There have been a variety of things I’ve had to have checked over the years but the thing that has bugged me has been blood pressure. It wasn’t as if I was having trouble; I just went in for a general check-up and the practice nurse (why is she still practising – on me???) said those simple little words, “We might as well check your blood pressure while you’re here.” The first time she said it, I was like a lamb to the slaughter. I handed over an arm and after a few pumps I am wondering why I’m bothering. “Oh dear,” she said, “it seems a bit high.” and then went through a check list of things that I should not be doing (and I’m not!). “All right,” she ended up, “we’ll book you in to see the doctor.” Doctor? I am well! You only go to the doctor when you are not well! So for the next week (I’m busy I can’t get in before then!) I am wondering if my life is coming to an end prematurely – we do that so easily! (OK, I’m a man; we do it so easily!). A week later the procedure is repeated at the doctor’s hand and he breezily says, “No you’re absolutely fine, nothing to worry about,” and I go away relieved that my life has been spared.
Now here’s the thing: over the years that has happened three times! I’m allergic to the practice nurse? How can this be? She’s a nice woman, not that nice, I’m happily married. There is no reason for this, but I tell you, it has happened three times! The interesting thing is that the last couple of times I’ve seen the doctor, I’ve been hearing, “Absolutely perfect. Spot on in the middle of the range! Just right for a man of your age!” A man of my age? What does that mean? It means you’re getting older, you clot, and you’re not the same as you were fifty years ago. Live with it! Well, yes, OK, the alternative’s not good so, yes, I’ll live with it.
Someone asked, so what do these blood pressure figures mean? OK, well here’s what I’ve picked up over the years of neurosis about blood pressure. It is expressed as two figures and when you hear them talking about it, you will hear, perhaps, “140 over 90, which is considered normal for most people, that or below that. Apparently the World Health Organisation defines high blood pressure as that which consistently exceeds 160/95 although different doctors, you may find, will say different things to you.
The reason they do that is because your blood pressure can depend on your age (because it tends to increase when we get older) or even the time of day, the temperature and certainly, as in my case, stress levels. So, if you are neurotic about practice nurses and blood pressure, it’s likely that your pressure will be up. If the doctor has a calming way about him or her, you’re likely to be less stressed and it may be lower.
Those two numbers, as the phrase ‘blood pressure’ indicates, refer to the pressure measured in millimetres of mercury. The first number, the big one, is called ‘systolic pressure’ (fans of Casualty, Holby, ER etc. listen out!) and reflects the maximum pressure reached when your heart beats and pushes blood out, and is what you feel when you take your pulse at your wrist. The other figure, the smaller one is called diastolic pressure which is the pressure in your blood vessels between heart beats when there is no pressure wave coming through.
So why are these figures important? There seems to be a debate, from where I’ve watched it, as to which of the two figures is most important, but the consensus seems to be, I think, that the diastolic is the more important in that it reflects how much the arteries in the body are resisting the flow of blood in them.
Not sure about it? Well, talk to your doctor or your practice nurse (yes, you can!). If you’re in our upper age bracket, you should be getting your pressure checked every now and then anyway and if they say it is high they’ll tell you what to do about it.
Common things suggested, to avoid high blood pressure, seem to be don’t use too much salt, don't smoke, do eat low-fat foods, keep to your ideal weight (that’s another ball game altogether!), drink safe amounts of alcohol (safe?), take regular activity, and don’t get stressed. That’s enough to start you worrying isn’t it! OK, so stop worrying about it! Time to move on!
Quote: “No excuses – start exercising right now! Research shows that people over fifty-five who exercised sensibly, improved their strength and fitness as effectively as those in their twenties and thirties.”
(Source: Things to do now that you’re 60)
2. A Question of Blood Pressure
Another week rushes by. I’m sure someone behind the scenes has speeded up time since I was a kid. Of course the truth is that a lot has changed since we were nippers – and I don't just mean the changes of technology – we have got older!
I don't know about you, but I think one of the things that I haven’t felt very good about, in this ‘getting older’ business, is having to go to the doctor for check-ups. Things don’t seem to function so well as they used to and so we find ourselves sitting in the waiting room, if only to get some peace of mind because someone has badgered us and said, “You really ought to get that checked out, you know!”