Sometimes people have to hit rock bottom before they turn their lives around. Jacksonville Cardiologist Dr. Jonathan Constantin sees this frequently when it comes to high blood pressure.
One patient, a morbidly obese alcoholic in his fifties who often skipped his medications, had been in and out of the hospital four or five times due to heart failure.
“He was his own worst enemy,” says Constantin of the First Coast Cardiovascular Institute.
He believes that a patient’s understanding and participation in their health is key to their success. But as a doctor, all he can do is point out the risks and benefits of their lifestyle choices.
“I’m not scolding them,” he says. “I’m a teacher who provides resources. I wasn’t giving him advice for my sake, it was for him. You have to take responsibility for yourself.”
One day, as the patient was going through a divorce, he just kind of woke up, Constantin says. He stopped drinking, changed his diet and lost 145 pounds. Eventually, he was able to stop taking four or five of his medications.
“He has started walking and his heart function has normalized,” Constantin says. “He looks like a new person. He can’t believe how good he feels.”
High blood pressure is a growing problem due to obesity, diabetes and unresolved stress. It affects roughly 76 million Americans over the age of 20. Over time, and without treatment, high blood pressure can not only damage the heart, but also the kidneys and brain, Constantin says.
Stress, which can aggravate high blood pressure, occurs when there is a perceived threat, whether it’s real or not. The time we spend at work can be the most stressful part of our days and that stress can act as a trigger.
“It’s the fight or flight response that activates the sympathetic nervous system and releases chemicals that increases the heart rate and blood pressure,” Constantin says.
It’s one of the conditions that patients can make a conscious choice to control. While the sympathetic nervous system revs you up, its counterpart — the parasympathetic nervous system — slows you down and lowers the heart rate. It kicks in when you are resting, meditating or doing yoga for example.
While it’s not always practical to quit a stressful job, you can change the way you view it and deal with it, Constantin says.
Here’s where exercise really shines. It trains your heart rate and blood pressure to more effectively restore to normal and deal with stress, he says.
For more information visit firstcoastcardio.com or the American Heart Association at heart.org
Don’t Let the Pressure Build
Blood pressure is considered high if it’s greater than 140 over 90 on two separate occasions. Here are some ways to manage high blood pressure and the stress that can provoke it:
• When stress is building at work, take a walk on your lunch break and schedule time to get away, even if it means a stay-at-home vacation.
• Cognitive therapy, which challenges negative thought patterns about the self and the world, can help you see a stressful situation in a different light.
• Find the type of exercise, walking, yoga or workout, that fits your personality so you’ll do it consistently.
• Avoid smoking, drinking and over eating. Their comfort is short lived and only exaggerates stress.