“We’re going to be talking today about the single leading underlying cause of unnecessary death. If we could change that, we could restore quality of life and health for many people – not just for ourselves, but for those we love and care about.”
What is this underlying cause? Dr Alan Greene says that it’s not the obesity epidemic, sitting, or smoking, although all of these are definitely contributing.
Dr Greene wants to talk about water for a minute. He tells us about how he loves the water – he finds it that it has a very calming, creative effect on him. But water can also be violent: he gives us examples of recent superstorms around the world that have caused a huge amount of damage and loss of life.
Dr Greene wants to talk about something that will cause much more extensive damage and loss of life than these storms.
“In our bodies, we have a coastline, and we have real tides that rise and fall. We also have waves – real, lapping waves in our body. Our pulse is a pressure wave, day and night.” Like the water, he says, our heartbeat is beautiful and primal. “For me, listening to my wife’s heartbeat at rest is once of the most peaceful, creative and restorative things I ever do.” But like the water in the world, there can be storms.
“The problem we’re talking about today is high blood pressure,” Dr Greene says.
He explains that we’ve been thinking about, and measuring, our blood pressure the wrong way. In the morning, our blood pressure is higher, and in the evening it’s lower. If we always get our blood pressure checked in the morning, our C level might appear much higher.
What we eat can also raise blood pressure – fast food can raise it significantly for 6 hours. Whereas one 16-ounce glass of beet juice can lower our blood pressure for many more hours.
Our blood pressure will also shoot up, briefly and instantly, when we experience something scary. It will fall when we laugh, or become aroused.
Dr Greene says that many of us stay in the fight or flight response constantly – we’re chronically stressed. “Everyone knows someone with high blood pressure. Imagine if we could do something to help those people,” he says. We’d be happier, and we’d probably even be making love more – “High blood pressure is one of the leading causes of erectile dysfunction in men and lack of arousal in women,” he says. “Unless,” he jokes, “the leading cause of lack of arousal in women is men.”
But why is a paediatrician telling us about high blood pressure? We should be worried about this. “Today, millions of children have high blood pressure,” Dr Greene says. In kids between the age of 10-15 years old, one in 14 already have hardening of the arteries. “This is a ticking time bomb for the future, and a tremendous cause for hope.”
Lifestyle is the problem, but there is a lifestyle solution.
Dr Greene doesn’t think that the cause for high blood pressure is obesity, sugar consumption, lack of exercise or stress – although all of these are contributors.
He tells us about Finland, the country that once had the highest blood pressure and heart attack rate in the world. A small community in Finland decided in 1972 to do whatever they could to change this. They exercised, shared data, talked about it in the news. Five years later – they lowered their collective blood pressure. It worked so well, a neighbouring community adopted the program, until the whole country adopted it. They went from the worst blood pressure on the planet, to being totally normal. “What was the change?” Dr Greene asks.
Most of their other health factors were not significantly better than the rest of the world, but they did do three things:
1.They reduced salt in their diet
2.They ate a lot more produce: fruits, vegetables, whole grains
3.They came together as a community to tackle the problem
These days, everyone is carrying a device that could be used to measure your blood pressure. Dr Greene asks us to get to know our blood pressure. “Try yoga, try deep breathing.” When we deepen our breath, even for 60 breaths a day, our blood pressure will drop lower and lower each month.
“Try something new, get to know yourself.”
Dr Alan Greene M.D., USA, respected and influential paediatrician, leading voice in health innovation, Chief Medical Officer of Scanadu, Founder of DrGreene.com and author of Raising Baby Green and Feeding Baby Green presented this at Happiness & Its Causes 2016.