Taking care of you...

Friday, September 9, 2011

If you're guilty of not exercising because you only have 15 minutes and you figure "what's the point, it's not enough to do any good" - think again. Last week, I found an article on msnbc.com entitled, "15 minutes of fitness a day can add 3 years to your life".

The article talks about a study in Taiwan where they tracked 416,000 people for 13 years, looking at their health records & reported physical activity. They took into account differences in age, weight, sex, & certain health issues, and discovered that 15 minutes of moderate exercise per day increased life expectancy by three years compared to the people who were inactive.

So while 30 minutes may be optimal, it seems that 15 minutes does have some benefits. I like this affirmation that even on the days when I can only fit in a 15-20 minute walk, I'm still doing something positive for my health.

We should give ourselves credit for even the little things. I know that the more things I do to be healthier, the better I feel. And the better I feel, the more I want to keep doing the healthy things. Do it for yourself - and do it so that you'll be around for your family.

I have what is referred to as familial combined hyperlipidemia. What that means is that I inherited the tendency to have both high triglycerides & high cholesterol. This greatly increases my risk of early heart disease. My grandmother had her first quadruple coronary bypass surgery when she was 57 - I will be 50 in November. My mom had a major heart attack when she was 60. My grandmother died of heart disease at age 74, and my uncle just passed away from heart disease at age 71. This is all really scary for me.

I started seeing a lipid specialist in February, when it was discovered that I cannot tolerate statin drugs (the drugs of choice to treat high cholesterol). She has changed my life. I have met with a dietitian also, and together, the three of us (well, four if you include Gus - and I have to include him because he cheers me on when I do well & gets me back on track when I slip a little) have managed to make great changes in my life - and my health. Since February, I've lost 10 lbs, and my labwork has improved significantly. My triglycerides were 481, now they're 241. That's still a bit high (they like them to be under 150), but it's a major drop that has a significant effect on my risk level. My cholesterol was 276, now it's 223. Again, a bit high still (they like it to be under 200), but a good drop. One thing my doctor tells me - don't look at the total cholesterol, pay attention to the HDL (good cholesterol) and LDL (bad cholesterol) - those are more indicative of heart disease risk. My HDL was 34, now it's 37 (they like it to be over 50). But the big change - and the most important one - has been in my LDL. My LDL was 195, and now it's 138. They like your LDL to be under 130 - and my doctor says that clinically, my result is normal!!

How did I do this? Mostly a change in diet. I was already eating pretty healthy, but the dietitian helped me see that some of the choices that I thought were healthy, really weren't. And portions. Ignore the portions on the boxes/cans!! LOL! They're all much larger than they should be! For my particular health concerns, I am allowed to have per day: 3-5 oz. of lean meat (preferably closer to 3), 2 servings of fat-free dairy, 3-5 servings of "good" fat, 3 servings of fruit, 4 servings of non-starchy vegetables, 6 servings of starches (preferably "good" starches), & 2 servings of miscellaneous items (like sugar-free candy, etc). That comes out to about 1000-1100 cal/day - and I know that's less than what is recommended, but remember - I'm under a doctor's care. So please don't attempt to follow a diet like this without consulting a doctor.

Exercise is important for me, too. Not just to improve my cardiovascular health, but it seems to be the catalyst that kickstarts my weight loss & keeps it going. Unfortunately, with my back problems, I haven't been able to exercise as much as I'd like. Actually, some weeks, I haven't been able to exercise at all - not even walking. That part is frustrating, in addition to dealing with the pain. But thanks to a great physical therapist, I seem to be getting better, and I've been able to walk a  bit. Walking a mile takes me about 20 minutes - but that's the speed & distance that doesn't irritate my back & legs. So I try to do that once or twice a day.

The only medication I take for my cholesterol is WelChol. It's basically a drug that you take with lunch & dinner (I take 3 huge horse pills with both meals), and it sits like a sponge in your gut and soaks up the cholesterol/fat that you eat. You don't absorb it systemically, so there are no bad side effects. Sounds great, huh? Well, it's okay. It really can only lower your cholesterol 15-18%, so while it helps, it's really the diet & exercise that are doing most of the work.

So take a walk, pop in a yoga DVD, or fire up Just Dance on the Wii - even if it's just for 15 minutes. It's a step in the right direction on the road to feeling better and quite possibly living a little longer.

Stay healthy & have a great weekend!!