Photo: Ben Goldstein
This year, let's make a pact. No more false promises, no more extreme measures, and no more white flags raised. Here are nine key numbers you can easily tweak to make a huge difference in your overall health
Blood Pressure: 115/75
Hypertension is a cunning thief; left unchallenged, it can steal a decade of quality life. The average American's blood pressure in middle age is about 130/80, but since the average American dies of heart disease, that number isn't good enough. Instead, aim for 115/75. Measure your blood pressure monthly at the same time of day with a home monitor or one at a local drugstore.
To lower blood pressure: Exercise hard enough to sweat for at least an hour each week. If you're used to 30-minute workouts, this means you'll need to do three, since it takes at least 10 minutes to start sweating.
Resting Heart Rate: 83
Before you get out of bed to commune with the coffeemaker, take your pulse: Put two fingertips on your wrist or carotid artery (in your neck under your jaw) and count the beats per minute. This is your resting heart rate. Anything higher than 83 means you're at increased risk for a heart attack.
To slow your resting heart rate: The key, ironically, is to make your heart beat faster for an hour per week (to calculate your ideal number of beats per minute while exercising, subtract your age from 220, then multiply the result by 0.8). So, just as you'll be doing for healthy blood pressure, simply work up a good sweat.
Cholesterol: 2 to 1
When it comes to cholesterol, the total level isn't as predictive of heart disease as what's known as the ratio. To explain, cholesterol is carried in the blood by two different lipoproteins: The bad one, LDL (think L for lousy), spews the waxy, fat-like substance in your arteries, gunking them up; the good one, HDL (H for healthy), gathers up cholesterol so it can't clog. If you have some risk for heart disease (family history, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking), keep your LDL under 100. Otherwise you're okay aiming for under 160; better yet, below 130. Ideally, your HDL should be more than 50. Doctors love it when the ratio of LDL to HDL is less than 2 to 1; they're tolerant if it's 3 to 1.
To improve your ratio: Include soluble fiber in your diet from sources such as oatmeal, kidney beans, and apples, aiming for 25 grams a day. To spice things up, try a whole grain called quinoa. It contains a nearly perfect balance of proteins, as well as the mineral manganese—low levels of which are associated with hypertension.
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