Sharon Taylor struggled to get her blood pressure under control. Then she discovered a fun activity that helped her drop 90 pounds and lower her blood pressure — so she could finally get off her medication!
Sharon was sitting on her doctor’s exam table with her arm out of her sleeve as the cold, vinyl blood pressure cuff did its work. She was confident that this annual visit would go smoothly, as her appointments always did. So when the doctor said her blood pressure was high and diagnosed her with hypertension, she felt a sudden rush of fear.
Having just turned 50, she immediately thought of her father and aunt, neither of whom lived to reach that milestone birthday. “They had been on high blood pressure medicine for years but still died of heart attacks. Despite being overweight, I had always kept my blood pressure within normal range. This was a shock. I didn’t want to start a lifetime of medication, but I also didn’t want to repeat my family’s history.”
“The doctor wanted to put me on blood pressure medication. I didn’t take any prescriptions at that time, but I’d watched as family members had to take more and more medications because their high blood pressure led to complications like diabetes, edema, and kidney disease. And I’d heard that blood pressure medications are difficult or impossible to stop once you start. I wasn’t going to do that.
“I asked if there was a natural alternative. The doctor said I’d have to lose a lot of weight, and she stressed that my blood pressure could get dangerously high before I saw results. Instead, she suggested a diuretic — a medication that might help and was easier to stop taking, so I agreed.
“Unfortunately, the diuretic didn’t work, and my doctor insisted on blood pressure meds. The drug she prescribed had terrible side effects including hair loss and aches. I kept asking about these symptoms, but she didn’t believe the medication caused them.
“Only when I developed a severe, chronic cough did the doctor agree to try another medication. I felt better, but visit after visit, as I saw that my blood pressure wasn’t decreasing, I became more committed to losing weight.”
Healthy, at last!
“I had always exercised, but when I developed arthritis in my knees, I was too sore to continue aerobics classes, and I hadn’t found a good replacement exercise.
“Now, determined to improve my health and get off the medication, I was on the lookout for a replacement. That’s when I saw an ad on Facebook for Figure 8, an exercise program based on Latin dance. The dancing focus caught my eye. We had always danced for fun when I was growing up, having dance competitions among family. I thought, ‘I can do this!’ So I bought the introductory program, which consists of 14 streaming video workouts.
“The moves weren’t difficult, but they did get my heart beating. Each video has a person demonstrating how to modify the moves for low impact, so I could do it without my knee hurting. And while the workouts left me a little sore, it wasn’t enough to stop me.
“I did the program six days a week, and I lost nine pounds in the first month, which I didn’t think was a lot, but I did feel better, and I knew every pound was working toward lower blood pressure.
“Soon, my blood pressure started coming down. I was still on medication so I couldn’t be sure if the change was from the dancing or the medicine. But I kept exercising because it was good for my health and I liked the results. While I started the program at a size 22, I hit a size 12 by my 60th birthday. I had also lost 50 pounds in six months. I had a new doctor by that time, and he encouraged me to keep it up.
“Then, seemingly out of nowhere, I started having dizzy spells. I took my blood pressure at home and found that it was low, so I made an appointment with my doctor to follow up. After I took a lower dose of the medication for a few days, he tested me again, and my pressure was 115 over 70 — normal! My blood pressure had come down so much that the medicine was making it too low and causing the dizzy spells. I was finally off the medications!
“A year later, my blood pressure has never reached above 120. Plus, I’ve lost 90 pounds, and I went from a size 22 to a size 6. I feel like Figure 8 really saved the day. Just a couple years away from retirement, I’m healthier than I’ve ever been. And now I let the doctor take my blood pressure confidently — I know the results won’t scare me!”
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.