HEALTHMentalDon’t Blow A Pump

Don’t Blow A Pump

High blood pressure (or hypertension) has been on the rise for some time, to the extent that some experts have identified a looming health crisis.

Do you know enough about high blood pressure?

The figures have only gotten worse in the last 15 years so that 1 in 3 Americans now have hypertension. When you have high blood pressure, it’s a result of fatty plaque buildup that causes your arteries to stiffen and your heart to have to work harder to get the blood in and out. There are a lot of things that are linked to high blood pressure, including smoking, diet (too much salt and booze), being overweight, low physical activity, and stress. In short, hypertension wears out your heart – allowing it to continue is no different than giving yourself a countdown timer to an early grave.

Lots of firefighters struggle with hypertension

It’s particularly bad among firefighters to the tune of 3 in every 4 having to deal with it – many don’t even know they have hypertension. Its prevalence is no surprise, considering the physical and psychological requirements of the job. The numbers make it seem inevitable, but the reality is that it’s almost always preventable or curable. Lucky for us, many things linked to high blood pressure are what doctors call controllable risk factors: we can change our behaviors and battle that statistic.

Firefighters keen on staying on the job, improving their quality of life, and not just making it to retirement but being healthy in their golden years (you can’t play with your grandkids if you have a bad heart) need to take their blood pressure very seriously as early as possible. Taking a small amount of time and making the right choices now means a much better long run. Nobody wants to be part of an ugly statistic. I’ll outline a few changes we can make in daily life to combat hypertension or straight up to prevent it in the first place. 

Staying active is a great start

This is something everyone hears from people in their lives – your partner, your doctor, your friends. The thing is when it comes to fighting high blood pressure, staying active is probably the most important thing you can do. When I talk about this, I’m not referring necessarily to working out (though, that’s important for a lot of reasons), but to a passive activity. Most of us take our trucks to work, to the grocery store, to poker night. We take the elevator. We’re living in a time characterized by a lack of activity in every direction. Sitting itself, has been identified as a risk factor for heart disease and cardiovascular events, not to mention diabetes and other issues.

Fortunately, there’s an easy antidote to all this: take the path of most resistance in your daily life. Bike/walk to the station if you can; take the stairs; stand instead of sitting. If it’s realistic to take the more active way, take it.

Manage your stress

For firefighters, stress is a massive risk factor for high blood pressure and resulting complications. Everyone manages stress whether they think about it or not, but the devil is in managing it in a healthy way. Many learn to cope in ways that do more harm than the stress itself (overeating, smoking, etc.). If you don’t already have one, find a healthy stress manager – hitting the gym, playing the odd video game, Hockey Night or anything that calms and centers you without causing damage to other areas of your life. At the same time, find ways to reduce stress triggers. We all know that firefighters work long shifts and deal with a lot of stress because it’s just part of the job, so finding positive ways to release it is high on the list of ways to battle hypertension.

Eat right and watch your waist line

This is another obvious one, but if we don’t pay active attention to what we’re eating and how our bodies are changing, we’re asking for problems with blood pressure. High salt intake, too much booze (more than a drink or two a day), and excessive saturated fats are all directly correlated to hypertension, but they’re also ways of coping with stress. Keep an eye on the scale and your weight, but also rein in these foods to stay ahead of the curve in fighting high blood pressure.

Quit smoking sooner than later

A lot of us smoke to deal with stress, but there are better and healthier ways to do that. Smoking a serious risk factor in hypertension, not to mention the obvious big baddy: cancer. If you already smoke, work toward quitting – you’ll thank yourself down the road.

Reduce caffeine

Caffeine, much to the surprise of many, is a risk factor for high blood pressure, much as it is an absolutely essential part of many daily routines. Cutting down on caffeine can make a huge difference in managing your risk of hypertension.

Do you have a healthy support network?

Despite the obvious need to manage blood pressure, a lot of firefighters are met with resistance among coworkers and their families when it comes to making healthy changes (nobody likes changing long-held habits). To be consistent, you need a support network – your family, friends, and coworkers need to understand and support your choices. It can take some convincing, but being steadfast and serious about your health with them should win them over eventually.

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