Do you wait until your car breaks down to change the oil? Of course not. You follow a preventive maintenance schedule to keep your car running well for as long as possible.
For some reason, people tend to take better care of their vehicles than their own bodies. We regularly change the oil, put on snow tires before the leaves are off the trees, and can accurately guess our car’s gas mileage. Yet, if you ask young Americans to estimate their typical blood pressure, they most likely will not know.
Most young American adults between the ages of 18 and 44 have a better understanding about how their cars are running.
Only 6 out of 10 people in this age group have a primary doctor and less than 4 out of 10 have seen a dentist within the last year. And even though Vermont is considered the 2nd healthiest state in the US for the fourth consecutive year, this trend holds true here. Our habits and behaviors early in our lifetimes – both good and bad – determine the quality of our health later on. If you don’t have a primary doctor, you may not know how your body is doing with respect to three key predictors of chronic disease – blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes risk.
This blog is the first in a series of three posts about chronic illness prevention in young adults.
Often called “the silent killer,” high blood pressure (hypertension) is a condition that often presents with no symptoms, yet is one of the easiest and most important conditions to monitor.
How often should I check my blood pressure? Blood pressure should be checked, at minimum, every two years. If your top number is above 120 or your bottom number is over 80, then it should be checked annually. You can now find a machine in most grocery stores or pharmacies. In a study conducted between 2003 and 2010, more than 60 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 44 had high blood pressure. Half of those people had no idea that they had high blood pressure.
What happens if I don’t watch my blood pressure? Over time, untreated hypertension can wreak havoc on the body, increasing your risk for stroke, heart attack, and dementia. Early intervention is crucial, as simple lifestyle changes in diet, exercise, and weight management may restore blood pressure to ideal levels, often without a need for medication.
Even though Vermont ranks #2 nationwide for overall health, the state ranks #20 for high blood pressure and #14 cardiovascular deaths. Knowing your blood pressure numbers can go a long way to reducing your risk.
There are plenty of ways to conveniently check your blood pressure without having to go to the doctor!
Services like the Higi station are becoming commonplace in grocery stores and pharmacies. Higi allows people to check their blood pressure, weight, and body fat percentage as a risk assessment for various preventable chronic diseases and awards points for various activities that can be redeemed for gear! There are six in the greater Burlington area and almost 30 in Vermont (https://higi.com/locator?search=05401). The University of Vermont Medical Center also hosts several outreach events during the year featuring free blood pressure screenings and body fat measurements for members of the community.
Services like Higi should only be used to keep tabs on your health in addition to, rather than instead of, an annual visit to a primary care doctor. Fewer than 60 percent of people see a doctor annually.
Knowing your numbers – blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes risk – are significantly related to taking action to improve your long-term quality of life. Simple changes like improving your diet and increasing your activity level can significantly cut the risk of cardiovascular diseases both today and tomorrow.
The year may be half over, but there is plenty of time. See your doctor and get curious about your health!
Mike Reynolds is an LNA Nurse Extern with Community Health Improvement at the University of Vermont Medical Center. He is currently a senior in the BSN program at the University of Vermont.