by Christopher Boyle
LONG ISLAND, NY – There’s really no greater barometer of your overall well-being than the health of your heart; after all, heart disease is one of the leading causes of demise amongst U.S. residents, but with the right steps and a healthy lifestyle, you can avoid this unfortunate condition… and one of the easiest and most effective ways of doing is to get regular blood pressure screenings, which are regularly available at most local libraries, believe it or not.
Registered nurse Marie Gilchrist, a member of the Visiting Nurse Association of Long Island, said that her organization holds regular blood pressure clinics and tests at libraries across Long Island, doing their part in safeguarding the health of local residents.
It’s a community service,” she said. “It’s a way for VNA to reach out to the community and to get referrals for people who need home care and other services that they provide.”
Everyone knows that high blood pressure is a bad thing; however, not many people know exactly what your blood pressure is used for when it comes to an indicator of your overall health. Luckily, Gilchrist was more than happy to break it down in layman’s terms.
“Blood pressure is essentially how much pressure that your heart is exerting to make the blood flow through your system,” she said. “Blood pressure measurement consists of two numbers- Systolic, which is the pressure in your vessels when your heart beats, and Diastolic, which is the pressure in your vessels when your heart is between beats.”
When you have high blood pressure, or hypertension, the force of blood against your arterial walls is too strong, which, if left untreated, can lead to a host of medical issues, Gilchrist said.
“It’s very important, especially as people get older,” she said. “High blood pressure can cause a stroke or a heart attack, so it’s very important to keep track of your blood pressure.”
According to Gilchrist, the average adult’s Systolic pressure should be below 140, and their Diastolic pressure below 80; however, she said, these numbers can have a great deal of leeway depending in an individual’s unique situation.
Blood pressure results can also be affected by lifestyle choices…choices that can be easily be remedied if your doctor or medical practitioner finds that your pressure is running a little too high, Gilchrist said.
“A lot of the times it’s diet, including your salt and fluid intake, in addition to exercise,” she said. “If you watch your salt intake that can make a big difference, and getting plenty of water is very important…six to eight glasses a day. It’s very easy to control your blood pressure…some of it is hereditary, and there’s only so much you can do about it, but there’s a lot you can do yourself within those parameters. It can be life-saving.”
Gilchrist noted that, when it comes to salt intake, it’s not just the salt shaker at the dinner table you have to worry about; it’s a whole host of common items, such as processed and canned foods, cold cuts, cheeses, all of which typically boast a high salt content.
However, Gilchrist emphasized that merely getting your blood pressure screened is just the first step to safeguarding your heath; if something is amiss, she said, you need to take the next step yourself and follow-up with your doctor.
“This is a great service that we offer, because it gives someone something to go on, but people still need to see their general practitioner,” she said. “This should not take the place of a doctor…it’s just a guide.”
Gilchrist performs free blood pressure screenings on behalf of VNA at the Massapequa Public Library once a month. Each month she alternates between the library’s Bar Harbour and Central Avenue branches, and screenings are always held on the second Tuesday of any given month.
Pat Smith, a Massapequa Park resident, had stopped by the Bar Harbour branch of the library to redunt a few DVDs, and decided to sit for a moment and get a quick blood pressure reading.
“I’m here, and I saw this being offered, and I thought it was a good idea to have my pressure checked,” she said. “You can never been too careful when it comes to your health.”
While turnout for blood pressure screenings are always solid, Gilchrist noted that normally it’s primarily older residents who take advantage of her services; however, she said, heart health is something you should keep on top of your entire life, not just in your later years.
“You don’t have to be a senior citizen to have an issue with your blood pressure,” she said. “Middle aged people and even younger should keep track of it. A lot of people assume because they’re young, that they don’t have high blood pressure…well, it can happen.”