Rising levels of blood pressure among the youth need to be tackled with simple but significant lifestyle changes.
33 per cent of the Indian population is suffering from hypertension. But more than two-third of them are not even aware of the disorder, says The Great Indian BP (blood pressure) Survey conducted by Cardiological Society of India.
It was a chance visit to the doctor, which revealed everything was not right with his health. “Your blood pressure is little raised,” the doctor told 26-year-old Manav Mitra, who had accompanied his younger brother for a routine checkup at his GP’s clinic. Little did he know that this casual visit was soon going to have a huge impact on his lifestyle.
“My elevated reading came as a shock. I do not smoke. I do not have a family history. So, I was least expecting the 150/95mm Hg blood pressure reading,” shares the IT professional. When he tried to look for the possible reasons, he realised where he went wrong. Young and ambitious, Mitra heavily depended on takeaways (fast food) due to his hectic work schedule and late nights. Ordering food was quick and convenient – speed dial, place the order, eat and keep working – hassle free and taste buds flattering.
A diet high in salt, fat and carbohydrates along with zero physical activity did it for him. “Now all of a sudden at the age of 26, I was diagnosed with hypertension and had to take blood pressure reducing medicines,” he says. There were no warning signs, except the occasional headaches and lethargy. “I thought the headaches were the effect of the work stress and exertion,” he recalls. But, thankfully the early diagnosis gave him an opportunity to take things in control before the condition turns severe. It was time to reboot his sedentary lifestyle.
RISING NUMBERS According to the ‘Great Indian BP’ survey conducted by Cardiological Society of India, 33 per cent of the Indian population is suffering from Hypertension, but 2/3 of them are not even aware of the disorder. “It’s called the silent killer for a reason. You do not see it coming. Today, it is the leading cause of stroke, heart failure and heart attack, says Dr Ashok Seth, chairman, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, Gurgaon. He further adds that the increasing prevalence of the condition in the young generation is also blamed on lifestyle factors like high intake of salt, dependency on junk food, lack of exercise, smoking, consuming alcohol, stress and poor sleeping patterns.
“High blood pressure that has no known cause is called primary or essential hypertension. This is usually more common than secondary hypertension, which has a specific cause such as chronic kidney, endocrine, heart or any other disease. Obesity, age (the arteries get hardened with age and pressure goes up) and family history are other risk factors,” says Dr Amar Singhal, HOD – Cardiology, Sri Balaji Medical Institute, New Delhi. The ideal blood pressure reading in adults should be less than 120/80mm Hg. “According to the Sprint study by National Institute of Health, USA, if your blood pressure is higher than 120mm (upper limit) then you are three time more prone to heart attack,” warns Dr Singhal.
KNOWING EARLY Hypertension generally develops over many years and doesn’t show any alarming signs or symptoms; due to this it goes undetected for a Rising levels of blood pressure among the youth need to be tackled with simple but significant lifestyle changes very long period. “A few people with high blood pressure may have headache, lethargy, nose bleeds and irritability,” informs Dr Sanjeev Bagai, director and vice president, Manipal hospital, Dwarka. With every hour of the day, our blood pressure experiences many ups and downs, however, it doesn’t mean that you have hypertension.
Activities like walking, smoking, coffee, anger, anxiety, etc take up the blood pressure. So when you go for a checkup, sit in the doctor’s room for 15-20 minutes and relax. Do not smoke or have coffee before measuring blood pressure. Take 3-4 readings, and if all of them are consistently above 140/90mm Hg, it means you have hypertension,” explains Dr Singhal.
Cuffing the upper arm properly is very important and make sure your arm is resting on a table with open fists and not hanging while measuring the blood pressure. Plus, do not hold your breath.
TAKE IT EASY Stressing over your elevated reading is not going to be of any help. The condition can be tackled with lifestyle modifications and medications. “If your blood pressure is between 120/80mm Hg to 140/90mm Hg, it means you are pre-hypertensive. Though you don’t require treatment, lifestyle changes become mandatory,” says Dr Singhal. Cutting salt is crucial. “For every one gram decrease on salt, the blood pressure will decrease by 4mm Hg-8mm Hg,” informs Dr Seth.
Cutting on outside food comes next. “It’s low on fibre and high on saturated fat, which has a negative impact on blood pressure for people who already at a risk of hypertension. Moreover, those who consume less than three servings of vegetables and less than two servings of fruits a day can be at risk,” reveals Lovneet Batra, nutritionist, Fortis La Femme, New Delhi. Instead, the diet should be high on fiber and potassium, and low on fat, sodium and sugar.
Calming mind and body, yoga and pranayam is known to lower the blood pressure. “Yoga reduces stress-induced hypertension, while addressing its underlying causes. It eases the (SNS) sympathetic nervous system and slows down the heart rate, while conditioning the muscles. It teaches to maintain the mind-body balance while practicing an asana, which actually prepares you to tackle everyday challenges without feeling stressed,” says yoga expert Zubin Atre. Besides this clocking good eight hours of sleep can do wonders to prevent or control it.
All junk food and no play put kids at a higher risk Chips, cheese and cupcakes – kids love all things sweet and salted. But the addiction to junk food is fast becoming the leading cause of hypertension among kids. Besides high intake of salt and sugar, lack of physical activity, long hours of screen time (TV, laptops, mobile phones), lack of sleep and imbalanced diet (high in carbohydrate, fat and cholesterol) increase the chances of developing high blood pressure at an early age.
“Hypertension could be a secondary problem to a primary disease of kidney, endocrine or heart. It could also be caused due to a neurological or ontological problem. However, pediatric hypertension due to poor dietary habits and sedentary lifestyle is increasing,” says Dr Sanjeev Bagai, director and vice chairman, Manipal hospital, Dwarka. The eating habits of the kids, in particular, need serious correction. “Parents should set a discipline of breakfast, lunch and dinner. When kids are hungry they crave for fast food. It is seen that kids who have breakfast, do not indulge in binge eating during the day,” says Dr Vandana Kent, consultant pediatrician, Rockland hospital, New Delhi.
When it comes to eating right, processed foods should strictly be avoided. “The high content of salt in processed food cause a spike in blood pressure. This apart, do not make your kid eat while watching TV as it encourages overeating,” says Dr Kent. Teenagers who are in the fad of muscle making also need to be careful about the health supplements they take. “Very often they take unapproved supplements containing steroids, which also cause hypertension. Herbal, Chinese and unauthorised medicines also contain certain steroids and heavy metals such as lead, copper and arsenic, which cause high blood pressure,” informs Dr Bagai.
According to experts, blood pressure monitoring should be mandatory in children to create more awareness. It will also help in early diagnosis and treatment. “Every child in the first 5 years of age should at least have one blood pressure recording, and it should be included in the annual medical checkup at schools as a regular feature,” suggests Dr Bagai.