Tomorrow marks another birthday. As I age, I recognize that good health is more and more important than anything. It’s everything.
We’ve all heard the “be proactive” call to action. In a sense, this is assessment from a bird’s eye view. We can assess our lifestyle by repeating the mantras we’ve all heard before: Follow a healthful diet. Get plenty of exercise. Channel our stress. Don’t smoke. Moderation is key. Be engaged, be mindful. Okay, okay….let’s say that we do all that. Are we where we should be in the preventative health maze?
When I conduct an on-line search for “How to Assess Your Health”, my computer screen urges me to take a health report card quiz so that I can determine what my risk factors might be and use my overall score to evaluate my health. Been there, done that. I’m healthy, according to my on-line test results. Is there anything else included in proposed self-diagnostic test kit? Yes. One more thing: I need to trace my family history, which will give me clues about what diseases I might be susceptible to. According to my on-line guides, I am now complete. I can feel assured that I can head off problems before they ever come to the surface.
I’m not a medical professional and sincerely don’t profess to be, but through a devastating illness which my husband is currently combating, I’ve learned that assessment is key to everything. The assessment that my husband’s doctors and nurses speak of is that of learning about your own norms by following a road map and listening to your body. So this year, I’m challenging myself to actually learn something about my own norms, to “look under the hood of my engine” so to speak. I’m making my first attempt to understand how I run.
Last week, I had my annual physical. Although I get blood work done every year or so, this was the first time I requested a hard copy of my lab results. I also requested that my physician walk me through the results. He consented, and was happy to empower me to learn about the person whom I think I’ve known all too well for many-a year now. This was a valuable lesson. Having seen the same physician for years, he told me how my norms have been running for everything from blood sugar to iron, from blood pressure to cholesterol, both good and bad. I asked about hemoglobin, thyroid, and Vitamin D. And the list didn’t stop there.
I feel as though for the very first time, I’ve practiced the best prevention method: understanding. Not only did my physician take the time to teach, I became an inquisitive student. I followed up his assessment by utilizing a primer I found on the New York Times which allows the user to look at blood counts and understand what they mean. This served as a great follow up to help me interpret my test results.
As we continue to drown in this information age, it’s easy to get lost between multiple health blogs, hundreds of internet sites, and countless medical apps. The daily bombardment of drug advertisements and the conflicting (but well intentioned) studies about medical tests can be confusing at best. Ironically, the very best person to advise us, our doctor, is now more likely to spend less time with each and every patient. This is especially why we all need to get acquainted with ourselves, know our baselines and understand what they mean. How else will we recognize a change of status if and when a change happens?
Of course, when you’re sick, knowledge is power. But I’ve just learned that knowledge is power when you’re healthy as well.
Now that the holidays are here let’s enjoy them, but keep in mind our own health. And yes, we can do both with a little bit of oomph in our holidays.
Heart Disease is still one of the top killers in America and there is much we can do to keep ourselves healthy, even over the holidays. Let’s try and eat the best we can and try to fit in some exercise.
For those concerned about death from cardiovascular disease, heart experts have some good news: Regular exercise, a healthy diet and five other simple measures can cut one’s near term risk of death by more than half. Yes, that right, more than half! Yes, we can have an impact on our own health! Let’s remember this over the holidays.
And here’s the bad news: In a nationwide study of more than 17,820 adults, only two met all of the criteria for top-notch cardiovascular health.
The message of the study, presented recently at an American Heart Assn. conference in Chicago, is clear, said Dr. Mark Urman, medical director of Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute’s Preventive and Consultative Heart Center.
“Boy, most Americans aren’t very healthy,” said Urman, who wasn’t involved in the research. However, he added, “on a more positive note, the study confirms that individuals can take control of their health. Incremental changes can make a huge difference.”
The changes, dubbed Life’s Simple Seven, were laid out in January as part of an American Heart Assn. campaign to guide people toward “ideal cardiovascular health.” They include:
• At least 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of intense exercise, a week.
• Having a body mass index of less than 25.
• Being a nonsmoker for at least one year.
• Meeting four out of five of the association’s key components for a healthy diet.
• Keeping total cholesterol below 200 milligrams per deciliter of blood.
• Maintaining blood pressure below 120/80 millimeters of mercury.
• Having a fasting blood sugar level below 100 mg/dL of blood.
“These are the sorts of things your grandmother told you,” said Dr. Mary Cushman, a cardiovascular disease researcher at the University of Vermont, who conducted the study.
Cushman used a database of people between 45 and 84 who were already enrolled in a nationwide study on the prevalence of stroke. All of the participants had been evaluated for the factors that make up the seven criteria.
Two individuals met all seven, while 213 people were compliant with six.
Death rates for those who met at least five criteria were 55% lower over the five-year study period than for those who met none, Cushman said.
The analysis showed how much each factor mattered, for every additional criteria met, a person reduced by 15% the chance of dying in the next four years.
“That tells how powerful these things relate to heart disease risk,” Cushman said. “Being as good as you can be on all of these factors is what your goal should be.”
Americans are most compliant when it comes to maintaining healthy blood pressure and abstaining from smoking. More than 80% of those in the survey were nonsmokers, and almost 67% were in the ideal range for blood pressure, Cushman said.
On the flip side, eating a healthy diet had the fewest adherents, only 0.43% of study participants managed to do so.
The ideal diet requires meeting four of five key components based on a 2,000 calories a day meal plan: 41/2 cups of fruits and vegetables a day; two or more 3.5-ounce servings of fish (preferably oily fish) a day; fewer than 450 calories a week of sugar-sweetened beverages; three or more 1-ounce servings a day of whole grains; and less than 1,500 mg of sodium a day.
Cushman couldn’t identify the two people whose score was perfect. “It would be interesting to go back and talk to them,” she said, to see how they live so healthfully.
I know, 2,000 calories a day might be a tall order, but how about some exercise between those larger meals? Just a thought.
My own blood pressure went up over the summer so I have been keeping an eye on the numbers every week. My increase in exercise and eating better I believe have again made a difference. ( My very first blog post was called “Biking my Weight Off” about losing weight to help decrease my blood pressure ) The last two weeks I have recorded normal numbers. Today I checked with 120/75. Earlier in the summer it got high as 150/98. I don’t know why my numbers got so high, but I plan to continue to keep careful watch.
As we all know, high blood pressure can lead to heart disease and that is very serious indeed. Cancer gets a great deal of press (for good reason) , but the facts are heart disease is the number 1 killer in America. So doing everything I can to keep my numbers normal is a big priority. As a result, I have been reading a great deal on what can keep blood pressure numbers normal.
Most recently, I read about two new studies, in Orlando Sentinel, about how the low-sugar fruit of blueberries may help folks at risk of high blood pressure. I want to share this information with you. I wrote another blog post about blueberries called “Another Reason to Love Blueberries”
A team of researchers at Oklahoma State University recently found that consuming blueberries every day can help reduce some heart risk factors, such as high blood pressure. Published in the Journal of Nutrition, the study researchers wondered weather eating blueberries, which are very high in dietary antioxidants, would help patients with metabolic syndrome who were at risk of hypertension
Arpita Basu, an Oklahoma State University nutritional sciences professor and lead author of a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, found a seven- to eight-point drop in the systolic blood pressure of 66 pre-hypertensive men and women who included a blueberry drink in their diet once a day for eight weeks.
The participants in the study were a group of 66 men and women with pre-hypertension, meaning their blood pressure was elevated. “They were above normal, but not quite at the stage of being diagnosed with hypertension,” said Arpita Basu, an OSU nutritional sciences professor and the lead author.
In the eight-week study, one group of patients drank a beverage made from two cups of blended frozen blueberries once a day — and continued to eat a normal diet. Another group of patients drank an equivalent amount of fluids and ate their standard diet.
After eight weeks, Basu said, researchers saw a seven- to eight-point drop in the systolic blood pressure of patients who had been drinking the blueberry beverage. Additionally, the patients received the benefits of antioxidants in the berries, as well, she said. Basu said consuming one or two servings of blueberries per day can help both pre-hypertensive and hypertensive patients get control of their glucose levels.
This is early research to be sure, but I plan to include even more blueberries into my own lifestyle. Thank God I love to eat them!
Over the years I have read that it’s important to have good quality relationships with friends, family and your community. Now there is an exhaustive report (out this past July) that simply confirms that notion. People with adequate social relationships friends, family and community involvement were 50% less likely to die during study periods than those with sparse social support, the authors found. It’s an effect comparable to that of quitting smoking.
Wow! And there is more!
People with little social support have a mortality risk equal to alcoholism and even higher than either obesity or physical inactivity, the study found. I think these are stunning conclusions!
Researchers at Brigham Young University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, compiled data from 148 studies. More than 300,000 people were in the data pool, followed for an average of 7.5 years. The link between social support and mortality risk was found for men and women of all ages, regardless of initial health condition, years of a study or cause of death. In concrete terms, that 50% number means that socially connected people would live an average of 3.7 years longer than less-connected people, says study co-author Timothy B. Smith, a psychology professor at Brigham Young.
Of course, the 50% survival edge is not an absolute number. This number was an average across results from all the studies pooled together, says Julianne Holt-Lunstad, associate professor of psychology at Brigham Young and lead author of the review, which was published in the Journal PLoS Medicine.
Some studies measured social connectedness in simple ways, such as whether a person lived alone. Others used complex measures, such as tallying how many people were included in a person’s social network, the extent to which people were involved in a community, a person’s perceived degree of loneliness and the extent to which people felt they made a contribution. The study is “very telling,” says Dr. Antonio Gomez, assistant clinical professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at UC San Francisco. Physicians and the public should take note, he says. But it’s still not clear what the practical implications are for improving people’s health.
The studies, Gomez notes, have their limitations, primarily the trickiness of teasing out cause and effect. Does social connectedness foster good health or are people in good health simply more likely to be socially connected? “We can’t make the broad, sweeping claim that social relationships cause increased survivability, at least, not yet,” he says. Gomez adds that the studies don’t explain how social contacts could drive good health. And they don’t rule out the possibility of unknown differences that may exist between people who are social and those who are not, and that those differences, not the social links that ride along with them, could be the real things driving health outcomes.
Yet there is mounting evidence in the scientific literature that social relationships do affect health. In an earlier study by Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychiatry at Ohio State University, medical students who described themselves as lonely had poorer immune responses than their colleagues who described themselves as less lonely. ”As humans, we have many different regulatory systems, blood pressure, metabolism, stress hormones,” says Teresa Ellen Seeman, professor of medicine at the UCLA School of Public Health. “There are data that suggest all these systems are affected by social relationships.
People who report more supportive and positive social relationships have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, better glucose metabolism and lower levels of various stress hormones.” To study the effect of social support on blood pressure, which is a predictor of cardiovascular disease, Bert Uchino, psychology professor at the University of Utah, put a portable blood pressure cuff on study subjects, monitoring their blood pressure throughout the day.
During the study period, subjects also filled out diaries. Those who recorded feeling more loved and cared for had lower blood pressures than those who recorded feeling lower levels of support.
“Friends and supportive people can make life easier on a basic, everyday level,” Uchino says. “They can lend you money, offer rides or provide baby-sitting. They can also encourage you to have better health practices, see a doctor, exercise more. They may also help you indirectly by making you feel you have something to live for. A good example is a new parent. You might want to take better care of yourself so you can see your daughter graduate from high school.
“ The emotional support people receive from friends and loved ones “can help you think about problems in ways that decrease their [perceived] severity or even make them non-problems,” Uchino adds. “By having a secure relationship and feeling loved, people live much more secure, calm lives.”,
As I wrote in my last blog post, I got inspired by a former co-worker of mine who commuted to work on his bicycle. I ended up buying a bike and did the same.
My main goal was to improve my health by lowering my high blood pressure and losing some weight. After a few months of riding my bike to work (22 miles round trip, three days a week), cutting down on sugar and those bad carbohydrates, I managed to accomplish both my goal of losing weight (now over 30 pounds) and lowering my blood pressure to a normal level.
The big unexpected surprise was that I inspired several people at work of taking up some sort of exercise in their own lives. I know of at least two people that ended up actually purchasing bicycles. One of them continues to ride to work on a regular basis because of being inspired by me! Imagine that! Me inspiring others to ride a bike or exercise was not part of my plan, but what a wonderful, surprising outcome.
Over a half a dozen people ask me several times a week, “Did you ride today?” After a month or so I would feel that I would let my co-workers down if I didn’t ride in. The interesting point here is several of these people asking me if I rode my bike to work were people I had never spoken to before. Some of my new co-worker friends asked me questions like, “ How many miles do you ride? How many days a week? How much weight have you lost? Why are you doing this?” After many discussions, I got to know them very well. Soon enough, some of them felt comfortable in revealing to me their own health concerns and challenges. A few confessed to me that they felt they needed to take better care of themselves and have been thinking on what they could do to improve their own health and lifestyle.
I could not have been more effective if I stood at the entrance of the building I work in and preached to everyone on how they should take better of themselves by riding their bike to work. I simply rode my bike and did my own thing. Somehow I became an unexpected inspirational role model for so many of my co-workers. Here I am producing videos on people with oomph! and unknowingly became an oomph! role model myself.
I keep thinking back on my former co-worker who rode his bike to work and then inspired me. I myself have inspired two others to ride their bikes. Will these two new riders inspire four more riders? Perhaps inspiration is in fact contagious.