SUMMING IT UP 

 

You never forget your bank PIN or first phone number.  But chances are your ideal blood pressure and daily calcium needs don’t spring instantly to mind.  Keep tabs on these digits to help optimize your health.

 

Eighty-four.  The number in millions of U.S. adults who are prediabetic.  And 90 percent of them don’t know it.  Anyone with increased belly size, borderline blood pressure, or a family history of the condition should be tested.  The good news: diet and lifestyle can reverse prediabetes and prevent diabetes. 

One-hundred fifty.  The minimum number of minutes of moderate-intensity exercise you need weekly.  Start with a half-hour of activity five days a week.   Goal should be one hour most days of the week.

One.  The number of meditation sessions it takes to ease anxiety.   Talk about an immediate payoff: After 60 minutes of mindfulness meditation, participants reported lower anxiety and a lowered heart rate (that should decrease stress on their kidneys and brains).  As little as 10 minutes can be beneficial, too.

Two to Three.  Years that sunscreen is effective.  Some formulas may still partially block rays for six months after the expiration date, but there’s no guarantee you’re fully protected.  If you use SPF daily, you shouldn’t have any extra.

Five. The max number of alcoholic drinks to sip in a week.  This may come as a surprise if you’ve always heard that women can enjoy one drink a day (men: 2 per day) without risk.  But having more than 5 servings of alcohol in a seven-day span has been associated with a shorter life expectancy, increased risk of stroke, heart failure and heart disease.  Blood pressure could be the culprit, although other research shows that drinking more can cause abnormal heart rhythms, damage to your heart muscle, and other diseases like liver problems and some cancers. 

Ten.  The amount in grams of added sugar not to exceed per day.  You may not dump a packet in your coffee or tea, but sugar lurks in not-so-obvious places, like bread and pasta sauce, under names like corn syrup and fructose.    Limit the sweet stuff to minimize the effects on insulin release.   Concentrated sweeteners can contribute to insulin resistance and fat accumulation.  Fill up on vegetables, whole grains, legumes and other unpackaged foods.  When you buy packaged foods, check the labels.

Thirteen.  The number of cancers associated with obesity.  Only 31% of Americans know that obesity is a risk factor for cancer at all.  Being overweight or obese upped the odds the following types, which make up 42% of all cancer diagnoses: breast, colorectal, esophageal, gallbladder, kidney, liver, meningioma, multiple myeloma, ovarian, pancreatic, stomach, thyroid, and uterine.  While the exact mechanisms aren’t known, the impact of excess weight on levels of various hormones, such as estrogen and insulin, is likely key.  Fat tissue also promotes inflammation, another risk factor for cancer.  Losing even 5-10 pounds can make a difference.

Twenty.  The number of years before an Alzheimer’s diagnosis that brain changes begin.  The population of Americans living with this disease is expected to more than double by 2050: up to 14 million from 5.7 million today, and most of them will be female, since two-thirds of sufferers are women.   The time to take pre-emptive measures is not in your 60’s, but two decades earlier.  The best defense includes exercise, quitting smoking (or better yet, never starting), eating plenty of vegetables, staying socially engaged, and challenging your brain with puzzles and games.  Read: The End of Alzheimer’s, by Dr. Dale Bredesen, and Memory Rescue, by Dr. Daniel Amen.

Twenty-five.  The minimum number of grams of fiber you need per day.  Yet most Americans get about half this number.  Fiber is the non-digestible part of a carbohydrate that bulks up plant-derived foods.  It swells in the stomach, so you feel full after eating and generally eat less, leading to weight loss.  There are 2 types, and you need both: the soluble kind (oatmeal) turns gel-like in the digestive tract, helping lower blood glucose and cholesterol levels; insoluble fiber (kale) moves other food through your system.  Along with its slimming benefits, a fiber-rich diet can help reduce risk of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and breast and colon cancers.  To up your intake, start with a salad or vegetable soup.

Thirty.  The level of lipoprotein A that’s the tipping point for high cholesterol.  Doctors routinely measure the lipoproteins LDL and HDL when they take blood, but not lipoprotein A, aka Lp(a).  If someone in your immediate family has heart disease, or if you have early-onset heart disease (before age 60 for women), ask your doctor to include this test.  While an Lp(a) level over 30 mg is considered abnormal, the risk of heart disease rises over 60 mg/dL and shoots up between 150-300.

Ninety-one.  Ounces of water you need to drink every day.  It turns out that the long-touted eight-by-eight rule (eight 8 ounces glasses) isn’t quite enough.  Add 27 more ounces to maintain health and lower disease risk.   To make sipping second nature, carry a reusable water bottle with you and refill often. 

One-hundred thirty.  The systolic level that signals high blood pressure.  Elevated readings no longer start at 140/90, the previously established threshold.  Heart-disease risk now begins when your systolic pressure climbs above 120 mm Hg, and anything over 130 is considered hypertension.  If you meet this new, lower marker, expect your doctor to recommend lifestyle changes, or in some cases medication.  Fortunately, maintain an ideal body weight, eating a well-balanced diet, limiting salt, managing stress, sleeping enough, and quitting smoking can help bring it down.

Four hundred.  Milligrams of caffeine you can enjoy daily sans negative side effects.  No need to limit yourself to just one cup of coffee.  Additional servings are associated with a lower risk of stroke and heart failure. 

One thousand.  Milligrams of calcium needed for strong bones.  This is the daily amount recommended for men and women 50 and younger; older women need 1200 mg/day.  Reach that goal with foods such as cold-water fish and dark leafy greens, and make sure your blood levels of vitamin D (get a blood test) are higher than 50 ng/dL as vitamin D up-regulates calcium absorption from food.  Do NOT take calcium supplements in any form.

Karen Asp