WASHINGTON – Bruce Johnson was chatting with drug dealers who were showing him their battle wounds. It was a typical day for the local TV reporter and anchor.
Rushing to finish his story on deadline back at WUSA-9,Johnson had a heart attack.
“I know something about stress,” said Johnson,who moderated a discussion about the issue at the Georgetown University Hotel and Conference Center on Monday.
About 150 people gathered to hear experts discuss links between stress,high blood pressure and obesity.
Since his emergency angioplasty,Johnson,a reporter for more than 30 years,said he has tried to stay healthy and avoid stress. He runs 25 miles a week and has completed a marathon.
“I'm looking for ways to keep me a productive citizen so I don't have to see you guys,” Johnson said. He has written a book,”Heart to Heart,” that tells the story of 12 people who have endured heart attacks.
“Stress can lead to dire consequences if it is not managed,” said Dr. Howard Federoff,executive dean of the Georgetown School of Medicine. “It is ubiquitous and pervasive and we have to understand how to regulate it.”
Dr. Zofia Zukowska,chair of the physiology and biophysics department,said stress can lead to obesity because,unlike animals,humans tend to seek comfort in food.
“After a zebra is chased by a lion,it's not thinking about McDonalds,” Zukowska said. “If we replenish with healthy food it would be fine; however,we commonly seek comfort strategies that are not healthy.”
She said that people in low-income communities under lots of stress tend to gravitate toward junk food because it is cheap,and fewer stores sell healthy food.
Salt intake also plays a significant roll in hypertension,said Dr. Christopher Wilcox,director of the Center for Hypertension,Kidney and Vascular Health.
“The amount of salt we consume is tenfold higher than what we are supposed to,evolutionarily,” Wilcox said. Cola and beer manufacturers are trying to prevent the government from reducing the amount of salt in foods,which could lead to people drinking less of their products,he said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Hypertension,which affects 73 million people in the U.S.,is the most common cause of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks.
The doctors on the panel agreed that lack of sleep also plays a significant roll in stress and weight management.
“Sleeplessness and disruptions in sleep are factors that work against staying healthy,your weight and cardiovascular system,” Zukowaska said. She said restlessness can lead to overeating at night and improper digestion.
“It's not just about sleep,but quality of sleep,” Wilcox said. “If your blood pressure is not dipping in your sleep,it can raise your risk of a heart attack and stroke.”
The doctors offered solutions for lowering stress and preventing hypertension.
Zukowska suggested replacing a bad habit with a good one,including relaxing activities like gardening.
Aside from regular exercise and a healthy diet,the doctors insisted on a healthy mentality to prevent and cope with illness.
Wilcox called on the audience,which included the wives of several ambassadors,to help with research to combat hypertension and its related diseases.
“There needs to be a new partnership of support to develop programs we need to develop new drugs and strategies and to train the next generation of doctors to seek treatment,” Wilcox said.