December 16, 2013

Two Christmas Toys To Fight Hypertension and Stress

My kids and I have agreed to stop exchanging Christmas presents. Hurrah!

So I decided to give myself two presents instead. With any luck, lower blood pressure and increased serenity will be the REAL gifts.

The December 2013 issue of the Mayo Clinic Health Letter included a report about portable, at-home medical devices that may help lower blood pressure. It featured two devices, with this caveat: some people might very well achieve the same results on their own without paying the $300 to $400 that each of these devices cost.

But I decided they'd make excellent Christmas gifts to me from my son and daughter.

Zona Plus -- A handgrip device
Gripping an object -- and holding the grip -- is a form of isometric exercise that may affect several body functions related to blood pressure. Such exercise appears to calm the fight-or-flight response and may allow blood to flow easier and with less pressure.

Zona Plus is a hand-held device that calibrates grip strength and guides you through two two-minute repetitions of continuous gripping on alternate hands. The instructions recommend doing the exercises five times a week.

The Mayo newsletter indicates that research on handgrip devices is limited, but evidence suggests regular use can result in a ten-point drop in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. People with blood pressure at or above 180/110 should avoid isometric exercise until their bp is better controlled.

Doing it on your own -- Instead of spending $400 on Zona Plus, a simple spring-loaded device from a sporting goods store may suffice. The newsletter recommends choosing a grip that feels like it requires about 30 percent of your grip strength, and following the Zona Plus exercise routine: two two-minute cycles of continuous gripping on alternate hands. Keep at it at least three times a week for eight to 12 weeks and monitor the impact on your blood pressure.

RESPeRATE® -- A deep-breathing device 
Stress typically causes rapid, shallow breathing from the chest, which in turn reinforces the overall feeling of stress. Deep slow breathing from the diaphragm is more relaxing and acts on brain centers that lower bp.

RESPeRATE, a device approved by the Food and Drug Administration, is designed to train deep breathing.

The device includes a strap that goes around your abdomen to monitor your breathing pattern, and an electronic interface with headphones.

RESPeRATE analyzes your breathing and creates tones to guide your breathing. Each session lasts 12-15 minutes, and you should use it three or four days a week to achieve the desired effect.

Studies suggest that regular use of RESPeRATE may lower systolic pressure by about four points: not very impressive. Other studies report no benefit.

Doing it  on your own -- No evidence exists that RESPeRATE works better than regularly practicing relaxed deep-breathing exercises on your own. I've tried doing it myself off and on through the years, but -- at least in the week I've been using it -- RESPeRATE seems to do a better job for me. 

I've been tracking my blood pressure every day for months. Soon enough, I should be able to judge if these devices are helping.

In any event, playing around with these new toys is better IMHO  than popping a new pill. After only a couple of weeks taking Ritalin, I'm becoming concerned about the side effects. More about that later.

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