the arteries and can also observe pressure and blood flow in the heart.
  • Ultrasound: High-frequency sound waves are used to look for blockages in blood vessels in the neck (carotid arteries) or other parts of your body.

Prevent Hypertension with Regular Massage

Stress reactions require major rerouting of blood throughout the body. This is largely controlled by the speed of the heart rate and the tightness or looseness of the various arteries (the tubes that carry blood away from the heart). So the cardiovascular system is particularly sensitive to changes when we’re under stress, and it suffers when that stress is prolonged.

There are many stress-related disorders of the cardiovascular system, and many of these problems are closely interrelated. In other words, having one cardiovascular problem can greatly increase your risk of having others.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a situation where the arteries are chronically tight, rather than flexible and elastic. Having them tighten down increases the force with which blood moves through them, just as squeezing your thumb over a garden hose increases the force with which the water moves through it. Long-term consequences of untreated high blood pressure are very serious; arteries become prone to damage (atherosclerosis), which will raise the risk of blood clots and heart attacks or stroke.

All of these are life-threatening problems that can be prevented or ameliorated by taking action to reduce stress in your life.  Daily exercise, regular massage therapy, and good nutrition contribute a great deal to lessening your stress while prolonging your life.  Swedish massage has been shown to reduce blood pressure, while sports massage and trigger point therapy raised blood pressure.

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Staying Healthy Beyond Middle Age

My aunt always said “getting old ain’t for sissies!”.  She had a point.  By age 60, the average person has lost 30% of their muscle mass and chronic disease rates swell in middle age

Aging

My aunt always said “getting old ain’t for sissies!”.  She had a point.  By age 60, the average person has lost 30% of their muscle mass and chronic disease rates swell in middle age (after age 40):

  • Diabetes is the fastest growing disease in America
    • At the turn of the century, only 1% of the population contracted Type 2 Diabetes
    • Currently, 1 in 3 people will contract Type 2 Diabetes
  • Cancer rates continue to escalate
    • Estimated new cases in 2018 1,735,350
    • Cancer is one of the leading causes of death
    • Your risk of developing cancer is as high as 40%
  • Heart disease – the leading cause of death in America
    • 25% of all deaths in the United States are due to heart disease
  • Obesity
    • In California alone, 41% of students are overweight
    • 40% of American adults are considered obese
    • Obesity related health conditions include: diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, some cancers and physical inactivity

There are several factors common to chronic diseases, but the one that really stands out is stress.

Stress is fairly complex and includes physical, emotional/mental and environmental factors.  Perhaps the biggest contributor to stress today is diet.  When I was a child, our farm lands were healthy and our farmed foods were full of nutrition.  Not so much anymore.  When I was a child, we ate a whole food diet that was not genetically modified.  Not so much anymore.  Neither is it so easy these days to control your diet, especially if you eat out, even if you eat an organic whole food diet.

So, what’s the answer?  There is no easy answer today.  Control your weight, control your exposure to chemicals, control your body’s pH balance, control your diet – these will all contribute to your overall health, but won’t necessarily ensure that you won’t develop some sort of chronic disease.  Adding in appropriate exercise will further increase your health – but what’s appropriate?  That is a subject for another article!

But, the most important thing you can do is control your stress.  Add meditation, a Yoga, Tai Chi, or Qi Gong practice to your daily routine.  These will do more for you than pre-packaged “healthy” juices or smoothies.  Or, increase the frequency of your massage sessions.

One of the really nasty side effects of stress is that it accumulates in the body, tightening your muscles, reducing your immunity, raising your blood pressure, reducing your pain tolerance, interfering with your body’s ability to properly process what you eat, and disrupting your sleep.  This kind of stress accumulation doesn’t go away on it’s own.

The good news is that massage not only feels good, it’s good for you!  Just a few benefits of receiving regular massage range from reducing blood pressure and chronic pain to improved muscle tone and posture, improved skin tone, reduced anxiety, better recovery time, and improved sleep quality.  Massage should be a part of every person’s routine health maintenance plan.  

Myoskeletal Alignment Therapy and Pain Desensitization

We’ve all seen how pain can reduce strength, flexibility, and endurance, as well as create a sense of fatigue. The brain is trying to do anything it can to avoid what it believes may cause injury. With a built-in adaptive mechanism, it can determine whether the body needs less or more protection at any given time.

In an environment that promotes relaxation under the guidance and reassurance of a qualified bodywork professional, I believe a client’s brain can be trained to associate slow, precise, graded-exposure stretching maneuvers with security instead of pain. Pain is essentially a threat warning, so pain exposure therapy (PET) requires time for the brain to process these bodily changes.

In the myoskeletal application of PET, therapists and clients use active feedback while working at the feather edge of the client’s painful barrier, just above comfort level. Muscle energy, fascial hook, and pin-and-twist maneuvers, encourage the client to engage the painful barrier with active movements and gradually push the discomfort level a bit further with each repetition. By progressively introducing stretch to areas that have been problematic in the past, the nervous system begins associating the new movement with safety instead of pain.

We’ve all seen how pain can reduce strength, flexibility, and endurance, as well as create a sense of fatigue. The brain is trying to do anything it can to avoid what it believes may cause injury. With a built-in adaptive mechanism, it can determine whether the body needs less or more protection at any given time. There is little doubt that traditional stretching routines produce an immediate increase in muscle extensibility due to the viscoelastic nature of muscle, but these effects quickly dissipate. The more permanent extensibility seen in PET is likely the result of two factors: the client’s willingness to tolerate the discomfort associated with stretch, and muscle, ligament, and joint pain gating.

According to the gate control theory, pain sensations are affected by descending modulatory influences from the brain, which can make the stretch either more or less sensitive to pain. When danger-signaling nociceptors are stimulated by excessive stretch, mechanical compression, and inflammation, the stimuli are fast-tracked to different parts of the brain. The brain then quickly interprets the information based on things such as prior therapeutic experiences, elevated mood, and confidence from positive expectations of stretch benefits. If performed correctly, afferent input from muscle and joint mechanoreceptors during a stretch can interfere with danger signals and inhibit an individual’s perception of pain.

Efficiency of movement and improved function are the desired outcomes of any bodywork strategy. Tension, trauma, and even overly aggressive bodywork can result in excessive soreness and stiffness, which compromises fluid movement. Such stiffness typically results from nonoptimal neuromuscular firing due to altered brain maps, rather than passive stiffness based on adhesions, scar tissue, or degenerative changes. Remember that the body’s physical and mental states interact bidirectionally, so we can decrease pain by moving better, and we can move better by decreasing pain.

A PET desensitization approach is aimed at normalizing sensation by providing consistent stimulus to the affected area for short periods of time. The brain will respond to this sensory input by acclimating to the sensation, thereby gradually decreasing the body’s pain response to the particular stimuli. Good clinical assessment and the appropriate application of PET, combined with self-care advice, can be successfully used in conjunction with other therapies to build an effective pain-management program.

Tackling the Dreaded Dowager’s Hump

As we age, aberrant patterns become habitual, repetitive and narrow; pain/spasm/pain cycles develop; we have injuries; our posture worsens.  The conversation between body and brain becomes increasingly difficult and unreliable.  Eventually, coordination, balance and movement may become very limited.

One of the primary postural goals for manual therapists is restoration and maintenance of proper vertebral curves, which exist for a reason:  to provide the least amount of strain to muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints so they can carry on with daily chores.  If compromised, the risk of injury, protective muscle guarding and development of pain/spasm/pain cycles escalates.

fig1frontline_0

It’s not entirely clear what causes it.  Most likely, there are many underlying causes.  Dowager’s Hump, hyperkyphosis, may be a multifactorial problem:  Length-strength imbalance, motor  control issues, degenerative disc disease, ligament laxity, and possibly certain metabolic problems top the list of potential causes.  There may also be a genetic link as well as it seems to run in families.

Since it’s more obvious when viewed from the side (and most people view themselves in the mirror from the front), hyperkyphosis can progress quite a bit before anyone seeks help  for it.

Dowager’s Hump can cause neck, rib pain and breathing disorders, but can also be asymptomatic.

figure2_0

Even in moderate cases, it can be difficult to lie on the back comfortably because the head is flexed so far forward.

Neuroscientists tell us our movement patterns are more or less hardwired by the time we are in our 20s, so why do dowager’s humps often develop later in life?  When asked, the legendary Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, founder of the Feldenkrais Method (mindful movement to bring new awareness and possibility into every aspect of your life), simply responded “lack of variety of movement patterns”. 

As we age, aberrant patterns become habitual, repetitive and narrow; pain/spasm/pain cycles develop; we have injuries; our posture worsens.  The conversation between body and brain becomes increasingly difficult and unreliable.  Eventually, coordination, balance and movement may become very limited.

fig3.paincycle_0

The first line of defense is postural therapeutics, i.e. Myoskeletal Alignment Therapy, in conjunction with home-retraining rehabilitation or referrals to competent functional movement specialists, including Yoga.

Lessons from a Broken Ankle: Lesson #2

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Our bodies are incredible – truly. They are hard wired for survival. They have automatic responses to prevent and heal injuries. Some of those automatic responses tend to drive us a bit nuts these days, such as mucus buildup; but that is one of the automatic responses our bodies have against pathogens.

In my lifetime, I’ve been sickly as a child, I’ve been injured multiple times, I’ve been a chronic pain patient and a functional quad – and through all of that my body has never failed me. And, it’s not failing me now with my latest injury, a broken ankle.

This experience has reminded me how much we are able to disregard discomfort in our bodies. It’s reminded me how sneaky stress and discomfort are. It’s taught me that if you can’t move your body like you did at, say 30 or 35, you’ve got some work to do!

When I was much younger, 40 was considered “middle age”. Currently, “middle age” runs from about 60 – up to about 70 if you’re in great shape. I’m somewhere in the middle of that, and while I’ve been able to do everything I need to do while my ankle heals and this experience has shown me that I’m in better shape than I thought; I’m not in as good shape as I’d like to be.

zumba-for-oldies

So, now let me ask you some questions.

Think about your age and physical condition. Pretend that you’re single and care for an extremely active young child. You live in the country, on a hillside, must maneuver stairs, can’t drive and have a cell phone for a lifeline. You broke a leg, or a pelvis, or an ankle, or your knee, could you do it on your own? Could you hold out for 24 hours or so at a time until the next round of caregivers stops in to help out? Could you get down on the floor, lift yourself back up (without putting weight on the injured leg), get around on crutches? Wash yourself, your dishes, make meals, take care of your child? Try some of these chores for yourself not using your “injured” leg and without putting any weight on it. If you feel like you can’t do it, why can’t you? Where are you weak, stiff, inflexible, or shakey?

Think about your age again. Thank about your physical condition. And, this time consider your gender. How many sit ups can you do? I’m not talking about crunches – with your knees elevated and someone holding your feet. I’m talking about full body sit ups, all the way up.

How many push ups can you do? Full body or do you bend your knees?

Can you stand up from the floor without using your arms/hands?

Can you touch your toes? Great if you can . . . if not, what’s stopping you?

Can you lay flat and roll over without relying on your legs or arms?

Can you stand up to one leg from a chair without using your arms (and balance)?

Is your upper body strength sufficient to lift your body weight?

How fit and flexible do you choose to be as you navigate your ‘golden years’?

My ideas of fitness have changed from this experience. I don’t believe the medical ‘tests’ for fitness come near to where we need to be. I’ll be working on my own fitness throughout my recovery and will continue after that. I love the way I live and can’t imagine having to change my lifestyle long term.

Lessons from a Broken Ankle: Lesson #1

Our bodies are incredible – truly. They are hard wired for survival. They have automatic responses to prevent and heal injuries. Some of those automatic responses tend to drive us a bit nuts these days, such as mucus buildup; but that is one of the automatic responses our bodies have against pathogens.

In my lifetime, I’ve been sickly as a child, I’ve been injured multiple times, I’ve been a chronic pain patient and a functional quad – and through all of that my body has never failed me. And, it’s not failing me now with my latest injury, my broken ankle.

This aging body of mine still has some lessons to teach me, it seems. And, I’m very grateful that my mind is still willing to learn.

I found it very interesting that when my ankle broke, I felt no pain . . . none at all. I was even able to set my ankle and keep it in place until I got to the hospital and felt remarkably little pain – until the ankle was reduced and properly reset. Wowzer! I felt that right through anesthesia!

The next few days were very uncomfortable while I waited for the swelling to go down. But, within a short period, just a few days, really, I was up and about on my crutches, scooting up and down the stairs on my butt, taking short walks on the crutches outside getting my Vitamin D. I was trying really hard to listen to my body during those days, elevating the ankle when it said “Enough!”, and felt like I was healing well.

And, then . . . <drumroll, please> came the surgery . . . My ankle was healing well, it did not need resetting, and only two of the three fractures needed some help. So my medial and lateral malleolus were plated and screwed (inner and outer ankle bones) – when this heals, I’ll have a bionic ankle. And my surgeon was great – she loaded me up with local, so coming out of general anesthesia I felt pretty good. Until the next morning! And, that’s when I could tell I’d been cut on, drilled into, plated and screwed. Ouch! I took my pain pills and stayed as quiet as I could with my leg elevated for a couple of days.

After my stint as a chronic pain patient, I’d thought I’d learned most of what there was to know about pain, both chronic and acute. Possibly, another of our automatic protective mechanisms kicked in and allowed me to forget some of what I’d learned, or possibly I still had some learning to do . . .

This experience has reminded me how much we are able to disregard discomfort in our bodies. It’s reminded me how sneaky stress and discomfort are. It’s taught me that if you can’t move your body like you did at, say 30 or 35, you’ve got some work to do!

This series of blog articles will be about what this experience is teaching me.

Lesson #1: Slow down!

While I’m not very competitive, I’ve always been an over-achiever. I tend to move quickly and accomplish lots in a short period of time. I might even take a short-cut now and then; as I did the night I broke my ankle – instead of taking the time to put on real shoes, I slipped into flip flops to rush outside to take care of something. Poor choice of footwear . . . they’ve been relegated to dog chew toys . . . Yup, those $100 orthopedic flip flops were donated to Bear and Nala (some of the rescue dogs I work with).

First lesson: Slow down.

Yes, I meditate – not as often or regularly as I used to, or should. Yes, I do Yoga – not as often or regularly as I used to.

We’re all human. We’re flawed. None of us is perfect. We get busy and let things slide. We try to be in too many places at one time. Guilty as charged! And, now I have a couple of months to get back into meditation, and other forms of self-care, while I consider how to move forward from this injury.

One of the best ways to slow down is by keeping a gratitude journal. It makes us focus on the things that feed our souls, keeps us focused on the positive aspects in our lives. From Greater Good in Action, Science based practices for a meaningful life (Berkeley):

TIME REQUIRED
15 minutes per day, at least once per week for at least two weeks. Studies suggest that writing in a gratitude journal three times per week might actually have a greater impact on our happiness than journaling every day.

HOW TO DO IT
There’s no wrong way to keep a gratitude journal, but here are some general instructions as you get started.
Write down up to five things for which you feel grateful. The physical record is important—don’t just do this exercise in your head. The things you list can be relatively small in importance (“The tasty sandwich I had for lunch today.”) or relatively large (“My sister gave birth to a healthy baby boy.”). The goal of the exercise is to remember a good event, experience, person, or thing in your life—then enjoy the good emotions that come with it.

As you write, here are nine important tips:
1 Be as specific as possible—specificity is key to fostering gratitude. “I’m grateful that my co-workers brought me soup when I was sick on Tuesday” will be more effective than “I’m grateful for my co-workers.”
2 Go for depth over breadth. Elaborating in detail about a particular person or thing for which you’re grateful carries more benefits than a superficial list of many things.
3 Get personal. Focusing on people to whom you are grateful has more of an impact than focusing on things for which you are grateful.
4 Try subtraction, not just addition. Consider what your life would be like without certain people or things, rather than just tallying up all the good stuff. Be grateful for the negative outcomes you avoided, escaped, prevented, or turned into something positive—try not to take that good fortune for granted.
5 See good things as “gifts.” Thinking of the good things in your life as gifts guards against taking them for granted. Try to relish and savor the gifts you’ve received.
6 Savor surprises. Try to record events that were unexpected or surprising, as these tend to elicit stronger levels of gratitude.
7 Revise if you repeat. Writing about some of the same people and things is OK, but zero in on a different aspect in detail.
8 Write regularly. Whether you write every other day or once a week, commit to a regular time to journal, then honor that commitment. But…
9 Don’t overdo it. Evidence suggests writing occasionally (1-3 times per week) is more beneficial than daily journaling. That might be because we adapt to positive events and can soon become numb to them—that’s why it helps to savor surprises.

Here’s the link if you’d like more information.

 

Slow down, breathe deeply and be grateful for all the wonderful things and people in your life.
I look forward to hearing how you get on with your journal.