Weight Loss

Women and Heart Disease - Lose Just a Few Pounds for Big Improvements

Women and Heart Disease - Obesity Overweight.png

You won't believe how little weight you need to lose to improve your heart health...

But first, I have to preface this article by stating that I am an obese woman.  According to CDC guidelines for the BMI (body mass index), I have shot past overweight to obese. 

I didn't start out this way.  There was a time when I was slim and trim.  Over the years, childbearing, a sedentary lifestyle, age, and bad eating habits caught up with me. 

As an obese middle-aged woman, I will make this statement without compromise:  Obesity does not equal healthy. 

There is no getting around it - being overweight or obese increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and stroke, as well as diabetes and some cancers.  According to the journal Circulation, obesity predicts coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure is common in obese patients. 

Almost 70% of American adults are overweight or obese.  Obesity is ranked in the top three health problems in the United States.

If you are told you are "obese", that means you have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher.  BMI measures the ratio of your height and your weight.

Overweight people have a BMI of 25-29.9.

Waist circumference and where you carry fat on your body affects your risk for heart disease.  If you carry most of your extra weight around your belly, you have a higher risk than someone who carries fat on their thighs and buttocks.

A study which was conducted on over 116,000 nurses and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that women who were moderately overweight (BMI between 25 and 28.9) were twice as likely as slender women (BMI less than 21) to develop coronary artery disease (the type of heart disease responsible for heart attacks).  

Women with a BMI over 29 had four times the risk of coronary artery disease.

Research by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute adds more evidence that extra weight is bad for your heart:

In a study of over 5,000 participants, the risk of heart failure increased with each additional point of a participant's BMI (about 4 to 8 pounds).   Researchers found that the risk of heart failure was 34 percent higher for overweight individuals and 104 percent higher for people who are obese.

But there is good news...

Studies have shown that losing even a little weight can improve heart health and reduce your risk of death from heart attack.  The National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases states that losing just 5-10% of your weight can significantly reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.  For a 200 lb woman, that would mean losing just 10 to 20 pounds.

Losing just 5-10% of your weight can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease

If you are at risk for heart disease because of overweight or obesity, make small changes now to keep your ticker healthy and ticking.

DASH Diet Challenge - Week 1

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Week 1 of the DASH Diet Challenge is complete and I want to share with you how it went.  Below, I will break down what I ate, results for the week, and what I learned.  If you are considering trying out the DASH Diet for weight loss, to lower your blood pressure, or for heart health, I hope this information will be helpful to you.

For this challenge, I set my daily calorie goal at 1,800 calories, based on the calorie needs chart provided by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the creator of the DASH Diet Plan.  I wrote a previous post on the DASH Diet recommended food groups and serving sizes.

I started off the week tracking my food intake using my Fitbit app.  While this app does a good job of calculating total calories, sorting out percentages of carbs, proteins, and fats, and it is easy to enter the data, I couldn't track the sodium intake.  So, midweek, I switched over to tracking in MyFitnessPal.  The free version was adequate for my needs, but a premium version is available.  This app can track your food diary, and you can also track your water intake and exercise and generate printable reports (which is a great extra if you are keeping a food diary to share with your physician or dietician).  It has the functionality to provide nutrition information on imported recipes and help you with meal planning.  There is also a community forum, and MyFitnessPal syncs with lots of trackers, including the FitBit.

Week 1 Results:

1.  My starting weight was 219.5.  Weight on Friday was 217.8 - down a little over a pound, and that is within my goal plan for the year.

2.  Blood pressure.  I knew my blood pressure has been running high for several years.  I decided should get a reading for a baseline for this challenge.  Before I left my office Friday afternoon, I checked it, and it was a freaking scary 183/94.  I checked it 2 more times on different machines, and the results were similar.  Not good!  And here is where I have to admit that I did not do what I would tell any one of you to do:  I did not immediately take myself off to see the doctor.  I did what a lot of women do.  I waited. 

Luckily, when I went to my local pharmacy and checked my blood pressure the next morning, it was much more in line with what I expected at 144/87.  That reading is still way too high, though.  I will be putting a visit with my physician on my calendar this week for sure!

3.  Exercise.  I only exercised one morning this week.  Since the weather has remained frightfully cold, I did a walk-jog video on YouTube.  Gotta love all the workout video options on the internet.  

4.  The Diet.  Once I put everything I ate this week into the food diary, I categorized each food into the appropriate food group categories.  And here is what I found:

  • I had a really hard time eating the recommended amount of grains, and I did not achieve the recommended amount on any day of the first week.  I'm not used to eating a lot of grains, and even consciously incorporating them into my daily mail plan was hard.  They also have a relatively high calorie count for small portions and aren't very filling.
  • It was fairly easy to get in the right amount of vegetables every day.  My lunch is usually 3 cups of leafy power greens and lettuces, sprinkled with lemon juice, with a serving each of meat, cheese and fruit. 
  • I had to consciously add fruits, just as I had to consciously add grains.  I only got the recommended amount on 1 day.  I went for apples (studies have shown that women who regularly eat apples have lower blood pressure), and low sugar fruits like berries.  I did add bananas to smoothies on a couple of days, for the potassium and sweetening.
  • Dairy was easy.  Just a cup of yogurt or kefir or fat free milk and a cheese stick and this one is taken care of.
  • Lean meat, fish, poultry - This was another easy category.  I focused more on lean meats and fish like tuna and turkey, bison, and lean beef stew meat.
  • Because of my addiction to hummus, I went overboard on the nuts, seeds, legumes category this week.  Enough said.
  • Using just a bit of avocado oil was enough for the fat category - another easy category to meet, but I had to be careful of the portion so that I wouldn't exceed the allowance. 
  • I don't usually eat a lot of sweets anyway, having weaned myself off most sugar over a year ago, but I did have a Halo top ice cream pint that lasted through three days, and one night, I indulged in two cinnamon twists from Dominos.  The nice thing about this diet is that it does allow for those little indulgences once in a while.
  • Speaking of Dominos, yes, my favorite pizza place does have health(ier) options.  When the fam decided that Friday should be pizza night, I chose the plain bone-in chicken wings and the Apple Pecan Chicken Salad with the Lite Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing.  But I should probably find another option for the hot wing sauce - it is way high in sodium.
  • Keeping the sodium levels low was also a challenge.  I admit it, I like the salt shaker.  Tracking it is making me mindful of how much is in what we eat everyday.
  • On only two days did I go over my calorie allowance, and not by much.  Most days were under the allowance, so I consider that a success.
  • Tracking my food intake made me really mindful of the portion sizes on the DASH Diet.  This is an area where I have struggled to get control and it is probably the area that has most contributed to my lack of progress in losing weight.  
  • There were a few things that I ate during the week that I have had to scratch my head about where to fit them in the plan:  the half and half in my morning coffee, a little snack bag of potato chips (are those a vegetable lol?), EAS Advantage Low Carb Shakes (to stave off a hunger attack mid-morning), a Zone Perfect Chocolate Peanut Butter Bar (does that go under "Sweets" or "Nuts"?), and chicken/vegetable broth that I used in soups.  
  • Although I did feel hunger on most days as lunch or dinner approached (hence, a shake or protein bar - and I'm not sure a little bit of hunger is necessarily a bad thing), I did not feel deprived.  There really was no food that was absolutely prohibited, and I could eat a large variety of foods.  
  • Planning meals through the week helped to keep me on track.
  • This whole challenge is not necessarily about following the diet perfectly.  It is about learning to be mindful about what I am eating and improving my eating habits and portion control.  Tracking my calories and portions right now is very helpful to me so that I can see exactly what and how much I'm eating and where I need to make adjustments.  

I've copied my chart and food diaries below to help you with your own meal planning on the DASH Diet.  I've color coded the top chart in green (met the goal) and red (did not meet goal), so I can more easily see where I can improve.  Please note that the charts show exactly what I ate in the first week of the challenge.  Obviously, from the chart below, if you wanted to follow the diet perfectly, some adjustments would need to be made to the meals.  Feel free to use this information as a starting point to create your own meal plan.

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Follow my progress on the 30-Day DASH Diet Challenge!

Learn to Love Your Heart in this series on Midlife Women and Heart Health

A Better Way to Start Running: Run - Walk - Run to Better Stamina, Weight Loss, and Health

Photo by    Andrew Tanglao    on    Unsplash

If you want to build up to running, or marathons, then you might find interval running and walking to be a quick way to build up your stamina and endurance.  This method uses very short intervals of running and walking - run, walk, run. The intervals range from 15 seconds to 45 seconds. The method was popularized by former Olympian Jeff Galloway who claims that it decreases the potential for injury.

I have been using the Run-Walk-Run method for several months in my outdoor workouts. I have varied the interval times for running and walking, from 15 seconds each to 45 seconds each. I have found that I feel best and achieve best at a 30 second interval time for running and a 45 second interval for walking.

This method helps me in several ways. First of all, I am able to increase the distance traveled and my total steps, and I am able to accomplish that increase in the same amount of time that I previously would have just walked.

Secondly, I am increasing my heart rate without feeling winded. Since the running intervals are so short, they don't make me feel tired or out of breath, although I am feeling an increased burn in my calves, which I attribute to increased usage of the muscle. The walking immediately after the run alleviates the burn.

Best of all - I had practically forgotten I could run, after a number of years of not running! It's a wonderful feeling to know I can still do it!

This method is really useful for people who have recently begun exercising again through walking but who aren't quite getting the intensity level they want.  You can gradually increase your intensity at a pace that feels right for you.

What do you think? Have you tried using run-walk-run in your daily walks? Let me know in the comments!