By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

There’s been a lot of talk about the billions of dollars we spend in the US for healthcare, and how so much of that money goes toward treating illnesses that could have been prevented, such as heart disease or diabetes, which are closely associated with overeating and a sedentary lifestyle.

There’s another major preventable medical condition that contributes to the healthcare drain on our society. High blood pressure is a major cause of strokes. May is High Blood Pressure Awareness month and here’s just one statistic that will blow your mind: Annual stroke costs to the nation are more than a billion dollars a week.

To put that in perspective, the cost of strokes to the US is about $350 billion a year.

To put that in perspective, this amount of money is more than three times the current annual cost of the war in Afghanistan, which is funded for $111.1 billion for FY 2012, according to The Cost of

There’s enough money in the stroke-treating budget column to significantly rebuild the US economy, or more precisely, to rebuild the economy around something other than healthcare.

Berries (Photo: Mass. Child Nutrition Outreach Program)

Aside from the dollar cost, the toll on human potential is terrible. Stroke is a serious, potentially devastating medical tragedy. I know, we’ve experienced the effects of stroke in our family. The stroke that affected us was caused by a hereditary issue called HHT . The majority of strokes, however, are triggered by hypertension, obesity, inactivity or some combination of all these risk factors.

Hypertension or high blood pressure affects a nearly unbelievable 1 in 3 US adults.  Some of those affected by high blood pressure arrive there because of a hereditary component, but for most Americans, the culprit is diet.

Here’s where a greener lifestyle, meaning literally a greener, more vegetable rich diet that focuses on fresh, whole foods and shuns highly processed and super-rich restaurant fare, can help. Watch the sodium in canned and prepared foods and also limit restaurant meals, which tend to be higher in sodium, according to the US Health and Human Services.

People with high blood pressure can beat back their condition by changing their diet. They can reduce their high blood pressure by reversing or vanquishing the dietary habits that ratcheted it upward in the first place.

I’m not a big fan of dumbed down and fussy federal initiatives —  typically these are late on the scene anyway, when we  already know about the problem and how to address it. But there is a little online tool call My Life Check that you can use to assess your risks related to hypertension, which can lead to stroke and heart attacks. It’s at a new website called A Million Hearts. You might find it eye-opening. Those of us who have a couple risk factors may need to see our “numbers” registering in the red or yellow alert zones to be moved to action.

You can also simply get educated. Know, for example, that uncontrolled hypertension is defined as a systolic blood pressure equal to or over 140 mm Hg or a diastolic blood pressure equal to or over 90 mm Hg, based on the average of up to three measurements, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So this May, pay attention to your blood pressure. Do something to change it. Start with your diet if it needs adjusting; see your doctor to find out if you need medication and while you’re there, get clearance to increase your exercise.

Conveniently, May is also National Bike Month. Take the challenge.

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