Q: I want to lose weight, stay more focused, eat better, get enough sleep and stop stressing about everything. But I can’t do it all at once, and I don’t know where to start. What should I do? -- Martin G., Miami
A: When listing your goals like that makes it seem like too much to handle, relax. There’s actually a good chance it’s easier to make bundled changes than to string out individual changes over a longer stretch of time. For example, if you want to get more sleep and cut down your coffee habit to three cups a day, tackling both issues together increases the likelihood of a positive outcome for each goal. Want to gain self-confidence and exercise more often? You’ll find working on those two goals together also helps you accomplish each one more easily.
And there’s scientific confirmation: New research published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience makes it clear that human beings seriously underestimate their ability to effect wide-ranging changes in their lives.
In the study, big changes (they even showed up on brain scans!) happened to a group who did two and a half hours of physical exercise daily, as well as an hour of mindfulness, and attended a 90-minute lecture or discussion on topics such as sleep, nutrition, exercise, mindfulness, compassion, relationships or well-being. After six weeks, participants showed significant improvement in strength, flexibility, cardio health, task focus, working memory, mood, life satisfaction and self-esteem. Wow!
How can you apply this to accomplishing your many goals?
1. Don’t go it alone. For example, join a walking group to keep you on pace. Check out a mindfulness meditation group to ease stress and improve focus. Group support reinforces determination.
2. Keep a daily log of food and alcohol consumption, workouts, hours slept. Writing it down improves adherence to healthier routines.
3. Do at least one act of kindness daily. Being generous improves self-esteem and eases depression and isolation.
Q: My triglyceride levels are high, but my doctor says not to worry; they’ll come down when I take care of some other issues, like my high LDL cholesterol and high blood pressure. Shouldn’t I do or take something? -- Jerry F., Denver
A: When your doctor does a blood test to check your lipid levels, you get info on lousy LDL and good HDL cholesterol levels and triglycerides. We know high LDL levels (above 100 mg/dL) can clog your arteries. Healthy HDL levels (45-60 mg/dL) may help protect you from those cardiovascular risks. But triglycerides?
Well, when you have elevated triglycerides (above 150 mg/dL; we help our patients get their values below 100, along with lowering LDL and blood pressure), research shows that it’s likely you also have insulin resistance, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, obesity and/or hypertension. Each of those conditions ups your risk for cardiovascular woes and other problems such as some cancers and dementia. Yet despite years of study, no one is 100 percent sure if elevated triglycerides are an indicator or a cause (we favor cause) of heart problems.
So yes, you should do something. (To lower your LDL level, you’ll probably be prescribed a statin and an antihypertensive for your high blood pressure.) But, generally speaking, you don’t need to take medication for elevated triglycerides. (Fibrates, niacin and omega-3 fatty acids are sometimes used when levels are very high, and there are new medications in development.) Instead you need to eliminate all processed carbs from your diet, and up your intake of DHA omega-3 fatty acids from fish such as salmon and through algal supplements (we recommend 900 mg a day). Also, 10,000 steps a day and strength-training two to three days a week for 30 minutes will trim excess weight and metabolize lipids more effectively. Those lifestyle changes also will reduce insulin resistance; lower glucose levels, blood pressure and LDL cholesterol; and help you avoid the threat of metabolic syndrome.
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Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at firstname.lastname@example.org.