‘How I learned to reduce my blood pressure’
Caroline Lashley, from London, didn't know she had high blood pressure until it was discovered at a routine health check. She explains how she lowered her blood pressure through healthy living changes.
"When the nurse told me I had high blood pressure it was a shock. I felt healthy, and was having a check-up for my asthma and weight. I knew I was overweight (I could have beaten Frank Bruno when he was still boxing), but because I'm 5ft 9in tall, I didn't seem too big. I've never smoked and only drink occasionally.
High blood pressure risks
"I can't remember exactly what my blood pressure was that day, but it was extremely high. The lower number was nearly in triple digits, even though it's supposed to be around 80.
"I knew there was high blood pressure on both sides of my family. My aunts, uncles and cousins have it, and I was aware that I'd have to take tablets if it got too high.
"Once you start taking the tablets, you have to take them for the rest of your life, and I didn't want that. I also knew that high blood pressure increases your risk of having a stroke.
"I was determined to bring the pressure down by being more healthy. If you've got high blood pressure, you don't know your limit until you have a stroke, so you've got to take action as soon as possible."
Cutting down on salt
"The nurse advised me to eat in moderation, eat less salt and get moreexercise. I started reading food labels for salt content, but it was a challenge.
"I was so used to eating certain types of food, such as chocolate or a Sunday roast, but suddenly I was constantly thinking about how many grams of salt my food contained and how it would affect my health.
"I was surprised to find there's salt in things like cornflakes and bread. I wondered what I could eat besides fruit! Luckily, I love eating fruit.
"Cutting down on salt at home wasn't hard, especially if you're creative with seasonings and spices. I've never had salt on the table, because in Caribbean cooking we usually use salt in a marinade or for seasoning meat.
"I just had to cook more creatively so that I wouldn't need to rely on salt. I love to cook and make all my meals from scratch. That way, you know which ingredients are used, and their quantity.
"About three months after my diagnosis, I joined a weight management programme, which I've been on for 15 months. At my heaviest, I was around 117kg (258lbs), and I've lost around 8kg. It isn't as much as I'd like, but I'm getting there."
Walking every day
"For exercise, I walk every day. All you need is a pair of comfortable shoes. I put on my headphones, always making sure I can hear what's happening around me to be safe.
"I run a breakfast club for school children, and I walk one mile to work, then a mile and a half to the shops and local library.
"My blood pressure is checked every month. Two months ago it was 138/80, but last time I was checked it had risen to 160/90. I'd been eating a few sausage and egg muffins, so I need to avoid them completely.
"The nurse also measures my waist, because if a woman's waist is over 31.5 inches (80cm) she is more likely to get diabetes. I haven't got diabetes, but being overweight increases your risk.
"In your mid-40s it's hard to change your diet, but it's possible. Your choices can really make a difference. I intend to stay alive as long as possible, so I'll do whatever it takes."
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