Like so many patients with high blood pressure, Roger, a retired college professor, was not very enthusiastic about making lifestyle changes. He enjoyed his meatball sub lunches, the heavily salted snacks served on poker night, and cruising around the golf course in his golf cart. I explained the downsides of continuing this type of behavior, and I mentioned that high blood pressure makes a person more vulnerable to strokes and heart disease, but Roger was not impressed. In fact, his response was, “Can’t I just take a pill or something? Whatever is wrong with my blood pressure doesn’t bother me anyway, so why do I have to give up all the things I enjoy to fix it?”
Roger took a popular diuretic for a few months, but he was not happy with the fact that he had to use the bathroom more frequently.
“I know you warned me about that, but using the restroom 12 times a day is not working for me,” he complained. “Isn’t there something better?”
I brought up the lifestyle changes again, but Roger still wasn’t convinced. So we tried calcium channel blockers, which Roger found constipating. Then we tried beta-blockers, which kept him up all night. After those misfires, I didn’t hear from Roger for a few months. Finally, he reappeared in my office, relaxed, smiling, and very cheerful. “What’s going on, Roger? You look like a new person,” I remarked.
It turned out that Roger, who had been a widower for more than a decade, was seeing a woman, Eileen, who lived the healthy lifestyle I recommend. Not only did she exercise every day, but she rarely ate meat, so vegetables were a mainstay at her house.
“I always thought I hated green beans because I’d never had anything but the canned variety,” Roger explained. “Eileen cooks the fresh ones, with mushrooms and onions. I’m telling you, they are out of this world!”
Although I was pleased, I was not surprised. I’ve heard similar stories from patients who started exploring fresh vegetables for health reasons and discovered that they are an entirely different experience than the mushy canned or frozen versions so many people grew up with.
Needless to say, with Eileen’s influence, Roger’s health improved dramatically. She had gotten him to do everything I recommended – upgrade his diet with fresh, organic produce, walk the golf course instead of drive, and focus on healthy snacks, rather than potato chips. Not only was Roger’s blood pressure in the normal range – without any medication! – but his cholesterol and triglycerides had improved, too.
“And I’ve lost a few pounds,” he said proudly. “But the big headline is that I feel so much better and have a lot more energy. Maybe it’s all in my head, but now I see why you wanted me to straighten up and fly right. It’s made a world of difference.”
The last time I saw Roger, he and Eileen were about to celebrate his 75th birthday with a bicycle tour of wine country.