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Friday, February 3, 2017

"But You're So Skinny ..."

BUT YOU’RE SO SKINNY!  Here is a newsflash, being “skinny” does not mean that you are healthy.  I found this out the hard way.  All my life I have had higher than normal cholesterol.  Which my doctors all ignored because on the outside, I’m the picture of good health.  I have good readings when it comes to everything else (blood pressure, resting heart rate, blood sugar, triglycerides).  But I am getting up there in years (I am 51). I have a new female doctor who told me my cholesterol was too high, and that I needed to either get it down through diet and fitness or go on medicine.  I really did not want to go on medicine.

    February is American Heart Month.  Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Every year, 1 in 4 deaths are caused by heart disease.  Heart disease can lead to heart attack and stroke.  And the leading causes of heart disease are Smoking (including secondhand smoke), high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and blood vessel inflammation (according to the pamphlet my doctor gave me).  Carrie Fisher and Mary Tyler Moore recently died of a heart attack; as did Alan Thicke.  The threat is real; and more prevalent than cancer.
    My cholesterol reading overall three months ago was 245.  My LDL or “bad cholesterol” was 171, which is what worried my doctor.  I really made it by life’s work to get that cholesterol down.  Ideally, she wanted my cholesterol under 200, my HDL or good cholesterol is supposed to be above 60.  And she wanted my Bad cholesterol under 115.
I switched up my diet.  Cholesterol comes from animals, so anything that comes from an animal, I either eliminated or really cut back on.  That meant no dairy at all (good bye half and half, I love you!!); only chicken and fish, lots of whole grains like brown rice, and lots and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.  No more pizza or lasagna!   For snacks, I ate only bananas, dried fruit and Kind bars. I eat 24 bananas a week.  And tons of water.  I started taking supplements and foods that were anti inflammatory (like Tumeric).
I already belonged to Gold’s Gym Newburgh but I joined the “Alloy” program there, which is additional classes with circuit training.  I committed to go to at least 2 classes a day at Gold’s, usually a CX (core training) or Alloy class, followed by a yoga class.  I started doing yoga and meditating every day, either at the gym or at home.  I convinced myself during meditation that I could lower my cholesterol.  Then, after coming home from work, I got on my indoor rowing maching and rowed at least 2 miles every day.
My family was not only supportive, they were like having Jillian Michaels living in the house (“Put down that cookie, Mom, do you want HEART DISEASE??!!).  The ladies in my boat were incredibly supportive, we have an ongoing group text that never stops, and they pushed my to work on my cholesterol.  They went to the gym and to yoga with me.  We did a virtual rowing challenge on our indoor rowing machines.   I told all the instructors at Gold’s what I was trying to do and they gave me diet and fitness advice and lots of support as well.
Soooo … after three months I had my cholesterol tested again (my doctor orders a blood test).  Yes, there was that deeply twisted part of me that was secretly hoping my cholesterol didn’t change, so I could stop working so hard and watch Netflix in my pajamas.  But that would mean taking medicine and I really didn’t want to do that.  The nurse called me with the results.  My cholesterol had gone down from 245 to 231.  My good cholesterol went up from 47 to 51.  And my bad cholesterol went down from 178 to 150.  “Whatever you’re doing, keep it up,” is what Dr. Park had told the nurse to tell me.  I was elated!  I’m not where I need to be yet but I know that if I keep at it, I will get there.  And I am one pig-headed human being, so I will not stop until my numbers are where they need to be.  
I hope everyone will get their cholesterol tested when you go for your annual physical.  And if your doctor recommends medicine then by all means take it.  In my case, I was borderline and my doctor gave me the opportunity to try to bring my cholesterol down myself.  And now this is my life.  I will never stop my fitness and healthy diet routine because I have lost too many people in my family to heart disease and stroke.  If it’s at all possible, I would like to be there for my kids’ graduations, and weddings, and all that good stuff.  And knowing I can get there tastes a lot better than pizza.
So get out there and get moving!  For more information on heart disease and prevention, visit:  http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Caregiver/Resources/WhatisCardiovascularDisease/What-is-Cardiovascular-Disease_UCM_301852_Article.jsp
For more information about Gold’s Gym and the Alloy program visit:  http://www.goldsgym.com/newburghny/
And for more information on how to join the rowing programs of the Newburgh Rowing Club, visit www.NewburghRowClub.org
Photo from Hudson Valley Winter Erg Sprints, 01/29/17