How diet and exercise beat high blood pressure

All day I badger and cajole my patients to take better care of their bodies:

“We really need to get some of this weight off, Mr. Jones.”

“This blood sugar level means diabetes is right around the corner – it’s time to get serious about changing your diet, Ms. Smith.”

“This blood pressure reading tells me that you’re not getting enough exercise, Bill.”

I’ve got pills for everything, it seems.  I just wish I didn’t have to use them!  So when I get a great success story like I had yesterday, I want to share it.

Gary came in about 5 months ago because the nurse at work had found a very high blood pressure reading.  I looked him over and did a few tests on his heart and immediately started him on the blood pressure medicine I thought would work best for him.

When I start a new medicine like this for a long-term problem, I always make sure to tell my patient if I think they have any way of fixing the issue and stopping the medicine.  In Gary’s case, I thought it was pretty clear that he had neglected his health and had started to have some consequences from that.  The good news, I told him, was that I really thought he could turn back the clock and fix his blood pressure and other health issues.

Since we had just met, I wasn’t sure how seriously he was taking his health or whether he really meant it when he said “I’ll fix this.”  As I got to know Gary over the next few months and see his blood pressure come down to the safe range, I found out that he had truly taken my challenge.  Just yesterday, we both realized that he beat it – we stopped one of his blood pressure medicines and made plans to come off everything in a few more months!

“I’m eating healthy and walking at least once a day,” he says.  “Nothing fancy, just stuff I knew I should have done but never did until now.  And I feel great!”

He ought to feel proud too.  In five months, he’s lost over 30 pounds.  The diet and exercise he’s done, while nothing crazy or difficult, has been made up of good choices day after day.  Gary’s good choices have made his heart stronger, his sugar normal, and cut his cholesterol by almost 40%.  All this in 5 months, while still enjoying life and working full-time.  And the best part?  Now I know Gary well enough to recognize that glint in his eye when he told me, “This is permanent.”  I have no doubt.

Eric Marcotte is a family physician who blogs at doctorfoodtruth.

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