Confessions of a Hypertensive Gladiator

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Health condition is normally a private matter. It is something you ponder when you examine your eyebags and love handles in the mirror, or maybe with your doctor or significant other. I veer away from the traditional privacy in the hope I can save myself and others from health pitfalls and downspiral by sharing my story.
Two years ago I shifted employment from a small bank to a bigger one. In my former employer, I had grown so efficient in doing a small set of activities that many times I was bored shitless. I whiled away the time reading blogs and fora on running and triathlon, and expended my bottled-up energy training for sports. I was at my lightest post-graduate school weight then:  170-175lbs. I was in the pink of health. I might have been slighly obese still then, but all my other annual medical statistics were within normal ranges.
In my current job I found the mental challenges I prayed for and craved. Be careful what you wish for; mine came in huge buckets and waves. I still love the challenges, but I continue to struggle dealing with the stress that come with them. Bulk of the stress comes from my genetic pre-disposition to take on big tasks, all at once, insisting on finishing them pronto, while having to navigate seas of tradition and change and a spectrum of viewpoints and attitudes. Alas, Roman coliseums are not built in a day, not even a month, and I was really just a warrior, a gladiator maybe, but neither a solon nor an emperor.
The gladiator that was I finally found time to lay down his arms for his two-years-due check-up. The verdict:  Obesity, High blood pressure (140/100), high cholesterol, tortuous aorta, fatty liver (about 4cms larger)  and diminished breathing capacity (30% less). What the F!!!!  I knew I gained weight from all the stress eating, but I thought the triathlon training and races I managed to squeeze in every now and then should save me from health ruin. Tortuous aorta, the name alone and the image it conjures in head, scares me.
Are these the spoils of my daily battles??? Thanks to my job, I have a nice candy colored home with manicured lawn and white picket fences. I live in a quaint American countryhome-style village with a resort pool and rolling hills for biking and running (if only I can spend more time doing these). Hell, I have three bikes and two vehicles. I have money in the bank, stocks and insurance. I can change my complete wardrobe if I want to if only I do not keep postponing it in the hope my waistline will go back to 30-32 inches. Regularly I thank God for all these material blessings, but when I was shopping for a main door decor I wanted a pair of angels bringing tidings of Good Health. I chose that over Prosperity.
For the record, I am not dying. Far from it. It's just humbling to realize that I finally crossed that borderline separating the healthy from those at risk. Basically, I had too much stress at work that my blood pressure is perenially up. While previously it was up only when I was angry or upset, now it is up even if I was sitting down. Bummer. That I put on so much excess weight complicates things. From 175 pounds I reached a high of 215 pounds during my triathlon off-season (Sep-Oct). I continued to be a half-rice guy avoiding fatty and salty meals, but my stress snacking on sweets and chips ramped up my cholesterol and blood pressure. I supposed I developed a fatty liver because all the excess sweets have to be stored somewhere. I forgot my basic biochemistry lesson that sugar can be converted to fat if left unused. My tortured aorta is a result either of cholesterol deposits or expansion of the liver. My breathing capacity was diminished simply because I cannot expand my diaprahgm enough with all the fat deposits. The fatty, enlarged liver also occupied space. No wonder I seem to have a Santa belly even if I don't really have side love handles. Grrrr!!!
So what is my health battle plan? Spoken like a true gladiator whose type-A disposition will be the cause of his own death.

0.  Medication.  Truth is, I don't normally take medicines. Not for colds, flu, muscle pain, etc. I believe in the body's capacity to restore its balance. God is a great bioengineer in the first place. When the first doctor said I should take maintenance drugs for blood pressure, I head a big scream of NO inside my head. I was able to convince the doctor I will simply go back to running more and would agree to the liver supplement instead. Our company doctor however was firm: She said:  "We have the same surname. I cannot in my conscience see you collapse inside the building. Take Losartan at least for 30 days and come regularly for blood pressure monitoring. We shall reduce or eliminate dosage if indeed you manage to be better."  I bought the capsules and have managed to take it 14 days out of 20 so far. Admittedly, I sometime forego this when I feel very well, but I resume at the smallest sign of lightheadedness. Ok, I promise now I will finish the whole set.
1.   Fruit Diet. System cleansing primarily for the liver so it can get rid itself of cholesterol and fat. Eat as many kinds of fruits I can find. Bananas, mangoes, mandarin oranges, pomelo, guyabano, dragonfruits, guavas, strawberries, etc. I usually take these in the form of smoothies, but sometimes I eat them straight when I am busy or tired.
2.  Food supplements.  An advocate of natural eating, I normally shun supplements, but since this is a battle scenario, I gave in to the following:  Liveraide which has silymarin from milk thistle;  Ceellium which has psyllium husks or fiber to sweep off cholesterol.
3.  Cholesterol-fighting and heart-healthy foods.  Oatmeal (lots of it), fish, pineapple juice, etc.
4. Liver friendly foods.  Buko juice in whatever form. I am still trying to find yellow ginger (luyang dilaw) and how I can incorporate it into my meals.
5.  Leave the office early, hopefully right after 6pm, if not before 7pm or earlier. Tomorrow is another day afterall!
6.   Sleep early, sleep enough. Admittedly, lack of sleep is also a shortcoming and a challenge. I try to pay back sleep debt every weekend by forcing myself to stay in bed till late morning.
7.   Exercise. In whatever form. Walk, dance, swim, bike, run, sing! Not sure if singing can be considered an exercise, but whenever I feel my blood pressure is rising, I sing a happy tune (Jose Mari Chan's Christmas In Our Hearts is the current favorite) to relax the mind, soften the heart and fill in the lungs. Good for the diapraghm so I can recover my normal breathing capacity.
8. Let go and let God.  Slow down. Lower expectations a bit. Tolerate a bit of imperfection. Let God handle those that you cannot.

Initial Results:

1.  I have dropped 10 pounds so far since November 4 when I took the medical tests.

2.  My blood pressure manages to go down to 130/90 but there are still blips and bouts of occasional lighted-headnesses. It can be due to lack of sleep though so I must continue to address the latter.

3.  I have progressed from light to moderate exercises, but I opt to err on the conservative side.

I have gotten back to regular pool swims and will run-walk 21kms in the QCIM race. See you guys and gals on the road or water. Let us all be healthy and safe. Shalom.



bong z November 25, 2012 at 9:03 AM  

We are getting old kuya :-) Our bodies are complaining of all the abuse we put on it. I too had to battle cholesterol and pre-hypertension. If you need a good cardiologist I can recommend my cousin. We found the right maintenance meds that brought down my bp to normal.

You still owe me a sub BZ at Ateneo Aqua! :-)

Rico Villanueva November 25, 2012 at 10:19 AM  

Thanks Kuya BZ :) Hopefully before Christmas the bloodways are cleaner and wider so I really hate medicines!

I shall be battle ready come Ateneo Aqua. Place your bets. Haha

RUNNING DIVA November 26, 2012 at 9:42 AM  

It's time to rekindle an old passion of yours--RUNNING.

Abundance means you need to find time for health. And get back into shape by sheer force of will. ;)

Take it easy!

daytripper1021 November 26, 2012 at 10:22 AM  

I hope and pray that you get back to better health pards! My 2 cents: try mo mag calorie counting via I lost 10lbs since using it last Jan. The progress is slow (for my case since I neglect to login often), but it builds the habit of reducing food intake which really helps.

Kaya mo yan! :)

NOEL November 26, 2012 at 4:05 PM  

I commend you for being honest to yourself. Remember that the real wealth is health.

Rico Villanueva November 26, 2012 at 10:27 PM  

Thanks Roselle. Yup, the plan is to focus on running. See you on the roads.

Roelle, I did calorie counting with DailyBurn and it does work. Sadly, it also consumes time which I severely lack. I am counting in my head though.

Noel, yup, health is wealth. I want to be rich in endorphins :-)

abrahamvllera June 3, 2013 at 12:14 PM  

Go, go, go! As one runner has said: "We runners are all a little nutty, but we're good people who just want to enjoy our healthy, primitive challenge. Others may not understand running, but we do, and we cherish it. That's our only message."
If you’re free, join us on our fun run. It’s fiesta time in Cagayan de Oro, and the locals are celebrating a fresh start after Sendong. Aug 25, 2013. Mark your calendar.

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