If you are serious about fitness and can invest a few bucks you ought to give this on-the-fly blood pressure monitor some thought. If you are just getting into a fitness program and are still pretty far out of shape, this could be a great idea to make sure you don’t blow out a blood vessel or overwork yourself. If you need to check your blood pressure for health reasons this device makes it a piece of cake, because it is so much easier than a home unit with the big cuff and hose running to the display.
The only criticism I’ve ever heard about on-the-fly (OTF) units is they aren’t as accurate as the bigger and more expensive home units. I’ve tested mine against my home unit and the one in my doctor’s office and there is barely any variance.
At-home healthcare tests
It wasn’t that many years ago that any kind of at-home medical testing was virtually unheard of due to costs and level of training needed to administer the tests. Today there are many tests you can perform at home and there is virtually no learning curve. Several times each day at home and OTF I test my blood glucose and blood pressure. I also test my ketones several time a week, and periodically my A1c level, which I’ll cover in the future. Being able to test whenever you want is very cool, and invaluable if you are monitoring a health issue. The tests are also great for your fitness and nutrition program. That said, let’s see how you can use OTF blood pressure to, ideally, improve your cardio and weight training workouts.
Having had family members with serious health problems, and having almost died myself just last year, I fully recognize that it might sound narcissistic to talk about performing medical procedures solely for fitness purposes. I say that because, truth be told, most fitness geeks are into it for reasons other than health, in other words they are trying to prove something or trying to look good. It is great that staying fit delivers a lot of health benefits, but it’s not why most people do workout. I’m sure it would be a better world if all of us were more into prevention, but so far we aren’t wired that way. Now with that out of the way, I recently began using the small, portable wrist-worn blood pressure monitor pictured below …… so I could know my blood pressure while doing cardio. I got into on-the-fly testing because I take my bp several times daily, while seated, and, know that how I am breathing and what I am thinking about affects it considerably. My interest was in learning how to breathe better while running and doing heavy lifting.
Help, I forgot how to breathe.
This sounds odd, but I think a lot of us don’t breathe correctly. It’s true we breathe without having to think about it, but that doesn’t mean we’re getting the most out of each breath. Posture affects my breathing a lot. Most of us spend a lot of time sitting, and some of us stand all day at work. The longer you remain in one position the more apt your posture is to sort of collapse and mess up your breathing. Right now you are probably sitting so just try this: push back your shoulders and push out your chest a little bit and you will realize how collapsed you were. Here’s the point: The collapsed posture happens to me when I run and when I lift weights, and I’m betting it happens to you, too. So what?
Breathing affects blood pressure
As I said before, I already knew that my breathing affects my blood pressure. If I just make inhale and exhale more slowly and measured, my BP falls several points. I also knew that when I run my breathing gets really weird and I can start taking faster and shallower breaths, which makes it worse and actually panics me a little bit and I start gasping even more. The end result is that I start to hyperventilate, and that ain’t good. The problem with hyperventilating is that it pushes too much carbon dioxide out, which lowers CO2 in the blood and does bad things. You can test it in just a few seconds. If right now you are breathing normally, simply take a half-dozen rapid, deep, in-and-out breaths. You see? Doesn’t feel very comfortable, does it? Don’t do this, but if you keep it up very long you’ll feel really bad, almost like you are going to pass out, which is what would happen. Well that’s how I felt when I was running, and so I wanted to do something to improve that, and I was pretty sure that if I could see my blood pressure I could see how different breathing patterns affected it positively and negatively while running. I wanted to find the breathing cadence that would make me feel more comfortable while running so I was not so focused on feeling like I was about to die.
Blood pressure as a training aid
About a year ago I started running a few days after I got out of the hospital following a very serious health problem that almost killed me. Prior to that I been on a regular training schedule for a long time and had a cardio routine though I was not much of a runner, mainly because all the way back to my childhood I never felt good while running. It always seemed like there was something wrong with me physically, and quite frankly it sort of scared me. Still, I know that any kind of cardio is good for my heart and good for burning fat so I’ve always done it, and even when I was in the hospital I was planning my strategy for getting back to lifting and doing cardio. For what it’s worth, just before I went in to the hospital, I was struggling to climb one flight of stairs.
When I got back to training again, I first walked for a few days. Then I would try to run a slow lap, and then walk a lap, and do those maybe two or three times. I worked up to one mile, but it took a couple months to be able to do it without feeling like I was going to die. And it was very uncomfortable.
The one day per week that I ran, I called my distance day, and I still refer to my running day that way. I started one distance day per week, and each distance day I would add another half-lap. Early on my mile pace was around 14 minutes and I gradually got it down to 12 minutes, but it still was uncomfortable. I go to the gym five or six times per week, and almost every day I include some cardio. One of those days is my distance day, which most recently was 4 1/8 miles. On another day I will run one mile. The other days l run flat-out for either 10 or 20 seconds, then do a mix of pushups and sit-ups, and then repeat the stuff for a total of five or six sets. Sprinting is, for me, harder than distance running because the sprints are done at absolute top speed, and I usually take only two or three two totals breaths. I believe sprints are better for getting rid of body fat, but I do the distance running because I am trying to prove that I can after having been so sick. Of note is that my personal best mile –9:57 mile was done approximately two weeks after I started using on-the-fly blood pressure as a training tool. Also the 9:57 was the final mile of a four mile run when I was most tired.
That’s some scary blood pressure
This part contains a lot of numbers, but I’ll try to keep it simple. The so-called ideal blood pressure used to be 120 / 80, but recently it was changed to 115 / 70. You could probably get a great argument going about who is behind lowering the numbers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out to be a company that manufacturers BP drugs. Whatever …When you see blood pressure numbers the first figure is always the systolic pressure and the second is diastolic. Systolic is when the heart beats and pushes blood through the body. Diastolic is when the heart relaxes between beats. My average at-home blood pressure between 01 September and 01 November was 121 / 77 / 53 (last number is pulse). You may find it interesting that when I was busy trying to die, my blood pressure was averaging above 180 / 120, and had been as high as 220 / 160. That is what you call scary high no matter where you are from. If you don’t mind a suggestion, I believe that if you are over 40 you really should start testing your blood pressure at home. You most generally can’t feel elevated blood pressure, and so you have to test. The trouble with high blood pressure is it can cause a slew of problems as well as be caused by health problems you don’t know about.
Blood pressure testing on-the-fly
If you are a runner, you have probably wondered what your blood pressure is while running. These are some of my numbers. 174 / 118 / 115 immediately after the first long-distance run using the new bp meter. 151 / 97 / 121 immediately after my most recent distance run (4 1/8 mile). 159 / 104 / 122 For comparison this was after the final sprint during today’s sprint sets. The time elapsed between the first and most recent distance runs was two weeks, during which period I collected numbers and breathing notes from more than 50 laps (laps at my gym are 1/8 mile). The trend was mostly steadily downward and, I think, shows how quickly I was able to improve my breathing cadence so that my blood pressure and pulse stayed down and become more stable rather than going up and down during laps. I should explain that I didn’t so much learn how to breathe as I learned what kind of breathing worked best. Mainly I discovered that I was not breathing in and out equally. I was also doing a good deal of reading about respiration, and after a while it started making sense. Again in hindsight, I realized that instead of breathing smoothly, I’ve always kind of breathed in shallow gasps. During running, the longer I’d run the faster I’d breathe but I was still gasping. The more I’d gasp the more aware I became of it, and it made me think I wasn’t getting enough air. That would make me panic a little and I’d try to slow down my breathing, but as it turns out I was breathing in less than I was breathing out. The problem with that is it depletes carbon dioxide first from the lungs, then from the blood, then from the cells, and then from the brain. The longer I ran the worse I felt, often my vision would a little clouded or dark as if I was going to pass out, which really scared me. Also, I wear a heart rate monitor and my pulse would start climbing which would scare me. Eventually it would all catch up with me and I had to — and I do mean had to — take some huge deep breaths and exhale long and hard. That turned out to be instructive because I realized it wasn’t voluntary, my body actually forced me to breathe that way. And when I did so I would also straighten up the same way I talked about earlier in the part about sitting at your desk and pushing your shoulders back and your chest up. In hindsight I realize that when I was running I was both starving for new air and starting to get poisoned by the residual air, which is laden with carbon dioxide. The most instructive part is that is the way I have always run, I just didn’t realize what was happening and I thought the big gasps I would take were necessary because there was something off with my lungs or heart or something, which would scare me and tighten up my breathing even more and just exacerbate the situation.
Now the improper breathing while running (I’m sure it applies to anything strenuous, such as biking, dancing, weight lifting, even walking or climbing stairs) not only ruins your endurance, but now I have come to find that there are lots of other issues it can cause.
Running and muscle cramps
When breathing is shallow and restricted, carbon dioxide builds up in your lungs. This carbon dioxide is then picked up by your bloodstream instead of oxygen and makes your blood more acidic. Your body then pulls calcium from your muscles and bones to buffer your blood and try to get it back to normal. That depletes the muscles and bones of calcium, which can make the muscles tighten up and go into cramping. As if that’s not enough the calcium in your blood can deposit on the cholesterol in the coronary arteries leading to plaque and blockage, which can ultimately lead to a heart attack.
Running and your brain
Your brain uses four times more oxygen than any other part of your body, which makes it first to suffer from shallow breathing and leftover carbon dioxide. I know that for years and years when I ran I could feel like I was going to passing out; my vision would even get a little bit clouded with a dark pale. Naturally that would scare me and tighten up my breathing even more. It is worth mentioning that all the things I have been talking about and associating with running also apply when I play tennis, which I’ve done for 30 years, and racquetball that I’ve been doing about three or four years. When playing the racket sports the symptoms are the worst when I get tense such as during a tight game or when I’m behind (which unfortunately is often) and I start trying too hard and punishing myself emotionally.
Running and carbon dioxide poisoning
Now this part is really interesting. Mild carbon dioxide poisoning symptoms are:
- Muscle twitching: I used to get this in my ankles and thought it was from running.
- Reduced neural activity: this has to do with problem solving and reactions
- Flushed skin: even when I was a child I’d turn red when I ran.
- High blood pressure – my bp began coming down as I fixed my breathing
As the severity of hypercapnia increases, the following carbon dioxide poisoning symptoms may be experienced:
- Headache: Sometimes
- Lethargy: There are days that I’m exhausted after cardio.
- Elevated rate of cardiac output
- Irregular heartbeat
- Panic: If you read the text, I mention panic several times.
- Unconsciousness: Often felt on the verge of passing out
- Eventually death
Reinventing the blood pressure paradigm
I don’t mind admitting that I do the fitness lifestyle for health. I train hard and I am very careful with my nutrition. I’m pretty sure I would be having severe health problems if I did not do those things. Nonetheless, while a lot of people will run to help control their blood pressure, I have somehow managed to use blood pressure to control my running, or breathing, or something. I don’t know exactly what I’ve done, but it seems to be working. For the first time in my life, I almost feel comfortable when I run, and it’s just a matter of breathing correctly which I don’t think I would have figured out if not for the blood pressure testing. Furthermore, it’s made such a difference that I was compelled to suggest to other fitness geeks that they ought to consider using OTF blood pressure readings to improve their breathing to improve their running and weight training. You ought to be checking your blood pressure anyhow. If you’re looking for an edge in your running or weight lifting, I hope you’ll look to giving this a try. I know it’s easy to tell somebody else to spend money, but this gadget is pretty inexpensive and my guess is it will last a long time. And it even comes with batteries.
The wrist-worn monitor is so unobtrusive you don’t even know it’s there. Sometimes I leave it on during the runs and sometimes I’ll just test after every so many laps. The only problem I have with leaving it on is I sweat like crazy and don’t want to get it soaked, though it seems like it might be water repellent.
I used to wear a wristwatch on each arm at the gym; one was a heart rate monitor and one was sports watch that I used for counting laps. Because the blood pressure gizmo reads my pulse I don’t require the heart rate monitor, which is cool because mine is a couple years old and the chest strap has lost almost all of its elasticity.
In case you wonder, I just now took a blood pressure reading and it took a total of 45 seconds from the time I picked it up off the desk to when the reading came up on the screen. The numbers were 117 / 70 / 46, which is a tad low but I’ve just been sitting here writing for a half hour or thereabouts.
I hope this report has made some sense to you.
Remember to get an annual physical. And if you think anything at all might be wrong, please see a doctor right away.
The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a doctor for advice.