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Free community program helps lower blood pressure

By Staff | Jan 31, 2018

BARB BARRETT/The Luminary Megan Bowman of Hughesville is the Heart Health Ambassador at the East Lycoming YMCA in Muncy Township. She is holding a blood pressure monitoring cuff that is available for those participating in the "Take Action to Improve Heart Health", a free 4 month program offered to the community to measure and lower their blood pressure.

MUNCY – “Take action to improve your heart health!” This is a self monitoring blood pressure program that recently started at the Eastern Lycoming YMCA. According to the American Medical Association, one in three American adults have high blood pressure.

The program is perfect for those who have a fluctuating high blood pressure and have not been diagnosed with any kind of cardiac arrest such as a heart attack, blood clot, or any atrial fibrillation or other arrhythmias according to Megan Bowman, the Heart Health Ambassador at the ELYMCA.

It is free to members of the local community and blood pressure monitoring cuffs are available for those who need them. Bowman said she has open office hours at the ELYMCA and also goes to the Meck Senior Center to record blood pressure readings. She meets with participants on Mondays from 9 to 11 a.m. and on Wednesdays from 9-10 a.m.

With the program are monthly nutritional seminars offering dietary approaches to lower or stop hypertension. Diet has a lot to do with controlling blood pressure. The nutrition seminars are open to anyone. Attendees can learn how to shop, cook and prepare low sodium, fresh food, not processed to lower blood pressure. Dining out can be a challenge but Bowman said, “the restaurants around here are very accommodating. For example, they will serve vegetables without butter or grill chicken with no seasonings. You just have to ask.”

“We share recipe ideas and offer low seasoning options.” The next seminar is scheduled for Tuesday, February 13 starting at 9 a.m. at the Meck Senior Center and will feature the DASH diet which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Sodium plays a big role in what we eat including salt in foods we buy according to Bowman. Research studies revealed those on this diet lowered their blood pressure within two weeks. The nutrition classes run the 2nd Tuesday of every month.

Another way to start lowering blood pressure is through exercise. Classes such as gentle chair yoga, restorative yoga and slow flow yoga are very helpful for both mind and body to improve the cardiovascular system. “We offer group exercise and personal training,” said Bowman.

The pool at the ELYMCA also has classes to help lower blood pressure. Aqua fitness is offered Tuesday mornings at 11 a.m. and Aqua fit to tone is offered Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at 9 a.m. Bowman recommended Boogie Bootcamp offered Monday mornings at 9 a.m. followed by Silver Sneakers at 10 a.m.

The Take Action to Improve Heart Health is a four month program and during this time blood pressure is monitored at least two times per month. “It is best to do it more than that, two or three times a week at your best resting time,” Bowman said. “Always use the same arm, and rest it on a table with your feet firm on the floor.”

She demonstrated how to use the digital monitors that were acquired through a grant.

“This self monitoring program leads to self-awareness and puts the pre-hypertension stage under control before it hits higher levels.” There are several ways to monitor the readings. Most smart phones have a hearth health app to record them, or participants can choose to use one of the cards available through the Y. “It fits nice in your wallet so you can show your doctor,” Bowman added.

“A normal reading would be 120 over 80,” remarked Bowman, “but it was changed recently for the new normal to be below 140 over 90.” The American Heart Association recommends that anyone over age 60 should aim for a blood pressure level of less than 150/90 mmHg.

The overall goal is to find ways to reduce blood pressure by managing it better before medication is necessary. It has been very successful so far according to Bowman who shared some testimonials with the Luminary, but due to federal HIPAA laws, could not reveal their full names. She claims there have been about 16 successes so far in the program. “They all had an incentive,” she said.

One of the participants said, “I think the aspect of the program I appreciated most was getting the blood pressure cuff so that I can monitor my blood pressure at home. My doctor has encouraged me to do this for some time, and the program gave me the added nudge I needed to get into a routine of doing it.” -S.M.

Reading labels and reducing daily sodium amounts can make some big changes. Another local participant said, “I am incredibly thankful for the blood pressure self-monitoring program. The program was offered at a time when my doctor was urging me to consider taking medicine to regulate my blood pressure. I asked to be given a chance to attend the program to alter my readings naturally. Through the nutritional seminars and home monitoring, I became aware of what I personally did that made my readings higher including salt levels within my foods and of course my regular cups of coffee. I appreciate the discussions offered during the individual meetings with Megan as well as the nutritional seminars. I especially like the encouragement to try new spices in my food and create my own flavorings instead of buying the packages that were high in salt. (I enjoyed the taco seasoning recipe!) – A.F.

The program is customized to each individual, depending on lifestyles and fitness levels. To learn more about this free community program, contact Elisa Allen, Wellness Director at the ELYMCA, 50 Fitness Drive, Muncy, or call 570-546-8822, ext. 407. Or stop in the nearby Meck Senior Center on Wednesday mornings from 9 to 10 a.m. when blood pressure readings are administered to fill out an application.

“This program really helped me to become more focused and mindful about what I’m eating, and to understand how those choices impact my blood pressure. I’ve found that there are more low sodium options/alternatives out there than I expected.” – W.M.??