Sunday, April 19, 2009

Lower My Blood Pressure and Cholesterol? Sign Me Up!

The benefits of a good diet and exercise regimen reach far beyond the number on the scale. In less than one month, both blood pressure levels and cholesterol levels can be brought within healthy ranges. How? Consuming a low-fat, high-fiber diet and walking for 45 to 60 minutes daily will reduce blood cholesterol levels and help clear arteries. According to the American Council on Exercise, researchers at UCLA conducted a study (2002) on 11 obese men who consumed a low-fat, high-fiber diet and walked on a treadmill daily over a three week period. Here were the results:

"At the end of three weeks, participants hadn't lost a significant amount of weight, but the seven men who previously had high blood pressure now had normal blood pressure, and the entire group reduced their cholesterol levels by an average of 19 percent.

"Insulin levels dropped 46 percent and free radicals by 28 percent, both of which are associated with heart disease.

"This is the first study to show that this type of diet and exercise can reduce oxidative stress, lower blood pressure and improve risk factors for other chronic diseases in a very short time," wrote lead researcher R. James Barnard."

How do I get started?

See your doctor for your annual physical. Inform him/her that you want to begin an exercise program and that you need specific recommendations based on your current health condition and your fitness goals. Your examination and blood work will dictate how your diet will change as well as the type and level of intensity of your exercise program. If your total cholesterol is 200 or higher with an LDL of over 99 then you will want to get started right away. Blood pressure increases with age. A normal reading for a 30 year-old man is 126/79 while a 60-year old man registers 142/85. Consult with your doctor. Health conditions, age, gender, and medications can affect your numbers.

What should I be eating?

Your healthy diet should consist of carbohydrates, protein, and good fats. These macronutrients are derived from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, lean meats, fish, and plant-based oils. Visit and develop a plan for your general nutrition needs as well as physical activity. Since carbohydrates supply the primary fuel for most metabolic activity, your daily caloric intake should be comprised of 45-65% carbohydrates, 10-35% protein, and 20-35% fats. Eliminate pork, red meat, fast food, junk food, fried food, soda, caffeine, alcohol, sweets, and cigarettes. Add fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans,and (if you prefer meat) lean cuts of meat like chicken or turkey. Healthy fats should come from olive oil, canola oil, low-fat dairy, salmon, avocados, flax seed, and sesame oil. Be mindful that the body produces cholesterol naturally. Animal-based foods contain saturated fat, so excess consumption of meat and dairy products will lead to high LDL (bad) cholesterol. Lastly, drink plenty of water--at least half of your present body weight in ounces.

How often should I exercise?

Strive to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, 3 to 5 days per week. Try walking. Balance cardio (walking, jogging, running, biking, rowing) with strength training (weights, pushups, yoga). Set new goals every month and make sure that your program is progressive. The key words here are: farther, faster, stronger, longer (distance, speed, power, endurance). Be sure to stretch major muscle groups daily and perform core/ab exercises every other day. To stay motivated, incorporate daily activities like yard work, washing the car, cleaning, and playing with your children. Recreational sports in a club or league as well as walking/running clubs provide great support from your peers. Just get moving!

Visit the American Heart Association website to create your personalized walking plan and track your progress at:

Be good to yourself! More next time...

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