Celebrity trainer Scott Parker works with clients across the globe eager to lose weight, build stamina and sculpt muscles. After watching his father struggle with severe hypertension, he makes sure controlling high blood pressure is also on their list.
Parker, who is based in Los Angeles, never personally struggled with high blood pressure, but has been working to avoid it his entire life.
Growing up in Gainesville, Florida, he was 6 years old when he learned how to use a blood pressure cuff as his father struggled to control dangerously high hypertension. He recalls several times he accompanied his father to the emergency room after his blood pressure spiked.
“I can’t remember a time my father didn’t have at least five different medications to control his blood pressure,” he said. Today, Parker’s father, who is 88, requires dialysis three days a week to manage kidney failure, a consequence of long-term hypertension.
Witnessing the devastating impact of high blood pressure first hand drives Parker’s passion for preaching heart health to clients, whether or not they have a hypertension diagnosis, including lifestyle factors, knowing your numbers and understanding how to check your blood pressure.
Nearly one in three Americans has high blood pressure, a condition sometimes called the “silent killer” because it often doesn’t have any symptoms. Among adults with high blood pressure, about 45 percent do not have it under control .
Limiting sodium and making lifestyle changes is crucial for controlling high blood pressure, and even little changes can have a big impact, said Mary Ann Bauman, M.D., an internal medicine doctor and national board member with the American Heart Association.
“Even losing a few pounds can help bring your blood pressure down,” Bauman said. “If you bring your top number (systolic) down by 10 pounds you can decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke by 30 to 50 percent.”
For clients with hypertension, Parker acts as a champion of regular blood pressure monitoring outside the doctor’s office.
“If I’m training someone who is 35 and has hypertension, I remind them how important it is to be monitoring their blood pressure on a regular basis so they can work with their doctor to get it back under control if there are any changes,” he said.
Because maintaining regular physical activity is an important part of reducing risks of high blood pressure, Parker recommends focusing on activities you enjoy and can continue throughout your life.
“You may enjoy running, but that’s not something you may be able to do later in life, so you need to find ways to always stay active,” Parker said, adding that even though his dad is on dialysis, he still stays active by playing golf a few times a week.
Finding support, either friends or family who can participate with you, or online, such as the American Heart Association’s Go Red Get Fit Facebook-group, can also make a big difference.
A recent study showed participants who participated in web-based lifestyle counseling saw an effect similar to that of adding an additional blood pressure-lowering medication. The counseling in the study included video clips featuring characters discussing their own high blood pressure diagnosis and efforts to make lifestyle changes, as well as tools for tracking diet and level of physical activity.
For clients diagnosed with hypertension, Parker suggests checking with a doctor to identify any limitations first, starting slow to avoid injury, and make sure they stay well-hydrated.
“Typically 30 minutes a day at least three times a week of moderate walking is a good way ease into it,” Parker said. “You aren’t going to lose 50 pounds in a week, but you might lose half a pound and if you do that for 50 weeks, you will make a big difference.”
Growing up, Parker’s family didn’t keep salt in the house, relying instead on fresh herbs and other spices to add flavor to mealtime. While developing diet and nutrition plans for clients, Parker, who also creates challenges and exercise routines for Go Red Get Fit, coaches all his clients to recognize sources of added sodium in their diet outside the saltshaker. He encourages them to read labels and avoid added sodium where possible foods, for example, swapping salted nuts for unsalted ones, and trying to prepare more of their own food.
Parker typically asks clients to log everything they eat for a 24-hour period to get a picture of their typical diet.
“I’ve seen people taking in three or four days worth of sodium in one day,” Parker said. “If that continues, it’s not a question if a person will have hypertension, it’s a question of when.”
Bauman said reading labels is crucial to reducing sodium to reach the 1500 mg limit recommended by the American Heart Association, because “only about 10 percent of the sodium we get comes from the saltshaker.”
“The average American gets more than 4,000 mg of sodium a day, so even if you can cut down some, it will make a difference in your health,” Bauman said.