When her gynecologist told her she had high blood pressure, Marie Alcindor had a simple solution: switch doctors. After all, she had gone to him for a different problem, and this was the first time he had ever checked her blood pressure. "He said, 'Oh my God, you're like a bomb waiting to explode,' and I said, 'I didn't come here for that, I came here for something else,'" she recalled.
Two years later, she went to see her general medical doctor, who was also a family friend. "He looked me dead in my face and said, 'I've known you since you were a teenager and you don't want to die. Would you like somebody to be wiping the dribble from your mouth? Would you like to walk with a dragging foot?'"
This time, she heeded her doctor's warning. She began the medications he prescribed, even though she didn't like taking pills. She also began making changes in her everyday life. These behavioral changes, or "lifestyle modifications," are recommended by the federal government's National High Blood Pressure Education Program. The program also recommends these changes for people with "pre-hypertension," meaning blood pressure that's above normal but not yet in hypertensive range (120-139 for the top, or systolic, number, and 80-89 for the bottom, or diastolic, number).
Lifestyle changes alone aren't sufficient for many people with high blood pressure. But combined with medicine, they worked for Marie. After two years, her blood pressure is in normal range, and she no longer needs pills. The headaches and shortness of breath that she used to experience have also resolved.
High blood pressure is rampant, and it's one of the most common reasons why people develop strokes, heart problems and kidney failure. It usually does its damage insidiously, and many people with high blood pressure don't have any symptoms until they have a stroke or heart trouble. Below are lifestyle modifications recommended by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), as well as some behavioral changes that helped Marie. Note that while these changes are important, they are not a substitute for medication, if that's what your doctor recommends.
These changes can not only improved Marie's health, but also transformed other aspects of her life. She now works as a health educator for the University of Florida Extension Service, and believes others can succeed at making these changes in their daily lives, if they are motivated. "I'm not only teaching it, I lived it," she said. "I'm not telling you anything I didn't experience myself."
A similar version of this article originally appeared on the website of New America Media.