Masechaba Molete was diagnosed with hypertension at the age of 31. She’s since put all her efforts into engaging in exercise, cutting down her smoking, quitting salt and alcohol, managing her stress and eating healthily.
The 36-year old was diagnosed with hypertension (or persistently high blood pressure) in 2015. That day marked a wakeup call for the graphic designer, who has spent the last four years putting in the hard work to eliminating the lifestyle habits that contributed to her developing this condition. “I love who I have become,” she says.
The diagnosis came out of the blue for the then 31-year- old. “I visited my GP for an unrelated reason, and when she did the standard blood pressure check, my numbers were so high that she told me she was surprised I hadn’t had a stroke,” recalls Masechaba. “I had no idea anything was wrong! I didn’t feel any symptoms – not even a headache. If there were any warning signs I didn’t recognise them.”
- Want to know more about hypertension? Read more, here.
“My worst fear? Having a stroke.”
Though she didn’t experience any symptoms at all, Masechaba was all too familiar with hypertension. “My mom is 64 years old and has had this condition for years. She doesn’t smoke or drink but her high sugar and salt intake, along with lack of exercise, mean she’d been on medication for hypertension for as long as I can remember.” Masechaba’s worst fear – and real motivator for lifestyle change - was the potential for a stroke. “My mom’s younger sister – my aunt - has hypertension. She’s long been a chain smoker and had a very unhealthy diet and a couple of years ago, she had a stroke and the resulting paralysis shifted her face shifted to the left hand side - and that sort of outcome terrifies me.”
People with hypertension are encouraged to monitor their blood pressure at home and to visit their doctor about twice a year if they are well controlled.
Masechaba chooses to see her GP every three weeks to monitor both her blood pressure and the dose of her medicine – a dose that has been significantly lowered over time because of her healthy lifestyle.
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“I weighed over 100 kg from years of inactivity and didn’t want to step onto a scale.”
“My life, at the time of diagnosis, was very different to the life I now lead,” she explains. “My doctor’s primary advice was to stop smoking, as I smoked heavily every day and had started at age 16, so had smoked for 15 years at that stage. I slowly cut my cigarette intake down from 20 smokes a day to my current levels. I don’t smoke at all at work, and have up to three cigarettes at night, with coffee. I have tried to quit many times but always start up again, and then binge smoke for a while, so my doctor advised me to phase the smoking out slowly. To be honest, I no longer enjoy the taste or smell of cigarettes at all. I know I am addicted. If I stopped, I would also be able to run faster.”
And, that’s because last year she started running hill-repeats on roads around her home, and then walking the downhills back. She also trains at gym and does trail runs. “I was so overweight at first. I weighed over 100 kg from years of inactivity and didn’t want to step onto a scale to find out exactly how much I weighed – that terrified me. I am now down to 78 kg or so and people can’t believe the change in me – physically and on so many levels. I recall thinking back then, ‘You will never be able to run.’ But, I’ve increased the duration of my exercise over time and today do three hill-repeat sessions a week and use my Apple Watch to monitor my progress. I’m on Gold Vitality status and will soon reach Diamond status. That’s a real motivation to keep active.”
From a high-stress unhealthy lifestyle, to balanced living
At the time of diagnosis, Masechaba worked a Monday to Sunday, high-stress, deadline-driven job at an advertising agency, that drained her completely. She and her stressed-out colleagues drank alcohol every day after work – at least two beers for her a day – and lived on junk food, soft drinks and cigarettes.
“I didn’t cook for myself back then – as now I do. It was normal for me, and everyone I worked with, to eat a takeaway cheeseburger and chips for breakfast, lunch and dinner – all three! I would polish off a whole box of biscuits or box of pizza – all with soft drinks, and fast-food linked sauces (full of salt!) of all sorts. So, my salt intake was excessively high and contributed significantly to my hypertension progressing. Today I have cut out salt entirely and am quite used to the taste of food without it. I also meal-prep in advance for a few days at a time, and eat small, regular meals to keep my energy levels up.”
Masechaba’s diet now looks like this:
- She snacks on fruit
- She limits refined carbs (white flour, pastries, pastas, cereals, white breads and sugars), instead opting for complex carbs (brown rice, quinoa, seeded breads, oats – and more)
- She has two teaspoons of sugar in her coffee and about four cups per day, and could work on limiting her sugar a little more, she says.
- And, “Saturdays are when I have a ‘Cheat Meal’ which means a pasta dish, a slice of cake (which is always home-made), few slices of pizza – and so on,” she adds.
- She’s also cut out alcohol completely.
Masechaba’s healthy living and adherence to her meds, pays off
“I had my blood pressure tested at the start of April 2019, and it was normal. And that’s thanks to a combination of all my healthy habits and my meds,” she says.
She feels the rewards of her efforts every day. “I feel amazing. I think back to how I use to sit at my desk and my gut use to hang over onto the table, and can scarcely believe I am the same person,” she says. “ Achieving all this has not been easy, but I like the person I see in the mirror I love my energy levels. Colleagues give me feedback on the transformation I have made and their support makes it all that much more real to me. I used to feel so low and now I am excited to get up every day.
Her advice to others who may be at risk of, or who are living with hypertension?
“Don’t ever start smoking. If you do smoke, try to stop. You don’t need a gym membership to start exercising. I train outdoors. Start small, walk, and run a little and increase your exercise time slowly. Don’t eat too much salt. Cook at home and meal-prep to ensure you always have something healthy on hand to eat. Manage your stress levels. And, through it all, believe in yourself. The hard work is all worth it in the end. I am living proof of that!”
Screen your blood pressure today for a healthier tomorrow
Remember that, like Masechaba, you can do your all-important health checks and screen your blood pressure (as well as blood glucose, cholesterol and Body Mass Index) at Discovery Stores in Sea Point and Century City in the Western Cape; in Umhlanga, KwaZulu-Natal; in Sandton, Johannesburg; and in Menlyn, Pretoria. Wellness Network pharmacies that offer health checks are located across the country. Discovery Health Medical Scheme also provides members with additional screening tests. Click here for more information.
The Discovery Health Medical Scheme is an independent non-profit entity governed by the Medical Schemes Act, and regulated by the Council for Medical Schemes. It is administered by a separate company, Discovery Health (Pty) Ltd, an authorised financial services provider.
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