Under Pressure: Addressing Hypertension

Testing woman's blood pressure

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has published it’s first ever report on the “devastating global impact” of high blood pressure and is calling for increased emphasis on prevention in reducing this life threatening disease. This includes increasing physical activity levels and addressing poor diets.  More people die each year from cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) than from any other cause and hypertension (high blood pressure) is a significant factor.

The report states that hypertension affects 1 in 3 adults worldwide.  This common, deadly condition leads to stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney damage and many other health problems. As a sufferer myself, I am acutely aware of the need to monitor your blood pressure regularly; to note what causes a spike and to limit those affects and how exercise can play a dramatic part in reducing hypertension. Earlier this year I cycled the North Coast 500 with friends – 500 plus miles around the beautiful West Scotland coast.  The affect on my blood pressure was incredible as well as my ‘Variable Heart Rate’ as monitored by my Apple watch. Trouble is I can’t cycle hundreds of miles every week but the case for me is beyond proven –  physical activity will help reduce blood pressure and therefore reduce the chances of life threatening diseases.

HEARTS Technical Package – We can help!

I am very lucky as I am aware of my blood pressure and can afford gizmos and gadgets to monitor it. The report says that nearly half of people with hypertension globally are currently unaware of their condition. In the UK it is not quite that bad but still many people are blissfully unaware until something goes wrong and they get tested or they get a routine health check.  But even then, what happens?  I am like a broken record about NHS Health checks being done by pharmacies or nurses and then there is little or no follow up – a huge missed opportunity.  Every leisure centre and gym in the land that has decently qualified (CIMSPA accredited) staff should be in a scheme that sees people directed to us for free checks. The new NHS digital health checks that are coming out still requires someone to administer blood pressure checks and cholesterol so why not use this as a perfect opportunity to launch a new national campaign? An army of highly skilled and qualified staff exist with relevant facilities who could help people become aware and then follow up with Motivational Interviewing and coaching to help people develop a healthier lifestyle generally.

The WHO even offers guidance for health professionals called The HEARTS technical package. This provides a strategic approach to improving cardiovascular health in countries. It comprises six modules and an implementation guide that includes advice on lifestyle coaching which looks to me remarkably like the sort of Behaviour Change coaching based on Motivational Interviewing that many of us deliver now and what Melvyn Hilsden trained my Virgin Active team to do back in 1999.  How on earth have we not managed to be seen to be part of the solution as yet all these years later? 

A Significant Return on Investment

The report states very clearly that, “The prevention, early detection and effective management of hypertension are among the most cost-effective interventions in health care and should be prioritized by countries as part of their national health benefit package offered at a primary care level. The economic benefits of improved hypertension treat­ment programmes outweigh the costs by about 18 to 1.

We could be and to my mind should be part of the solution here in the UK.  Health checks are but one way we could help and judging by a recent survey by UK Active, every element of our sector wants to work with health to help address not just the current health challenges but the ones we are staring down the barrel at very soon – including an increasingly aged population. 

I hope people are listening to Mike Farrar and the UK Active team and Tara at CIMSPA and others and the potential new government next year takes the opportunity on offer to really do something tangible for our future health of the nation.

Andy King

Director, Miova