Debby Schrecengast knows she should have seen the warning signs. When she looks back at 2014, the year she suffered a stroke, Schrecengast, 57, sees a “stubborn old donkey” in denial about her health. “I had let my blood pressure go uncontrolled, and I remained overweight for so long,” she says.
Schrecengast, who lives in LaFargeville, New York, joined a programme that eased her into an exercise routine. She took nutrition classes, dropped 13 kilos, and no longer needs blood pressure medication.
It’s easy to measure how much weight you’ve lost or how much faster you can jog. It’s harder to calculate whether your heart is getting healthier. But if you keep an eye on these numbers with your doctor, you can tell whether your ticker is getting stronger or weaker as time goes by.
The body produces two main types of cholesterol: LDL, the ‘bad’ cholesterol, and HDL, the ‘good’ type. Measured together, along with 20 per cent of your triglyceride score, they add up to your total cholesterol level. An ideal score is 200 or less; between 200 and 239 is borderline high. Go over 240 and you have high cholesterol.
In most cases your physician will be focused on tamping down your LDL, which can clog up arteries—including those that feed your heart and brain. The good cholesterol can help eliminate the bad, but only to a degree.
You know the diet drill: Limit red meat and full-fat dairy foods, and eat more whole grains and produce. Just one meatless day a week will help; next week, see if you can make it two. And get more exercise. Exercise appears to enhance your muscles’ ability to use blood lipids for energy. Studies suggest that the ideal workout plan consists of 30 minutes of exercise, five days a week, combining moderate aerobic activity and moderate- to high-intensity resistance training.
When blood pressure runs consistently high, it strains the heart and arteries. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is often called the silent killer because it usually lacks obvious symptoms. When left uncontrolled, it is a major risk factor for heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and kidney disease. Blood pressure is defined as high if the top number is 130 or above, or the bottom number is 80 or higher.
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