Over 120/80

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Photo by Flickr user MeddyGarnet/used under Creative Commons license

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It can kill you. Or it can just make you blind or demented. It can damage major organs like your heart and kidneys and blood vessels, causing them to fail. It can give you an aneurysm, where the wall of a blood vessel thins, pouches out, and bursts. It can give you a stroke that can maim you or even end your life.

While it shares the moniker “The Silent Killer” with diabetes and carbon monoxide, high blood pressure is serious stuff. A lot of people perceive it as no big deal, though. Symptoms are rare, and you can just pop a pill or two, and you’re all better, right?

Wrong. If untreated, it can lead to bad things. Untreated hypertension is rampant. Between one in four and one in three of us Americans have it, and a third of those are unaware. Of the ones who know, many fail to make the major lifestyle changes recommended.

It’s much more common in kids than people realize. Two million youngsters in this country who have it, mostly due to high obesity rates from decreased activity and increased consumption of processed and fatty foods. It’s higher in people of middle age and beyond. African-Americans experience it at higher rates than Caucasians and Hispanics.

High blood pressure is when — for reasons known or unknown — the blood continually pushes against the walls of your arteries much harder than it has to. The systolic pressure or first number of a blood pressure reading is when the heart is pumping blood through the vessels, and if that is over 120 it is too high. The diastolic pressure, or second number, is when the heart is at rest between beats, and if it is over 80 it is too high.

You may have to pop two, three or even four pills in a combination of medications to keep the illness at bay. Diuretics make you pee more, decreasing the total hydration level of your body and thereby your blood volume. ACE inhibitors and ARB blockers block formation or action of a chemical that constricts your blood vessels. Beta-blockers slow the heart and prevent your body from creating adrenaline, the stress hormone that constricts blood vessels. Calcium channel blockers relax the blood vessel muscles, and renin inhibitors affect an enzyme that kidneys produce to increase blood pressure. Several other types of medications, like alpha and alpha-beta blockers, can be used as central acting agents and vasodilators.

“Natural” remedies have been used on hypertension with a variety of success. I can’t vouch for the efficacy of any them here, but things people have tried include garlic, CoQ10, blond psyllium, hawthorn, coleus and the reishi mushroom. Helpful nutritional supplements recommended by many experts include Vitamin D, magnesium, potassium, calcium, cod liver oil, folic acid, alpha-linolenic acid and omega-3 fatty acids.

Sweet cachinnation

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Photo by Flickr user XeuBix/used under Creative Commons license

Laughter is wine for the soul — laughter soft, or loud and deep, tinged through with seriousness… the hilarious declaration made by man that life is worth living.— Sean O’Casey from “Saturday Night” in Green Crows (Grosset & Dunlap, 1956)

The more you laugh the healthier you’re likely to be, physically and mentally. Or maybe healthier people laugh more, researchers still don’t know for sure. Regardless of which comes first, the relationship between seeing someone’s tongue stuck to an icy ski-lift handle and activity in the nucleus accumbens, a brain region associated with cocaine induced rapture, is of growing interest to the scientific community. And it seems the benefits of a good laugh go beyond the pleasure pathway.

For example, researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore have demonstrated that laughter is linked to the healthy function of blood vessels, and seems to offset the deleterious effects of stress on the cardiovascular system.

The test findings led the University of Maryland School of Medicine investigators to conclude that laughter, at the very least, offsets the harmful effects of stress on the endothelium, and by extension, the whole cardiovascular system.

They also noted that these salutary cardiovascular effects were about equal to what you might expect of ten minutes on a rowing machine. The researchers were careful to point out, however, that they did not recommend dropping plans to work out to watch reruns of Comedy Central.

Earlier studies have found connections between laughter and a strong immune system, improved mental and emotional health, greater pain tolerance and speedier recovery from surgery or serious illness. The specific mechanism of these healthful changes is still a mystery. The movement of the diaphragm during a belly laugh, endorphin release, nitric oxide production (a substance that contributes to blood-vessel expansion), all might play a role.

Regardless of what makes you laugh, a growing body of data suggests that it’s a good idea to do it as frequently as possible.

Who goes without medical care?

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The U.S. Census Bureau recently reported that working-age adults made an average of 3.9 visits to doctors, nurses or other medical providers in 2010, down from 4.8 visits in 2001. Among those with at least one visit, the average number of visits also declined, from 6.4 visits in 2001 to 5.4 visits in 2010.

Perhaps Americans are getting dramatically healthier. Or perhaps they can’t afford to go to the doctor.

“The decline of the use of medical services was widespread, taking place regardless of health status,” said Brett O’Hara of the Census Bureau.

But people lacking insurance were far less likely to go to doctors. Just 24 percent of the uninsured went to a doctor at least once in 2010, compared with 72 percent of the general population of working age adults, the census report found.

The census data contradicts the common-sense supposition that people in bad health would be more likely to avoid being uninsured. People under 65 whose health was poor, fair or good were more likely to be uninsured than those with very good or excellent health.

Spending a night in a hospital has become a rare event. The chances of spending no nights in a hospital ranged from 96 percent for children to 83 percent for people 65 or over.

Among people in poverty, 38.6 percent went without seeing a medical provider over the previous year, compared with 19.1 percent of people whose family income was greater than 400 percent of the poverty threshold.

Clearly, a lot of sick people don’t get government assistance — even when they can’t afford medical care. So they go without doctor visits, lab work and medications.

In an article, Ruth Fishbeck, director of the Health Initiative in Potsdam, recently described the serious health consequences of a lack of affordability in St. Lawrence County in the far northwestern corner of the Adirondacks. “People are dying,” she said. “We rank in health 58th or 59th out of 62 [New York counties], and that means premature death and sickness. And a lot of it is simply the lack of money to get adequate health care.”

Juiced

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Photo by Alen Fetahi

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Is it a panacea and elixir of life? Or is it a nasty-tasting, over-carbed, overpriced drink? A quick and easy snack/meal or not worth the pain of cleaning the necessary equipment? No matter how you view it, juice seems here to stay, not just apple or orange but artful blends of fruits and vegetables, sometimes herbs, designed to please the palate and provide health benefits that some claim will rid your system of toxins and your body of ugly fat.

“I’ve been juicing for four years,” says David Ames of Tivoli, a personal trainer, nutritional counselor and squash coach. “The biggest reason,” he adds, “is that our soil is so depleted of nutrients that you need large quantities of fruits and vegetables to get enough. And they are full of cellulose, which the human body is incapable of metabolizing. If you look at a chimpanzee, which is similar to us, it will grab a handful of leaves and chew for ten minutes to break down the fibers. We don’t chew enough to do that, so juicing helps break it down so we can metabolize the food and get the vitamins and minerals from it.”

Ames’ favorite combination for juicing is kale or collard greens with apple and lemon. Apple and carrot is another. But some veggie combos can be hard to swallow.

Sibley Frye of Kansas City was on a juicing kick for a while last year. “It tasted nasty and I noticed no benefits,” she says. “The juices don’t taste very good unless you add a lot of fruit, then they’re full of sugar.”

But many others remain on the juice bandwagon, mixing celery and kale, or carrot and beet, pulverizing them down to their essence in a home juicer or grabbing a cup at a local juicery.

“I keep hearing these stories of people who started juicing and lost 25 pounds,” says Saugerties Times editor Will Dendis. “I think I’ve heard that exact sentence three times. And many of these folks become juicing evangelists, it seems; they want everyone to do it.”

People might juice as an occasional boost, or as a lifestyle that includes regular bouts of de-toxifying juice fasts. Celebrities Gwyneth Paltrow, Salma Hayek and Ashton Kutcher have all publicly lauded the contributions juice cleansing has made to their health. Prepackaged juice subscriptions might include a week’s worth of bottles of multi-hued juices, sometimes with nut milk added for fat and protein, that make up abut 1000 to 1200 calories a day to sustain you through your “cleanse.”

 

Whether the liquid from a piece of produce, with all its fiber removed, really cleans your system is debatable. Some nutritionists say that juice is too high in sugar or carbs to be healthy, that much of the vitamins and minerals are in the pulp and skin left behind, or that juice fasts are dangerous for diabetics, some of whom may be undiagnosed.

Since ancient religions first began to advocate fasting, we’ve searched for ways to detoxify ourselves. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, books were published on cleansing with lemon juice and water, or simple juice combinations. But juicing remained outside the mainstream for years and only recently crossed over to become more commonplace, even trendy.

Have a little run

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Photo by Flickr user convergingphoto /used under Creative Commons license

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“I believe that every human has a finite number of heartbeats. I don’t intend to waste any of mine running around doing exercises.” — Buzz Aldrin

 

You know how Edison said genius is one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration? It can seem that running — whether for better looks or better health — is the opposite. It’s all about just working it, going out and making it happen. Without a giant helping of someone or something to inspire you, however, the regimen may not stick. You might not even start.

Take me. I’m the tortoise, not the hare. I do everything from washing dishes to writing (just ask my editors) as slowly as a snail. I love to stroll and wander outdoors, but to do anything quickly and expeditiously just goes against my grain.

Two months ago I took up running, a sport that requires going fast(ish) from Point A to Point B. Inspiration came for me in the form of some family members and friends, who look, well, fabulous, lately, and from seeing hundreds of strangers, some decades older than me but very strong and fit, at a 5K/10K I covered for a newspaper article,.

I started with a smartphone app called “Couch to 5K,” that eased me in with one-minute segments of running alternating with walking. Although at first it was really hard to move my body at that pace, by the end of the first half-hour outing I felt my blood coursing through me, nourishing me from brain to limbs to toes, clearing out cobwebs, toxins and stress. The endorphins were flowing, and I felt really good.

We all know running is good for you, but other than being a good calorie-burner it has other mental and physical benefits. It’s obvious that running gives you time to ponder and work out your problems, or to avoid them with some “me time.” It also helps work out those aggressions, calms you, and gives you peace if you’re stewing about something or someone.

Running is an excellent treatment, not a cure-all but a helper, for depression and addictions as well. It gives you a clearer head, and studies have shown that whether you’re a lab rat or a human you can work out problems with more facility. Other studies have shown that it’s good for not only your brain cells but also the hippocampus portion of the brain, which helps with learning and remembering things. The hippocampus gets bigger and stronger in older adults who begin a running program, which also staves off dementia.

Both calming and mentally energizing, running eases sleep and appetite issues and tension- related ills. Setting and meeting goals brings up self-esteem and general confidence, which carries over to life when you’re not running. Whether from endorphins or just the joy of moving, running can lift your mood and make you feel just plain happy.

Physically, running is good for more than just the muscles you use to move yourself down the road. The pull on your bones makes them stronger, too, and the teeny muscles in your circulatory system get more elastic, working more efficiently to get nourishing blood to your whole body. Running can raise your good cholesterol level and makes your lungs work more fully and efficiently. It strengthens your immune system and lowers the risk of breast cancer, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis and cardiac disease.