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'How I learned to reduce my blood pressure'

One woman's experience of high blood pressure, and how she lowered it by cutting salt from her diet.

Caroline Lashley, 55, from London, didn't know she had high blood pressure until it was discovered at a routine health check. She talks about the importance, and the challenges, of lowering her blood pressure through healthy living changes.

"When the nurse told me I had high blood pressure it was a shock. I felt healthy, and was having a check-up for my asthma and weight.

"I knew I was overweight (I could have beaten Frank Bruno when he was still boxing), but because I'm 5ft 9in tall, I didn't seem too big. I've never smoked and only drink occasionally.

High blood pressure risks

"I can't remember exactly what my blood pressure was that day, but it was extremely high. The lower number was nearly in triple digits, even though it's supposed to be around 80.

"I knew there was high blood pressure on both sides of my family. My aunts, uncles and cousins have it. I also knew that high blood pressure increases your risk of having a stroke.

"I was determined to bring the pressure down by being more healthy. If you've got high blood pressure, you don't know your limit until you have a stroke, so you've got to take action as soon as possible.

"I'm on a low dose of blood pressure tablets, and I have a check up every couple of months."

Cutting down on salt

"The nurse advised me to eat in moderation, eat less salt and get more exercise. I started reading food labels for salt content, but it was a challenge.

"I was so used to eating certain types of food, such as chocolate or a Sunday roast, but suddenly I was constantly thinking about how many grams of salt my food contained and how it would affect my health.

"I was surprised to find there's salt in things like cornflakes and bread. I wondered what I could eat besides fruit! Luckily, I love eating fruit.

Home cooking and daily exercise

"Cutting down on salt at home wasn't hard, especially if you're creative with seasonings and spices. I've never had salt on the table, because in Caribbean cooking we usually use salt in a marinade or for seasoning meat.

"I just had to cook more creatively so that I wouldn't need to rely on salt. I love to cook and make all my meals from scratch. That way, you know which ingredients are used, and their quantity.

"I have a relatively healthy eating regime now but my major downfall is eating too much as I love the taste of my own cooking and baking."

"I started walking every day. All you need is a pair of comfortable shoes."

Overcoming hard times

"My health regime was going well, but then I had a really tough year. I lost my job, my home and my relationship, as well as a business I was starting, and worst of all my brother died.

"Life events like that can derail your healthy living plans. I can't remember the precise point I fell off the healthy-eating wagon, but I did. I put weight back on.

"I'm now back to around 17 stone, and I want to be around 14 or 15 stone.

"I'm due to have 12 weeks' weight loss support after a recent hernia operation, and I'm looking at an exercise programme to help lose the weight and keep it off."

Health checks

"When I go for a blood pressure check the nurse also measures my waist, because if a woman's waist is over 31.5 inches (80cm) she is more likely to get diabetes. I haven't got diabetes, but being overweight increases your risk.

"I know that since turning 55 I really have to watch my eating habits and my levels of exercise. I clearly have to step up a gear or two to keep the weight down. Your choices can really make a difference. I intend to stay alive as long as possible, so I'll do whatever it takes."

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