Is the Stress of Living in LA Where 60 Is Not the New 50 But the New Dead Causing My High Blood Pressure?

Photo: Julie Ellerton

Healthwise, being sixty sucks. My dear dad died this year. I was with him at the end and glimpsing my own possible demise, being, gulp, sixty, and mourning my dad was enough to pump my blood pressure to dangerously high levels and awaken the sleeping chicken pox virus I had as a child that developed into shingles.

I thought I was fine with being sixty and even embraced it by writing a book inspired by the birth of my granddaughter but now I’m not so sure. Who am I kidding? It’s not an advantage to be 60.

My blood pressure peaked at 196/101 which may have been because of the painful shingles and the stress of my dad’s passing but I think the shock of being sixty and pretending to be fine with it may have also been a factor. 120/80 is “normal.” Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is known as the silent killer because there are no symptoms.

I have always prided myself that I am not on any medication. I am the opposite of a hypochondriac and never go to the doctor. Well, twice in 15 years for antibiotics to treat bronchitis.

So when my family practitioner prescribed me pills to reduce my blood pressure, I politely refused. He said, “You have two choices: die or take the meds. And lose five pounds. Losing the weight will do more to reduce your blood pressure than the meds.”

Now, I have always identified as a voluptuous goddess and, frankly, look like a super model compared to everyone else in my doctor’s waiting room. I don’t smoke. I drink alcohol in moderation, I don’t have a sweet tooth and I take regular exercise. I meditate every day and I do yoga. How the hell can I have high blood pressure? I probably inherited it from my dad. He had it. But we can overcome our DNA with diet and lifestyle changes.

A blood test revealed high sodium levels. Damn. I do like salt. “Cut it out of your diet completely,” said my doctor.

“Cut it out or cut down?” I really like salt.

“Cut it out. It’s like rat poison to you. Funnily enough, salt looks like rat poison,” he said. “And you might want to consult a personal trainer. You haven’t lost any weight this month.” Ouch!

Holistic practitioner Abbey Seiden advised I should stick with the meds and to make some lifestyle changes. “Meds are quick and will save your life,” she said. She also recommended some simple Qi Gong exercises to reduce stress and suggested regular massage to increase circulation and reduce inflammation, with a strong emphasis on the acupuncture points that reduce blood pressure.

I soon got bored keeping the food log Seiden recommended but a log does show clearly any habitual snacks that aren’t conducive to a healthy diet. It makes sense to switch my main meal of the day to lunchtime as she also advised but eating dinner together at night is a ritual my husband and I enjoy and don’t want to change. Smaller portions seem a reasonable compromise.

An extra walk after dinner to speed metabolism and boost digestion on top of my morning walk is also a good idea and I’ve ordered no sodium salt from the Internet. I have finally lost four pounds by cutting out wheat, dairy, alcohol and the extra walk at the end of the day after dinner. I’m going to stick with the no alcohol. It’s time. I feel and look better for it. The meds and my lifestyle changes are working and my blood pressure is at normal (ish) levels.

While it’s not unusual to get shingles twice, it rarely comes back for a third time. Best not have it at all. Suzanne Donovan, professor of clinical medicine at UCLA and Olive View UCLA medical center, said,

Almost one in three people will develop shingles in their lifetime. Fortunately, we have a vaccine to prevent shingles for patients who
are 60 or older – the group at highest risk for shingles and complications. In one study, involving thousands of adults 60 years old or older, the shingles vaccine cut the risk of shingles by about 51% and the risk of post-herpetic neuralgia by 67%. We do not know how long the shingles vaccine will be effective, current research suggests that it lasts for at least six years. For reasons that are unclear, many adults aren’t getting the shingles vaccine.

I urge all Post 50s to get their blood pressure tested regularly, the shingles vaccine, to remember that sugar and trans fats aren’t our only dietary enemies and too much salt can also be bad for us.

I’m sixty and I’m still here. Result.

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