Utah dad’s journey from hypertension to health

Jun 6, 2024, 5:02 PM | Updated: 5:36 pm

SARATOGA SPRINGS – When Kenneth Applegate came to the U.S. from the Philippines, he started developing unhealthy habits.

“I was drinking a gallon and a half of soda a day,” he said. “My emotions and stress were not managed very well, and I would eat my feelings.”

At age 25, Applegate was diagnosed with high blood pressure. At first, he didn’t think it was a big deal.

“I didn’t do anything about it until I started having more serious health issues,” he said. “I couldn’t keep up with my kids. I was becoming more fatigued in the middle of the day. I was too busy trying to figure out how to support my family, not knowing and not thinking that that was one of the best ways I could have supported my family was being healthy first.”

Applegate became pre-diabetic and obese. The dad of seven didn’t like the way he looked and felt, nor the way he was treating others.

“I was reactively yelling at my kids every now and then, and I did not like that,” he said. “This is not the kind of father they deserve.”

Applegate with some of his children. (Courtesy: Kenneth Applegate)

High blood pressure can be linked to anger and is becoming more prevalent, mainly attributed to obesity, said Viet Le, an associate professor of research and a preventive cardiology PA for Intermountain Health.

He added that our bodies need a certain amount of pressure, but when that pressure becomes elevated, it becomes an issue.

“It’s very similar to water turned on from the city to your house – you need a certain amount of pressure to be able to use your appliances. Pressure is important to have, and that helps to get blood to organs like our brain, to our heart, to our toes,” he said. “If you start at a low blood pressure at rest and then it goes up during (stressful) times, that’s not as big of a deal, because that’s an appropriate dynamic response in our bodies. But if it goes up and never really comes back to baseline, then that’s a problem.”

Le said a normal, healthy blood pressure reading is 115 over 70, the top number being your “systolic” pressure and the bottom being “diastolic.”

“Systolic is the pressure when your heart beats, and then that diastolic or the bottom number is when your heart’s filling back up with blood,” he said.

Anything higher could mean prehypertension – turning to hypertension when reaching 130 over 80 – which can lead to heart attack, stroke, or heart failure.

When Applegate’s blood pressure had spiked to 150 over 100, he knew he needed to make a change. “It started getting a bit out of control,” he said.

Applegate decided to start eating healthier – including replacing his gallon of soda with a gallon of water – and exercising.

“Volleyball was my sport growing up, so I started playing that again. That felt good,” he said.

According to Le, staying active is a good way to manage your blood pressure.

“You have to plan for it, but you don’t have to say, ‘Oh, 30 minutes or nothing,'” Le said. “You can do it incrementally, and it’s cumulative. Give yourself intentionality – say, ‘Look, emails can hold off for a bit. I’m going to take a walk.'”

Applegate also found stress management tools, like writing in a gratitude journal, to be beneficial.

“There’s just so many different ways that I was able to practice stress management through gratitude and it was extremely powerful; it was a game-changer,” he said.

He didn’t realize then the quality of life he was missing out on.

“Now I understand that there’s wisdom in taking care of my body. There’s wisdom in making sure I’m listening to my body by getting it checked,” he said. “It’s never too late to start figuring out where your health is at.”

Le suggests getting your blood pressure measured at least once per month, while those with known BP issues should measure once a day.

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Utah dad’s journey from hypertension to health