'Get Thee to a Nunnery'

Doc's note: Today, I want to do something a little different...

Longtime readers know I usually share essays from friends and colleagues each Monday. But today, to celebrate my publisher Stansberry Research's 20th anniversary, I'm sharing one of the first issues I ever wrote (slightly edited for clarity) from 2006...


"Get thee to a nunnery."

If you missed studying William Shakespeare, this quote is from Hamlet's advice to Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet.

If you're looking for a role model for health, think about the folks in your nearby monastery or nunnery.

Seriously, nuns and monks almost never get the silent killer known as hypertension (high blood pressure). These folks barely get heart disease – or even wrinkles, much to the dismay of the makers of Botox. Surely, we have a lot to learn from them.

There are many theories that attempt to explain this phenomenon... One of which is that nuns' lifestyles of songs, prayer or meditation, and simple daily chores is just not conducive to such stress-induced maladies. Most people, on the other hand, live their lives in a frantic search for more... more money, more prestige, more credentials, more toys, more meaning. And the list goes on and on. From this stress-filled lifestyle comes a slow but deadly disease called hypertension.

For more than 60 years, numerous studies using subjects from animals to humans have shown that "stress" increases chemicals in the body that slowly lead to chemical imbalances, hormone imbalances, and ultimately inflammation. When this becomes chronic, WHAM... the result is disease.

However, it isn't just "bad stress" (rush-hour traffic) that does damage. Ironically, even the "good stressors" (getting married) can cause damaging physiologic responses. For those of us in the Western world where stress is abundant, one in four people have so-called "prehypertension" and don't even know it.

Prehypertension is a blood pressure of either 120-139 systolic (the pressure your heart creates when it pumps blood out) or 80-89 diastolic (the pressure created when your heart relaxes between beats).

With these readings most doctors will advise you to make the usual lifestyle changes: lose weight, exercise, limit alcohol, eat a heart-healthy diet (whatever that is), and reduce your sodium intake.

Interestingly, some simple facts will get you to think twice about this silent killer:

  • After age 55, our systolic pressure slowly increases as we get older.
  • More men have hypertension than women.
  • One in three adults has hypertension.
  • Twenty percent of people with this disease aren't aware they have it.
  • It kills more than 1,000 people every day.
  • The cause of 90% of all hypertension is unknown. 

Hypertension is an expensive illness for everyone. In the U.S. alone, tens of billions of dollars are spent annually taking care of complications from high blood pressure. The list of complications is long but includes stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, and even blindness.

Unfortunately, there is no one easy cure, but one of our best defenses against this malady is a good strong dose of common sense. Use common sense and be at peace when you feel that your blood pressure may be up.

Here are several therapies to consider for lowering your stress and your blood pressure:

  • Massage
  • Bed Rest
  • Acupuncture
  • Aromatherapy
  • Yoga
  • Biofeedback
  • Reflexology
  • Music
  • Meditation 

When it comes to hypertension... what do I do?

1. I try and exercise regularly. It's really quite simple... Put on a pair of tennis shoes and go for a walk.

2. When I feel particularly stressed, I breathe deeply over and over... slowly breathing air into my abdomen through my nose and even slower as I exhale through my mouth – a type of yoga breathing.

3. If I haven't gotten enough sleep the night before (remember, this should be around eight to nine hours per night), I try to add on at least an hour the next night.

4. I sip a glass of wine around dinner time. I try to avoid more than two glasses of wine on any given night. Three or more glasses of alcohol double your risk of hypertension.

5. If I think I am getting any type of headache or discomfort related to elevated blood pressure, I check my pressure as soon as possible. If it is up, I immediately find a quiet place where I can sit and meditate for 20 minutes. If this is not possible, I turn to No. 2.

6. I try and meditate regularly so that my state of "arousal" is reduced which in turn lowers my blood pressure.

So while we all can't live the peaceful, wrinkle-free lives of nuns and priests, there are some things we can do to decrease our risk of becoming another victim of this silent killer.

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig