A prescription for healthy living: Live longer and feel better by following these basic steps.
1. Eat right to reduce cholesterol
Almost 40 per cent of Canadians have high blood cholesterol levels. “If [our bodies] make too much cholesterol or we get too much in our diet, levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) can rise, which can contribute to an increased risk of heart attack or stroke,” says naturopathic doctor Kathryn Nobrega-Porter of the Wellpath Clinic.
Take the first step: Cut saturated and trans fats linked to LDL cholesterol and replace them with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in many nuts, seeds and oils from plants like soybean, safflower, canola, olive and sunflower. Eat oily fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel or take an omega-3 supplement.
Add a nutrition fix: Nuts, particularly almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios and hazelnuts, reduce cholesterol levels by 10 to 15 points, says Nobrega-Porter. Men who ate nuts two or more times a week cut their risk of sudden cardiac arrest almost in half compared with men who rarely or never ate nuts, reports the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Boost it with exercise: More intense exercise—brisk walking, jogging, biking or gardening—is better than moderate exercise for lowering cholesterol. Duke University Medical Center found that those who got vigorous exercise (jogging 32 kilometres a week) lowered their LDL cholesterol level more than those doing more moderate exercise (walking or jogging 19 kilometres a week).
2. Lower blood pressure naturally
Hypertension, or high blood pressure (defined as 140/90), is dangerous because it makes the heart work harder to pump blood through the body. But there are things you can do to keep your levels healthy (120/80).
Take the first step: Reduce stress, which can be a major contributor to high blood pressure. Anything that you find relaxing—Pilates, yoga, deep breathing, listening to music—keeps your stress response under control.
Add a nutrition fix: Foods rich in magnesium, such as whole grains,raisins, soybeans, avocado and beets, can help lower blood pressure. Boost it with exercise Taking brisk 10-minute walks four times a day can decrease your blood pressure for 11 hours, reports the Journal of Hypertension. A continuous 40-minute walk keeps it down for about seven hours.
3. Ward off heart disease
Every seven minutes, a Canadian dies of heart disease or stroke. Zoomers account for about 98 per cent of all deaths by major cardiovascular diseases. We know that high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, smoking, obesity, diabetes and physical inactivity are all contributing factors.
Take the first step: Stop smoking and within 20 minutes of your last cigarette, the body begins to repair itself, says Nobrega-Porter. A staggering 21.4 per cent of Canadians smoke, making them two to four times more likely to develop coronary heart disease than non-smokers.
Add a nutrition fix: Walnuts increase the elasticity of arteries by 64 per cent and reduce hardening of the arteries by 20 per cent. Aim for at least three servings of fish each week and include foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Boost it with exercise Thirty minutes of moderately intense activity every day can reduce your risk of heart disease by 30 per cent, says Nobrega-Porter.
4. Take care of your gums
Gum disease may be a warning sign of potentially serious health problems, says Dr. Michael Glogauer, associate professor at the University of Toronto’s faculty of dentistry. “It’s thought that inflammation and infection in your mouth may result in bacteria and other inflammatory chemicals entering your bloodstream and causing damage in your body.”
Take the first step: Daily flossing will reduce and prevent gum disease and gingivitis. Use a tongue scraper and an anti-bacterial mouth rinse. Schedule regular cleanings with a dental hygienist to remove plaque and treat gum disease.
Add a nutrition fix: Drink green tea to improve your dental health and reduce the risk of periodontal disease. It contains an antioxidant that interferes with the inflammatory response associated with periodontal illness.
Boost it with exercise: High levels of the stress hormone cortisol weaken the immune system and cause elevated plaque levels, reports a 2007 study from Dentists for Diabetics. Relieve stress through deep breathing, exercise, listening to music and maintaining a positive mental attitude.
5. Lower blood sugar levels
“High levels of blood sugar affect three million Canadians with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, and a growing number have blood sugar levels that place them at risk for pre-diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance,” says Stacey Horodezny, clinical leader of Trillium Health Centre’s Diabetes Management Centre. New this spring is an educational tool to be used by doctors in conjunction with diabetic patients, called a Diabetes Conversation Map, which encourages people to discuss and share their experiences.
Take the first step: Lose the belly fat. A chemical released by stomach fat interferes with the way blood sugar is processed. To keep lean muscle while losing fat, fill half your plate with vegetables and divide the remaining half equally between protein such as beans and legumes and good carbs, such as pasta and rice, suggests Horodezny.
Add a nutrition fix: Carbohydrates have the biggest impact on blood sugar. High fibre, unprocessed multi-grain breads, beans, legumes and lentils take longer to digest, thereby reducing both the rate at which sugar enters your system and your overall level of blood sugar. The Canadian Diabetes Association recommends fibre intake of 25 to 50 grams a day.
Boost it with exercise: Work out 30 to 45 minutes a day and weight-train twice a week to lower your percentage of body fat. “It’s important for people with diabetes to set realistic goals that they can achieve rather than going gangbusters for three days, then quitting,” adds Horodezny.
6. Move freely with less pain
“Habits such as improper posture, sedentary living and repetitive movement throw the body out of whack,” says kinesiologist and personal trainer, Alex Allan. Muscles become weaker, and some may not even work at all. Corrective exercises are designed to undo all these muscle imbalances and restore normal function to injured and impaired parts of the body.
Take the first step: Postural imbalance starts with the feet. Put a tennis ball under your foot, feeling for spots that are painful and hold it there for 20 to 30 seconds. “This is really good for people coming out of winter who want to get out running again,” says Allan. “You’ll instantly have more flexible hamstring leg muscles, increased range of motion and decreased risk for plantar fasciitis of the feet.”
Boost it with exercise: Warm up with five minutes of dynamic corrective stretching every morning. Think of lengthening the body while stretching.
Do side bends, bringing ribs down to the hips; gentle torso twisting from side to side; stretching your arms over your head in a jumping jack position; and finally, reaching up with your arms and touching the back of your shoulder to stretch the triceps and armpit.
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