Last week in "Stress (Part 1) - What is it? What causes it?" we looked at what stress is from a physical perspective and what the primary causes of it are. In Part 2 we'll look at the effects of stress on our health and more importantly what we can do to manage it when it does occur.
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In 2012 it was estimated that work related stress cost the UK economy over 6 billion. In addition to that, further billions are spent on stress related disease through the NHS and further working days are lost to non work related stress. But other than a generalised "stressed out" feeling, what is "STRESS"?
Continue reading "Stress (Part 1) - What is it? What causes it?" »
High blood pressure (or hypertension) is known to affect approximately 1 in 6 people in the UK. Many more are likely undiagnosed and it is believed that a more accurate figure would be 1 in 4.
Before we look at natural ways to reduce blood pressure, let's have a quick reminder about what blood pressure is, how it is measured and why it's significant.
Blood pressure refers to the pressure of blood within the arteries. Blood pressure in itself is not a bad thing. In fact a certain amount is necessary to carry the blood around the body. The pressure varies during the heartbeat cycle. It is at its highest when the heart contracts (systolic blood pressure) and its lowest as it relaxes (diastolic) just before it contracts again.
When your blood pressure is measured you are given a reading of highest (systolic) over lowest (diastolic). Commonly the figure quoted as being a normal or ideal blood pressure reading is 120/80mmHg. However, this is actually the upper end of what is regarded as normal.
Hypotension (low blood pressure) is a systolic of under 90 and a diastolic of under 60. Normal is a systolic of 90 to 119 and diastolic of 60 to 79. Prehypertension (raised blood pressure) is a systolic of 120 to 139 and diastolic of 80 to 89. Stage 1 hypertension (high blood pressure) is a systolic of 140 to 159 and diastolic of 90 to 99. Stage 2 hypertension (very high blood pressure) is a systolic of 160 to 180 and diastolic of 100 to 110. Hypertensive crisis (emergency care needed) is a systolic of over 180 and diastolic of over 110.
The readings are significant as high blood pressure is one of the risk factors for developing heart and circulatory disease. While it is not the only risk factor, it is still considered to be one of the most significant by many health professionals. There are also health risks with low blood pressure although this is a lot less common and is not significant to this article. Causes of high blood pressure include genetics (i.e. family history), lifestyle (e.g. lack of exercise, too much alcohol consumption, overweight) and diet (e.g. too much salt). Sometimes however there is no clear cause for an individual
So what can we do about it? Well once your GP sees your average blood pressure rise to over 150/90mmHg they will almost certainly want to put you on prescription medication. This figure maybe higher or lower depending on your individual circumstances and your GP's approach. However, there are things we can do for ourselves to try and prevent it getting this high in the first place or to bring it back down to a figure considered to be in an acceptable range. REMEMBER THE USUAL WARNINGS - If you consider you may have high blood pressure you should always consult a medical professional. If you are already on medication or under medical care do not take herbal supplements or make a significant change to your diet without discussing the potential impact with your doctor. If you undertake a new exercise regimen, consult your doctor to ensure it is safe for you first. Also, "Always read the label", "Mind the gap", and "Look both ways before crossing the road"! 1. Lose some weight Losing as little as 10lbs can reduce your blood pressure. In general terms the more you lose the lower your blood pressure will be.
2. Regular physical exercise Daily exercise lasting 30 to 60 minutes is enough to reduce your blood pressure by up to 9mmHg, so if you are in the prehypertension stage this could be enough to avoid you having to take medication. The key factor is "regular exercise". Cramming it all in at the weekend is less likely to have the same benefit.
3. Reduce sodium (salt) in your diet By reducing your salt intake you can reduce your blood pressure by up to 8mmHg. We should be aiming for less than 1500mg of sodium per day (approx. 3.75g salt) and certainly no more than 2300mg (approx. 6g or 1 teaspoon) of salt per day. Most people eat way more than that.
You can reduce your salt intake by reducing your processed food and by not adding it to your cooking or to the plate. We don't really need it for taste. We have just become accustomed to it in the modern diet.
4. Limit your alcohol intake While it is true that small amounts of alcohol on a daily basis can reduce your blood pressure, more than a drink a day can have a negative effect. Furthermore, let's be honest, the benefits of that single drink a day are far outweighed by the negative effects of alcohol on the body.
5. Stay hydrated While logic would suggest that hydration leads to higher blood volume and therefore higher blood pressure, inadequate hydration causes the body compensates by retaining sodium. Furthermore, regular dehydration will lead to the gradual closure of the capillary beds which in turn to localised pressure build ups in the arteries. So aim to drink 8 to 10 8oz glasses of water a day.
6. If you smoke - give up! If you don't avoid passive smoke. Nicotine can raise blood pressure by 10mmHg. If you didn't already need a reason to give up smoking, give it up to reduce your blood pressure. If you don't have another reason... it's disgusting and stupid... end of!
7. Cut back on caffeine Caffeine can temporarily increase your blood pressure by 5mmHg. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine and the impact can be as high as 10mmHg and can last that much longer. If you have several cups of filtered coffee during the day you can benefit from cutting down. 8. Reduce stress Stress has a major role in blood pressure. Some people will often be heard to say that they can "feel their blood pressure rising" or their "blood boiling" when they get angry or worked up over something. This rise in blood pressure can stay with us for some time and if we are permanently in a state of anxiety then that can have a significant effect on our blood pressure.
Find a way to manage your stress, either by reducing the causes or by learning to better manage it; preferably both. Stress management is a major topic in it's own right and too much to cover here. But find out what works for you and do it! TIP: Exercise is a good starting point
9. Include some of the following foods in your diet There are some foods that have been shown to reduce blood pressure in clinical studies. - Soy (try swapping your regular dairy milk for soy milk) - Natto - Available from some Asian grocery stores and some health food stores, Natto is a fermented soy product. NB You should not supplement with this if you are taking warfarin or any other blood thinner medication. - Apples - Onions (raw) - Garlic - Olive oil - Oatmeal - Cold water fish - Avocados - Seaweed - Celery - Flax (crushed flaxseed) - Dark chocolate (but no more than 28g a week and not at all if you are sugar sensitive or it conflicts with a calorie controlled diet)
You can't defy genetics. If you have a predisposition to high blood pressure then you will more than likely suffer from hypertension in some form or another. However, adopting some if not all of the above techniques may mean the difference between having your blood pressure managed by medication or having it managed by you!
At some point we all go through it. We have one of those days when we just aren't feeling it; whatever "it" is. The idea of another workout fills us with dread. The expectation of being uncomfortable, of getting drenched in sweat, of feeling every impact, every joint niggle, every muscle complaint just makes us want to find an excuse to skip the next one. These are the times that define our commitment to our goals. Those people you come across with the athletic build, the ripped stomachs and toned muscles... they didn't make skipping a workout a habit. In fact they rarely skipped one, if any. Because when it comes to reaching health and fitness goals, it's consistence and patience that win the race. So how do we avoid the motivational slumps. Here are some of our top tips.
1) Schedule your workouts Plan your workouts for the month ahead. Get a wall planner or calendar and write down what you propose to do each day. It could be gym time, a run, a fitness class or a rest day. Whatever it is, schedule it. Nobody likes to miss an appointment even if it's with yourself. And you will feel a sense of satisfaction as you tick each workout off. There's a reason why some of the better fitness DVD sets come with workout calendars! 2) Get a workout buddy or buddies Ideally find someone you a) get on well with, b) has similar goals and b) is a similar level to you. If you do different workouts each day you may have more than one. For example, you may have a class buddy for Circuits on Monday, a riding buddy for a mountain bike hack around the woods on Wednesday evening and a gym buddy to spot for you on Friday. The point is, if you skip, it's not just you who you are letting down. 3) Avoid boredom The second you feel that a workout is getting boring, change it! Look for a new class, ask a PT to redesign your workout or try a new sport. If you normally train indoors, try doing something outside like a beach workout. If you normally do circuit classes, try an HIIT class, or boxercise. Whatever floats your boat, but change! 4) Set some goals Most of us know what our ultimate goal is, whether it's to lose 2 stone, drop a dress size, achieve a PB at our next marathon or reduce our blood pressure. But very few people take the time to break those longer term goals down to realistic short term goals. By acknowledging these smaller achievements you are more likely to make it to the big one. 5) Get some online inspiration Love it or hate it social media is here to stay. Yes it's great for staying in touch with people, for getting information, making contacts and of course for wasting a lot of time. But it's also great for keeping you motivated. Follow your sporting heroes, trainers, motivators and nutritionists on Twitter. Find people on Instagram who represent how you want to look. Connect with training buddies on Facebook and share motivational tips with each other.
6) Create your workout playlist Put a playlist together of all the tracks that you know get you fired up. You may even have some "pre" workout tunage to get you in the mood and a "during" playlist to help you power through it. Whatever helps you find that "Eye of the Tiger"!
7) Set yourself a minimum for the hard days For each of your workouts set a minimum achievement you have to reach. It may be completing half or perhaps even just the warm-up. Chances are if you make it that far, you'll start to feel better and you will complete the rest.
8] Sign up for an event Whether it's a 3k fun run, a full marathon, a charity bike ride, a walk up Snowdon or a muddy obstacle course it doesn't matter. What matters is that it is something that will challenge you but is achievable with some training. Ideally, make it something where you have to pay an entry fee in advance or commit to raise a certain amount for charity. At the very least tell others what you are planning to do. 9) Choose workouts that suit your personality If you are an outdoors person choose a fitness regime that you can pursue outside, like cycling, beach circuits or urban fitness classes. If you are a team player, maybe try a sport like rowing or 5-aside football. If you prefer company, try a class. If not, maybe hit some weights or go for a run. Don't do stuff you hate. Find things you enjoy. 10) Get the support of your partner If you want an hour or more to yourself each day to dedicate to your health and fitness goals it maybe that you need to give something back, like an hour or more for them to do their thing. Better still try and recruit them into your own little household fitness team. Couples and families who train together, stay together!
"Desire is the key to motivation, but it's determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal - a commitment to excellence - that will enable you to attain the success you seek." ~ Mario Andretti