Health Watch: Have a doubt? Ask the specialists (Part 1)
These tips go beyond the usual advice about drinking more water, exercising regularly, eating fruits and veggies and slathering on sunscreen. They are designed to help you make specific changes to your lifestyle and emerge healthier and wiser.
Keep diabetes at bay
- Follow scientifically proven diets for diabetes prevention. Several meal plans promise to balance sugar levels forever, but only a few have been scientifically shown to succeed. Keep your doctor informed when changing your diet.
- Maintain your weight in normal limits of body mass index (BMI) and abdominal circumference. Excess weight makes it harder for the body to use insulin for controlling blood sugar. If you are overweight, shedding even a few kilograms can improve the body’s ability to use insulin and prevent the rise of blood sugar.
- Body Mass Index (the ratio, in square meters, of how large you are with respect to your height) must be kept between 19 and 23. Waist circumference should be less than 90 cm in men and 80 cm in women.
- Exercise every day for 45 to 60 minutes. Get physically active and strengthen your body to handle blood glucose. This is the key to diabetes prevention.
- A total of 60 minutes of exercise is optimal: 30 minutes of scheduled exercise such as walking, light sports, dancing or swimming; 15 minutes of walking or a similar activity at the workplace; and 15 minutes of resistance exercise with small weights weighing between 1 and 5 kg.
- Even a 10-minute walk before dinner can help maintain the liver’s glucose outpouring at night.
- Eat high fiber foods such as raw fruits, vegetables, whole grains and cereals. Include at least five to six servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
- Consume Omega-3 fatty acids such as fish, salmon, sardines; fish oil or cod liver oil; flaxseeds; walnuts; soybeans or tofu; canola or mustard oil.
- Choose monounsaturated fatty acids such as walnuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, olive oil, canola or mustard oil.
- Take powdered cinnamon every day but not more than a quarter or a half teaspoon since it causes stomach irritation. Fenugreek seeds can be consumed as powder or whole seeds, in consultation with a doctor (not recommended during pregnancy).
How to prevent heart disease
Young people are dying of heart attacks these days, largely because of unhealthy lifestyles.
- Quit smoking. You shouldn’t smoke. If you do, quit as soon as possible. Over time, it can cut back your risk of a heart attack by as much as 50 percent.
- Exercise for at least 40 minutes every day. Combine aerobic exercises such as walking—at least four km/hour—along with some yoga and weight training. The level of activity should be vigorous enough for you to become slightly breathless.
- Eat healthy, including more vegetables, fruit, fish and legumes, and less dairy and meat.
- Keep your blood pressure below 130/80 mmHg. For those older than 50, systolic blood pressure—the higher number of the BP reading—of more than 140 mmHg is a much more important heart disease risk factor than diastolic, the lower number. A systolic BP of 120 to 139 mmHg or a diastolic BP of 80 to 89 mmHg is pre-hypertension. It should be managed with lifestyle changes or medicines.
- Control cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein—LDL or bad cholesterol—should be less than 100 mg/dl. High-density lipoprotein (HDL or good cholesterol) should be more than 45 mg/dl for men and 55 mg/dl for women. If your LDL is still too high after about 12 weeks of diet and exercise, consider taking medication. For most people, the first choice is cholesterol-lowering statin drugs that reduce LDL by 18 to 55 percent, trim triglycerides by 7 to 30 percent, and push up HDL by 5 to 15 percent. Those with a metabolic syndrome–beer belly, high triglycerides and low HDL–are better off with vitamin B3 or fibric acids.
- Control weight. Aim to have a body mass index less than 24, irrespective of your age. Extra weight means your heart has to work harder to supply blood to your body. A weight loss of 10 percent or more lowers blood pressure and triglycerides in the blood. In children, excess weight makes them three to five times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke before they reach 65.