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Tag hypertension

Riding for my life

Oscar Foulkes June 22, 2024 Tags: , Blood Pressure Interventions No comments

Good health is not something to be taken for granted.

There is nothing like an adverse diagnosis to prove that we have no real control over what happens inside our bodies. Beyond the obvious blocked nose or scratchy throat, we furthermore have little sense of what is happening out of sight. While some of us may – at times – have finer attunement to stuff not being entirely right, ultimately, we just don’t know.

This was probably the thing that shook me most about my cancer diagnosis in 2006. The sole physical manifestation was that my voice got progressively hoarser, until I could barely speak. The old saying about keeping friends close and enemies closer seemed perverse under these circumstances. Rogue cells – my enemies – were sitting in my throat, side by side with the friendly cells that comprise my vocal cords.

My laryngeal cancer was made tangible in the form of diminished speech. In the case of the high blood pressure – or hypertension – bombshell that dropped last week, I had zero warning. In all other respects, I feel great. I’m above average fitness, I’m not overweight, I don’t smoke, and I eat very little sugar.

Also, my blood pressure had always been in normal ranges.

Except that I’m approaching 58. When I look in the mirror, I can see the effects of ageing; internally, there must also be changes taking place.

The clearly defined course of action would be to go straight onto whatever meds the doctor prescribes. After all, there are hundreds of millions of people worldwide who are benefiting every day from taking blood pressure medication. However, I’m not feeling ready to sign up to taking regular medication for the rest of my life.

Instead, I’ve resolved to give myself a few months to go through a process of trying to unpick this thing, to see if there are non-pharmaceutical changes or interventions that can make a difference.

As signals of intentions go, this is not nearly as emotive as HD Thoreau describing why he went to Walden. However, I may, like Thoreau, “live deliberately” as I learn how – or if – my body can be hacked.

My first step was to purchase a blood pressure monitor. I now take my blood pressure every morning upon waking (before coffee). There are a variety of actions I’ll be taking over coming months, with the hope that some of them will have an impact on my blood pressure.

I’m beginning with a three-week block (at least) of high intensity intervals twice per week. This course of action is informed by published studies of benefits being experienced by hypertensive individuals being put onto this type of training regime. It’s likely that these people were at a lower fitness level than I am, so I may see less dramatic changes.

The other thinking behind this addition is that most of my cycling over the past six to eight months has been in zone 2, so my weekly dose of high intensity has substantially diminished.

After the first three HIIT sessions this week, I’m having happy flashbacks to training for Cape Epic. It feels good for my body to repeatedly be taken into zone 4 for sustained periods.

Having watched me undertake three Cape Epics in successive years, my friends sometimes ask if I’m training for something. My answer has generally been that I’m just riding for general well-being. On the assumption that this is going to have some benefit, I could now – somewhat melodramatically – say that I am training for my life.

If nothing else, I’ll end up with improved VO2 Max, which has its own effects on lifespan.

Let the experiment begin…

The Week in Numbers

BP: 143/90
Bike: 3 x 3 minutes at 90% of max HR, plus warm-up and cool-down

BP: 149/97

BP: 138/94
Bike: 4 x 4 minutes at 90% of max HR, plus warm-up and cool-down

BP: 135/87

BP: 138/94
Bike: 4 x 4 minutes at 90% of max HR, plus warm-up and cool-down

BP: 141/89

BP: 135/86
Bike: 100 minutes of zone 2