{Guest Post} Changing Our Lifestyle Choices to Improve Our Health

I’m 39 years old, my husband, Matt, is 36.  Generally speaking we’re both healthy people with little need for doctor visits or medications**.  We rarely get sick, not even colds.  But recently we got a wakeup call from a silent killer and we need to make daily changes before it’s too late.  My husband was just diagnosed with high blood pressure, off the charts high for his age in fact.  When he got the news we started to evaluate our lifestyle and work with our doctor to reach a plan for what will work best for him.

 This is our story.

Both of us are smokers, something we’ve tried off and on to quit for many years.  We both work at desk jobs that trap our (growing) butts into a less than ergonomic chair all day.  And then there’s sandwiches that we both love so much.  The evidence started to mount and we could see it taking shape on our shape!

 

How did we think this was healthy?

Off and on over the years we’ve tried exercise programs, different diets, ways to quit smoking, and none of it stuck.  We didn’t understand that pretending you’re healthy isn’t the same thing as being healthy.

On Monday we both got the fish-slap we needed to make some real, drastic changes.  And to start making them right away.  But first, a little history on how we came to find out that living an unhealthy lifestyle doesn’t mean that disease will just go away because you ignore it.

A few months back a friend of ours was wrapping up her training to become an EMT and she needed to take vitals for a bunch of people as part of her skills assessment.  It was Super Bowl Sunday and there would be more than enough people available, ready to help her with her schooling.  She took blood pressure, listened to lung function and a few other things and I came back outside with a big thumbs-up.

Matt on the other hand, along with a couple of the other guys there that day, caused our friend’s eyes to grow about ten times wider when she took blood pressure readings.  It wasn’t just high, it was dangerously high.  The number one thing causing him stress was his old job so he weeded that out, got a new one, and then we both promptly ignored the problem. 

As suggested by the doctor, keep an eye on the BP weekly

 

Matt is genetically predisposed to HBP, so when his dad found out, he said ‘get to the doctor Monday or I’ll come there, smack you, then take you myself!’  He was right.  My husband went to the urgent care clinic and when they discovered how out of control his HPB really was they said he needed to see a doctor right away.  They couldn’t get him on medication there; he’d need to go to a provider.  I started to research natural ways to reduce blood pressure beyond medication.

He saw the doctor, was given a similar jaw-dropping reaction and handed a prescription for an ACE inhibitor.  With a follow up appointment scheduled for a month later, he told the doc our plans for diet and exercise and, with the okay from him, they worked together on the best options.

This is the plan that works for us.  Every plan is not right for every person and we had to make choices that worked best for us based on the advice of the Doctor.  Before making any changes to your health plan or medications, etc., please contact your own and discuss it. 

Hey, that cartoon even LOOKS like my husband!

 

Turns out there’s a lot of benefit to eating healthier, exercising, reducing alcohol consumption and losing a couple pounds!  This news wasn’t new to me and though we aren’t much for salt, red meat, alcohol, there were more than our fair share of bad choices made!  Here’s just a sample of the information I found for ways to adjust:

Change your diet – Try the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet which includes more fruits, veggies, low-fat dairy, whole grains, fish, nuts, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and less of foods with fat, sodium, and sugar (including most all pre-packaged foods).

Reduce alcohol consumption – At most, two drinks per day with food.

Exercise – It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you’re up and moving and giving attention to your weight and portion size of meals/snacks.  Stretching, cardio based activities and strength training can be used in conjunction of each other.  Just stay active for the minimum of 20-30 minutes per day (cardio) but stay up and moving all day when possible.

Lose weight – Doing the former three will ensure weight loss and automatically reduce strain on the heart and other organs.

We rarely if ever add salt to anything but when we started going through our cabinets and fridge, it turns out we were eating food items with ridiculous amounts of sodium already in place!  I asked friends for recipes to lower BP and got some terrific responses.  Through my research, along with incorporating some advice, I created a really yummy fruit and veggie smoothie.

Spinach Superfood Smoothie

2 generous handfuls baby spinach
3 Tbsp lime juice
2 pinches from fresh cilantro bunch
1 handful red, seedless grapes
½ Cup light vanilla yogurt
A couple slices of the melon or fruit of your choice (I use whatever’s on hand and it sweetens nicely – honeydew, cantaloupe, pineapple, strawberry, etc.) 

Put everything into the food processor and use a chopping blade to blend the ingredients until they reach desired consistency. Makes about 6-10 oz. Enjoy!

 

 

Our main priority, per the doctor, is for Matt to take his medication (check!), change his diet, begin exercising regularly, and quit smoking.  In that order, but not all at once; we will incorporate adding or subtracting things over the course of the next two months.  That’s in order to not shock our systems too quickly (negating any benefits we may see because we psychologically view the changes as a fad and not a life change), so we’re starting with food.

  • We’re eating breakfast which includes fruits and veggies (sometimes the smoothie, bananas, etc.).  Much better than just coffee! 
  • Our 2% milk for coffee has been replaced with Almond milk (which is delicious).
  • For every box in the cabinet of processed foods we’re learning about how to replace it with something fresh – lots of beans, dark leafy greens, sweets in the way of fruit, not cane sugar.
  • We started learning how to shop smarter by staying in the produce aisle and avoiding the packaged food aisles.
  • The Farmer’s Market is literally a block from our house every weekend (the benefit of living here is an extended outdoor season, having a FM 12 months a year is a huge bonus).
  • We’re grocery shopping in stores that offer expanded organic selections.

I guess sometimes it takes a personal scare to shake you awake.  It took us a while to wrap our heads around making some lifestyle changes.  I’m just glad we made them before there was an actual crisis.  And now I can look forward to the next forty years together with happy, healthy hearts!

**Please note that to begin this journey we did consult a physician in order to ensure we were doing things the right way.  I am by no means a medical professional and do not offer medical advice; this story is a means to describe our personal journey with battling against HBP and other disease.  My story is just that, a story, and shouldn’t be taken as advice for how to adjust your own lifestyle selections.  Always consult your own physician before engaging in or changing your diet, exercise or medication plan.

All pictures from MS ClipArt except smoothie which was taken fresh in my kitchen

Jenn Flynn-Shon‘s blog

Comments

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  2. I am so happy you found out the scary news at a Super Bowl party and not the ER!

    Sending you and your hubby good wishes in the pursuit of healthy living. It is worth the struggle, and since it is a lifetime change, be patient and kind with yourselves and each other. You can do it!

    • Thanks so much Kathy, that’s what we were most grateful for as well – that it wasn’t a crisis when it was discovered!

      Its been going pretty well so far, one meal/workout/day at a time.

  3. Kudos to the both of you! Here’s a tip on the smoking. I quit after 20 years and my first year of a yoga practice. Deep, conscious breathing eventually replaced my addiction for nicotine and made the quitting so much easier. I’ve been clean for a year & a half now and feel amazing!!! So proud of you! Keep us up to date on your progress! Best of luck, Heather

    • Thanks so much for the advice on quitting Heather. We’re both committed to doing it but are realists enough to know that it will be the most difficult thing we have to change for our lifestyle. Yoga is on the table and I’m really hopeful that it knocks the desire to smoke right out of both of us!

  4. Becky Howard says:

    Im with you! As a friend that lives hanging out, I’m all for hanging out healthy! I need it too!

    • Its been a little bit of a struggle so far. Nothing we can’t do its just there’s SO MUCH to learn and neither of us wants to backslide! And that makes it very sad because we end up having to say no to people/events when the food isn’t our choice. Its hard to miss out on social occassions so yes, let’s hang out healthy!

  5. Sorry it took a health issue to get you to this place, but very happy that all is going well for Matt, and you!
    Peace and love, Mum

    • Thanks Mum, things are moving right along but we’re both basically exhausted from trying to cram all this info in so quickly. According to the wrist monitor we got, he seems to have come down quite a bit though. So we’re mentally tired but physically getting better one day at a time. This week we start the exercise plan!