The Relaxation Response

As we all know, high blood pressure is a problem for many seniors. Along with our age, high blood pressure creeps up as well. A younger senior might be diagnosed as “pre-hypertensive” and because it’s easier for doctors to simply prescribe an anti-hypertensive medication rather than to encourage lifestyle changes, they find themselves on a pill or two. It is possible, however, that the drug could do more harm than good and could cause unnecessary anxiety. Herbert Benson, MD, author of bestseller, The Relaxation Response, offers an alternative.

Benson believes that by practicing the Relaxation Response, you will be better able to cope with difficult situations by allowing your body to achieve a more balanced state through the physiologic effects of the Relaxation Response. However, stopping the practice will stop the benefits within several days. There are no side effects when practiced once or twice daily for 10 to 20 minutes.

On page 35 of his book, he gives a case study of a woman with moderate hypertension with a family history of high blood pressure. After 14 months of practice she says:

The Relaxation Response has contributed to many changes in my life. Not only has it made me more relaxed physically and mentally, but also it has contributed to changes in my personality and way of life. I seem to have become calmer, more open and receptive especially to ideas which either have been unknown to me or very different from my past way of life. I like the way I am becoming; more patient, overcoming some fears especially around my physical health and stamina. I feel stronger physically and mentally. I take better care of myself. I am more committed to my daily exercise and see it as an integral part of my life. I really enjoy it, too! I drink less alcohol, take less medicine. The positive feedback which I experience as a result of the Relaxation Response and the lowered blood pressure readings make me feel I am attempting to transcend a family history replete with hypertensive heart disease.

There are two essential ingredients to the Relaxation Response:

  1. Repetition of a word, sound, phrase, prayer, or muscular activity.
  2. Passively disregarding everyday thoughts that inevitably come to mind and returning to your repetition.

Here are the simple steps to elicit the Relaxation Response:

  1. Pick a focus word, short phrase, or prayer that is firmly rooted in your belief system.
  2. Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
  3. Close your eyes.
  4. Relax your muscles, progressing from your feet to your calves, thighs, abdomen, shoulders, head, and neck.
  5. Breathe slowly and naturally, and as you do, say your focus word, sound, phrase, or prayer silently to yourself as you exhale.
  6. Assume a passive attitude. Don’t worry about how well you’re doing. When other thoughts come to mind, simply say to yourself, “Oh well,” and gently return to your repetition.
  7. Continue for 10 to 20 minutes.
  8. Do not stand immediately. Continue sitting quietly for a minute or so, allowing other thoughts to return. Then open your eyes and sit for another minute before rising.
  9. Practice the technique once or twice daily. Good times to do so are before breakfast and before dinner.

According to Benson, you can even elicit the Relaxation Response while exercising. If you are jogging or walking, pay attention to the cadence of your feet on the ground — left, right, left, right, left right — and if other thoughts come into your mind say — oh well — and return to — left, right, left, right. He reminds you to keep your eyes open! Swimmers can pay attention to the tempo of their strokes, cyclists to the whir of the wheels, and dancers to the beat of the music. So find a creative way to incorporate the Relaxation Response into your life.

Hypotension — Low Blood Pressure

Sphygmomanometer

Sphygmomanometer

I went to my primary care physician for my annual physical. One of the things that’s routinely checked is blood pressure. To my amazement, my blood pressure was lower than I’d ever seen it in the past few years, which had been inching up as I aged. As a senior, most of us are concerned about high blood pressure or hypertension. So I wondered, could low blood pressure or hypotension also be a problem and at what point does it become a problem?

Here is a chart for the low blood pressure range.

Systolic pressure (mm Hg)

Diastolic pressure (mm Hg)

Pressure Range

90

60

Borderline Low blood  Pressure

60

40

Too Low Blood Pressure

50

33

Dangerously Low Blood  Pressure

Fortunately, my blood pressure falls within the normal range and not in the problem range for low blood pressure. According to the Mayo Clinic, “…low blood pressure can cause symptoms of dizziness and fainting or mean that they have serious heart, endocrine or neurological disorders. Severely low blood pressure can deprive the brain and other vital organs of oxygen and nutrients, leading to a life-threatening condition called shock.”

Here is a list of the most common symptoms of hypotension provided by Medical News Today.

  • Blurred vision
  • Cold, clammy, pale skin
  • Depression
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Fatigue
  • General feeling of weakness
  • Nausea
  • Palpitations
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Thirst

Mayo Clinic says you are at risk for low blood pressure if you fall in any of these categories:

  • Age. Drops in blood pressure on standing or after eating occur primarily in adults older than 65. Orthostatic hypotension happens after standing up, while postprandial hypotension happens after eating a meal. Neurally mediated hypotension happens as a result of a miscommunication between the brain and heart. It primarily affects children and younger adults.
  • Medications. People who take certain medications, such as high blood pressure medications like alpha blockers, have a greater risk of low blood pressure. This is especially true for adults over age 80.
  • Certain diseases. Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and some heart conditions put you at a greater risk of developing low blood pressure.

So get your blood pressure checked regularly. If you have a monitor at home, be sure to take it with you when you go to the doctor. I know the numbers on my digital blood pressure monitor at home are at least 10 higher than the sphygmomanometer at my doctor’s office. Your pharmacy most likely has a blood pressure monitor as well, although they are known to be inaccurate. Actually, taking blood pressure requires a cuff of the correct size and the placement of your arm should be at the level of your heart. Most of the time, blood pressure is not taken correctly.

As for how I lowered my blood pressure, I believe I have finally found the nutritional supplement geared specifically for the heart that works for me and secondly, I’ve also picked up the pace of my cardio exercises. Take care.

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