Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: A New Year, And I Hereby Resolve …

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I recently came across a couple of interesting facts about resolutions, just in time to usher in the New Year. First, researchers say about 60 percent of us make New Year’s resolutions. For 2019, here are the top 10 New Year’s resolutions according to a survey of 2,000 people:

  1. Diet or eat healthier (71 percent)
  2. Exercise more (65 percent)
  3. Lose weight (54 percent)
  4. Save more and spend less (32 percent)
  5. Learn a new skill or hobby (26 percent)
  6. Quit smoking (21 percent)
  7. Read more (17 percent)
  8. Find another job (16 percent)
  9. Drink less alcohol (15 percent)
  10. Spend more time with family and friends (13 percent)

Second, this same research found that only 8 percent are successful in achieving their New Year resolutions.

On a personal level, I have made a resolution that is not one of the top10 on the list. Rather, because of a recent incident, I have resolved — and with the determination of an 8 percenter! — to abandon the take-it-for-granted attitude I have about my overall health. At age 76, I need to be more mindful of messages my body gives me and not ignore them just because I have heretofore always worked toward and enjoyed excellent health.

For example, I have never been overweight, I follow a Mediterranean diet that works well for me, and on a daily basis I stretch for 30 minutes and exercise for an hour, either running, biking, or paddle boarding. For decades I have followed this exercise regimen by getting up early, even when I was working full time. My primary care physician tells me I am her poster child for aging with good health and that I should keep doing what I am doing. I took great pride in saying “None” whenever asked what medications I take. (Notice the past tense: “I took great pride . . . ”)

You Can Do All The Rights Things, And Still …

Of particular relevance to my story is that my blood pressure has consistently been 120/80. In fact, at my last physical my doctor and I laughed when she got a reading of 124/80: “Wow! 124 — you must be experiencing white coat syndrome.” Ha, ha. We both laughed. (White coat syndrome is a phenomenon in which people exhibit a blood pressure level above the normal range, in a clinical setting, though they do not exhibit it in other settings. It is believed that the phenomenon is due to anxiety experienced during a clinic visit.)

Two weeks after this physical, I was taking a run when I experienced a kind of blackout, followed by a myriad of flashing bright lights, lasting two or three seconds, and then it passed. My usual inclination would be to ignore something like this: “I’m in great health. This is nothing to worry about.” In the past, I have paid dearly for this ability to rationalize away and ignore medical warning signs by ending up in the emergency department for appendicitis, a broken toe, and a urinary tract infection — all conditions that became more serious unnecessarily because of my inattention.

Fortunately, I paid attention to this blackout-like experience: I reported the incident to my husband, who called my primary physician. She directed me to go immediately to my local emergency department. On the ride over I resisted, repeating my ritualistic response, “It’s nothing. This is a waste of time. I’m in great health.”

During the admittance process, a nurse took my blood pressure, first on my left arm, then on my right arm. All of a sudden there was this flurry of activity all around me as I was rushed into a private room while equipment was hooked up to me, IVs were started, and an EKG (electrocardiogram) was administered. The cause of all this commotion was my blood pressure reading: 198/120, a far cry from my usual 120/80. As I later learned, this high a reading can lead to a stroke, can cause damage to blood vessels, or be a sign of organ damage, usually to the kidneys or eyes.

Because I presented with none of the eight common symptoms of high blood pressure, and because I was already abiding by all the suggested life-style changes, I did myself a huge favor by not ignoring that unusual episode after my run. I know this sounds a bit dramatic, but I perhaps even saved my life.

I Hereby Resolve …

So going forward, I have accepted that I am one of about 1 of 3 U.S. adults — or about 80 million people — who have high blood pressure. The CDC (Centers For Disease Control and Prevention) reports that high blood pressure was a primary or contributing cause of death for more than 410,000 Americans in 2014 — that’s more than 1,100 deaths each day. In addition, high blood pressure costs the nation $48.6 billion each year.

Knowing that only about 54% of these people have their high blood pressure under control, I take my medications faithfully, I check my blood pressure once a week, and I am scheduled to meet with my cardiologist (my new best friend) every few months.

In the future, I will immediately share with my primary doctor or cardiologist any out-of-the-ordinary events and not assume they will self-correct because “I am in good health.” Yes, I will try to remain as healthy as possible by continuing to do all those things that promote good health, but I have resolved to be attentive and responsive when my body is trying to tell me something. I hereby resolve to pay attention!

Note from Dr. Gramma Karen: I want to wish all my readers a healthy, happy, and joy-filled New Year. I will return on January 7, 2020.

Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
E-mail queries to [email protected]

Dr. Rancourt’s most recent book is,
Its All About Relationships: New Ways to Make Them Healthy and Fulfilling, at Home and at Work

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