Thursday, October 18, 2012

When I cook popcorn on the stove (Heart-healthy habits)

It was an essay by Nanci Hellmich in the “Your Life” section of USA Today (March 15, 2011, pg. 3D), titled, “Doctor’s orders for himself: Even for a neurologist, adopting heart-healthy habits is a challenge,” that prompted this essay, and if the doctor’s [Ralph Sacco, president of the American Heart Association, a neurologist and chairman of the department of neurology at Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami] habits contribute to anyone else’s change of behaviors, then this essay has made a significant contribution.  Hellmich’s essay, obviously, had a powerful influence on me.

What specifically prompted me to write this essay is how closely my daily habits mirror Sacco’s habits.  It is always refreshing to find an essay like this that reinforces all that one does, and continues to do, to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
I agree with Sacco.  “He knows he needs to maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, keep his salt and sugar intake in check and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as seafood,” writes Hellmich.  It is a daily regimen that I follow religiously, and one of the common problems is that it is easy to give lip-service to these procedures, or to follow them only when being watched or observed, but actually taking action on them and being persistent and consistent is the challenge that is part of the subtitle of this essay.
Although Sacco admits to falling short of living a perfect heart-healthy life, he says that, at the age of 53, he is doing his best.  
Just as Sacco, I have a family history of heart disease — fortunately, no strokes of which I am aware.  My father died suddenly, without warning, of a heart attack.  Although he was diabetic, the diabeties was not severe.  Sacco’s situation was worse with a mother and grandmother dying of heart disease and a grandfather having of a stroke.
“Sacco’s blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar are a little too high,” writes Hellmich, and to “reduce his risk of heart attack or stroke, he is trying to” do the very same things that I do on a regular basis.
Sacco’s weight, for his 5-foot-6-frame was reduced from 187 to 170 pounds.  My weight was never in the mid-eighties, but for my 5-foot-9 1/2-frame, I try to maintain my weight at 170-175 pounds — just about 10 pounds over what it was when I graduated from college.  The key, I have found, is in self-control.  I just have to say “No” to things that will put on weight.
Sacco exercises regularly as I do.  The heart association’s physical activity guidelines, writes Hellmich, are “at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity each week.”  Whereas Sacco admits, “I wasn’t as religious about exercise as I should have been,” I have been religious.  I do 270 minutes each week of strength-building and body toning before doing approximately 180 minutes each week of jogging (vigorous intensity), and I’ve been doing it for over 30 years.
Sacco loves fruits and vegetables as I do, and I meet the daily recommendation of four to six cups on a daily basis.  I try to have at least 10 different fresh fruits and vegetables for lunch in addition to orange juice and half-a-banana at breakfast and at least one vegetable (usually two) for dinner.
Sacco’s goal “is to have two or more servings (about 3 ½ ounces each) of fish a week,” writes Hellmich.  My wife and I have fish at least once a week — usually on Wednesdays when she gets it fresh from the supermarket on her shopping day.  (Seniors receive a 5% discount on groceries every Wednesday).
Also, just like Sacco, I use olive oil, avoid butter, stick margarine, and any other hard fats.  For grilling a sandwich, I use Benecol (“[it] is the only range of foods to contain Plant Stanol Ester, a unique cholesterol lowering ingredient”)   accompany my single beer in the evening), I use only canola oil and just a small amount of popcorn salt when I cook my popcorn over the stove.  Otherwise, I use no salt or sugar of any kind at any time.
Sacco, just as I do on a regular basis, “doesn’t add any salt to his food or use it when cooking, but he knows,” writes Hellmich, “most sodium comes from processed foods, and he does eat some of those.”  The problem Sacco has, like the problems most Americans have today, is that he “eats out a lot, and you often ‘can’t control what the cook is putting on your dinner.’”
“Although [Sacco] tries to consume below 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day, the amount recommended by his group, he doesn’t believe he’s meeting that goal,” writes Hellmich.
Sacco, writes Hellmich, is “trying to reduce his sugar intake by cutting back on desserts and having fruit instead.  The heart association,” she continues, “says that a high intake of added sugars increases the risk of obesity, high blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease and stroke.”  What I have done is to drink my coffee black, have just a cookie or two at lunch, and have no dessert for dinner at all.  I drink no soft drinks on a regular basis, whether sugared, diet, or zero calories.  The way to avoid sugar is fairly easy — don’t just cut back on desserts, but avoid them altogether, and stop putting additional sugar on cereal, in coffee, or in anything else.
Finally, Sacco, takes some supplements and medications.  Just as I do, “[Sacco] takes a daily multivitamin that has omega-3 fatty acids in it.  He takes,” Hellmich continues, “a low dose of a statin because his total cholesterol is 240 [close to what my cholesterol used to be], which is a bit too high, and because he has a family history of heart disease.  His good cholesterol,” writes Hellmich, “is too low, so he has been considering taking a niacin supplement [just as I do].  “He also takes a baby aspirin daily to help prevent heart attacks.  It’s advised,” Hellmich continues, “for people over age 50 with a family history of heart disease.”  I take a baby aspirin daily.
This was Hellmich’s entire essay.  There was nothing more.  What was amazing to me, after I read her essay, was that I am currently doing (and have been doing for more than 30 years) all that I can do to prevent heart attacks and strokes — according to Sacco and what Hellmich has written.  Sure, there is no guarantee just as there are no guarantees in life, but it certainly adds to your security, self-confidence, and composure knowing that you have adopted and are following heart-healthy habits.
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At the ehowHealth website there are nine suggestions offered in the essay, “How to develop heart-healthy habits.”  Most of the suggestions (but not all of them!) are the same as those discussed in the essay above.  “Learn to control stress,” and “stop smoking” are the two suggestions not mentioned above.

At WebMD, Dulce Zamora has written a fabulous essay, “13 Healthy Habits to Improve Your Life: Disregard them, and you may well be taking a big gamble with your mental and emotional well-being.”  Her second paragraph reads: “Instead of bringing misfortune, however, the 13 habits promise a life of vigor and vivacity. There are, of course, no guarantees, but many of the practices mentioned here have been published in scientific journals. Disregard them, and you may well be taking a big gamble with your mental and emotional well-being.”
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Copyright October, 2012, by And Then Some Publishing L.L.C.



  1. "Very good advice," he says, setting down his double bacon-topped cheeseburger with fries on the side and an ice cream chaser.

  2. Great site. I will keep it in mind when searching fot relevant news articles for


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