At the start of every shift, an EMS checks the blood pressure of each special operations team member. Each time, Bryan Page’s blood pressure was a bit higher than it should be but he shrugged it off, even though he had occasional chest pain. “I thought it was just because I was under stress and psyched up for the shift,” the 53-year-old Columbia resident says. His primary care physician didn’t agree. He told Page he needed to get his blood pressure under control so he referred him to Dr. Momina Mastoor,  a cardiologist at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital.

High blood pressure (hypertension) is far more common than most people realize,” explains Dr. Mastoor. “One-third of people in the U.S. over the age of 20 have it. It’s known as the silent killer because you can feel perfectly fine but the disease can be damaging your arteries and your heart and can lead to a heart attack, stroke, organ damage, and other serious, preventable health problems.”

Dr. Mastoor had Page undergo a stress test to see if years of untreated high blood pressure had damaged his heart. Fortunately, the test results and a cardiac catheterization did not find any serious damage to his heart or arteries.

Eat right and get moving for a healthier heart. As she does for all her patients with high blood pressure or heart disease, Dr. Mastoor recommended that, in addition to medication, Page needed to make lifestyle changes to help get and keep his blood pressure under control. She suggested he follow the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which includes a variety of nutrient-rich foods, cuts salt and fat intake and encourages regular, aerobic physical activity.

“These changes can lower a patient’s blood pressure five to seven points in a month, which is a significant risk reduction,” Dr. Mastoor notes. “Activity is an extremely important part of this equation. As a nation, we need to eat less and move more. Walking is a good exercise that almost anyone can do. Just 30 minutes of walking most days of the week can have a tremendous positive effect on weight and heart health.”

Page lost 40 pounds and walks and swims with his wife and youngest son to help keep the weight off. “I feel great!” he says. “I watch what I eat pretty carefully, and don’t drink alcohol or smoke.” After he retired from the fire department, Page became an investigator for pretrial supervision for Baltimore City, a job that can be as stressful as his old one. “I know stress management is important for keeping my blood pressure under control, so I use my long commute home from the city to Columbia to de-stress. My commute might drive some people crazy, but for me it’s a chance to listen to music and just have a little ‘me’ time. Everyone should find something that relaxes them, whether it’s reading, walking or taking a long bath, and make time to do it every week,” he says.

“Don’t let high blood pressure go undiagnosed,” adds Dr. Mastoor. “It’s like a tsunami inside you. Starting at age 20, get your blood pressure checked every two years if it’s normal, or more frequently if it’s high. By controlling your blood pressure, you’re taking steps to proactively prevent the nation’s top killer, heart disease.”