Health & Fitness

Is your blood pressure really high? Get a reliable diagnosis

Back in 1982, Billy Joel wrote: “Two men out and three men on/ Nowhere to look but inside/ Where we all respond to pressure.” That’s how it can feel when you’re sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for a blood pressure test. For many, when the doc takes their BP, it soars, and it turns out that has serious consequences.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says that between 15 percent and 30 percent of people who are told they have high blood pressure after an in-office “cuff on arm” test do not experience hypertension in their day-to-day life. As a result, people are given unnecessary medication. (And many more who really have it don’t get tested or treated.)

The best way to diagnose high BP, says the USPSTF, is to follow up an in-office test with an ambulatory monitor that you wear for 24 to 48 hours. Every 30 minutes, it assesses your BP – even while you’re sleeping. Then, a reliable diagnosis can be made.

You want to know (and get treated) if your BP is elevated. High BP can cause strokes, heart attack, cognitive decline and kidney disease. Even if you have only mild hypertension (140 to 159/90 to 99 mmHg) and no overt cardiovascular disease, taking antihypertensive drugs reduces your risk by more than 80 percent; you also can get your BP down with healthy lifestyle changes. Sometimes it’s best to do both.

So like Billy Joel said, “You have to learn to pace yourself … You’re just like everybody else – pressure.”

Take care of your feet

In “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” Dr. Seuss writes: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.” For folks who live to be 80, that can add up to 110,000 miles in a lifetime … and 25 percent farther, if you get in our recommended 10K a day.

That’s a lot of wear on your toes, arches, 26 bones and more than 33 joints that make up each foot and ankle. Showing your hardworking walkers some TLC makes you younger and more energetic, reduces stress and eases aches. So here are some simple ways to pamper those puppies.

1. Foot check. (Daily, if you have diabetes.) Blisters or sores? Don’t let them fester. Tingling or numbness? Could be from ill-fitting shoes or diabetic nerve damage. Aching feet also offer clues to your overall health. Sore joints may indicate arthritis. Puffy ankles or swollen feet may signal high blood pressure, heart or kidney problems, or sitting too much. Mention persistent symptoms to your doc.

2. Relax with a 10-minute soak in warm water with Epsom salts – an anti-inflammation remedy for dry skin, sore muscles and even small wounds. Then smooth rough spots with a pumice stone and moisturizer. Make sure not to breathe in the pumiced stuff; it can cause lung inflammation. Dry off and roll your arches over a wooden rolling pin. Ahh!

Fitness during pregnancy

There’s a tabloid term – pregorexia – that describes a mother-to-be on a starvation diet.

Now, being too thin while pregnant is bad for mother and fetus, but what we see a lot more of these days is women at the other end of the spectrum: More than 50 percent of pregnant women in North America are overweight or obese, and that’s very bad news for a developing fetus. It seems pregnant women who are obese and eat a high-fat diet endanger the development of blood stem cells in the fetal liver, which compromises development of the immune system. The researchers suggest that moms who are obese while pregnant might be one reason for the rise in immune diseases and allergies in children.

So if you’re pregnant or planning on it, make the Five Food Felons – trans and saturated fats, added sugars and syrups, and refined grains – your sworn enemies. Get daily exercise (walk, aiming for 10,000 steps a day) and gain just enough weight to keep your fetus healthy: less than 15 pounds if you’re obese (BMI more than 30); 15-25 pounds if you’re overweight (BMI 25.0-29.9); and 25-35 pounds if you are a healthy weight (BMI 18.5-24.9). And take a daily prenatal vitamin with DHA for three months before trying to conceive, right through delivery and breastfeeding. That decreases childhood cancers by 65 percent, birth defects by 80 percent and autism and autistic spectrum disorders by 40 percent.

Fast food and the brain

In “Dude, Where’s My Car?” Ashton Kutcher has a run-in with a drive-through operator that seems to confirm what a recent study found: Eating fast food dulls the brain … and then? … affects how kids do in school.

An Ohio State University study looked at more than 11,000 kids from fifth to eighth grades and found that the more fast foods the fifth-graders ate, the lower their test score gains in reading/literacy, mathematics and science three years later. (And this is when they’re supposed to gain a lot.) Eating fast food three or more times a week was associated with a whopping 20 percent smaller gain in test scores.

Overall, 10 percent of the kids said they ate fast food every day; 10 percent ate it four to six times a week; and over 50 percent said they gobbled up fast food between one and three times weekly.

What is it about fast food that dumbs down kids? Research shows that diets high in fat and sugar have an immediate negative impact on memory building and learning. That one-two punch KOs neurotransmitters that the brain needs to think and form memories. Plus, nutritionally deprived fast foods lack iron and other nutrients that build brain strength, while trans fats used to fry foods flat-out dull your brain power.

So, dodge the fast food at school, and set a good example at home. Once they can see and taste the difference, they’ll discover just how much more alert they are at play and at school.

Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.