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What is hypertension?
The holidays will look different in 2020 than in many previous years. While some people will continue to gather with family and friends, others will be celebrating just with their immediate household, which may be as few as one or two people. Regardless of your pandemic holiday plans, we’d like to remind you (not to get all doom and gloom a la 2020) that the festive season holds other health concerns aside from COVID-19.
The holiday season is historically known for things like shopping, overeating, and stress. The last two can lead to the condition of hypertension, often known as high blood pressure. Studies have found that, despite people who have newly committed themselves to home cooking and yoga while at home, about 27% of people surveyed by the journal Obesity said they have gained weight during the COVID-19 health crisis, 20% said they had increased mental stress, and 44% had experienced lower-quality sleep. Combined with the traditional consumption of sweets and fatty foods and decreased activity during the holiday season, you have the recipe not only for holiday cheer but hypertension.
Along with obesity, high salt consumption, lack of exercise, drinking alcohol, and smoking, other factors can also contribute to hypertension, including age, some medications, and pregnancy.
What is high blood pressure?
We all have some blood pressure (if we’re alive, that is.) Blood pressure is simply the pressure of blood as it presses against the walls of your arteries while traveling around the body. Blood pressure has two numbers in its measurements: systolic, which measures pressure when your heart beats, and diastolic, which measures the pressure when your heart rests. Healthy blood pressure is considered around 120/80 (120 systolic and 80 diastolic). Blood pressure above these measurements is high blood pressure, or hypertension.
While it can sometimes cause symptoms like dizziness and flushed skin, hypertension most often has no symptoms until it causes a serious health issue. It is sometimes called the “silent killer” for this reason.
Why the concern?
Hypertension can cause or exacerbate serious medical conditions like heart attacks, heart failure, strokes, vascular dementia, and kidney disease. It is also linked to worse outcomes for people who contract COVID-19.
How to be festive and keep blood pressure where it should be?
Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the risk of hypertension this winter.
Get some exercise. This doesn’t have to mean 90 minutes on the Peleton – studies show that a mere 11 minutes of exercise can be enough to improve health outcomes.
Get a massage. Along with lowering stress (and thus the temptation to stress eat and/or snap at your annoying Aunt Gladys), massage itself has been shown in scientific studies to lower blood pressure, as well as cortisol, a stress hormone that can induce the body to build up abdominal fat, interrupt sleep, and raise blood pressure. A study published in the Journal of Human Hypertension found that massage combined with blood pressure-lowering medication was more effective than medication alone.
Be mindful. Don’t just eat the rest of that pecan pie or sit through another 12-hour marathon of Friends without thinking about it. The practice of mindfulness can reduce stress and cortisol, leading to lower cortisol levels, lower blood pressure, and increased happiness, as well as less stress-related eating and insomnia.
Think about your diet. We don’t mean that you should spend your holidays eating celery and Vitamin D supplements alone. Drink a lot of water – the body can interpret thirst as hunger, and in addition drinking alcohol can weaken willpower. Consider one of those air fryers, so you can indulge in crispy treats without also consuming a cup of oil. At the same time, enjoy your favorites in moderation and don’t be too hard on yourself – happiness lowers stress, and that’s good for hypertension and life in general.
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