SPOTTED: National Walking Day at Albany Medical Center, Wednesday, April 5
“I’m used to people telling me I’m doing it wrong,” said Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, before a crowd of 300 people gathered in front of Albany Medical Center. “You should be taking a car, not walking.”
The day was set aside for hospital employees, community leaders and members of the American Heart Association to take part in National Walking Day — a promotion to introduce the health benefits of walking each day. Something the 53-year-old avid walker already knows.
Sheehan said she makes an effort to walk at least 15 minutes every day. As busy as Sheehan is each day, she recognizes how each walk makes her feel better and healthier. But, for many Americans, as simple as walking may be for exercise, even this task is difficult to pencil into a busy work week.
Studies have suggested that moderate physical activity has many proven benefits for overall health, such as lowering blood pressure, increasing HDL, or “good,” cholesterol and controlling weight. All these changes help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, the nation’s No. 1 and No. 5 killers.
And, many of the deaths associated with cardiovascular disease, including stroke, could have been prevented through better diets and exercise.
Start with your diet. Keep a journal of what you eat for one week and then sit down and analyze it. How much fat do you consume? Your fat caloric intake should not exceed more than 30 percent of your total diet in a week’s time. What kind of fats do you consume? Keep saturated fats to a minimum and make sure you include some polyunsaturated fats in your diet, such as those found in margarine or cooking oil.
Eat a variety of foods and pay attention to portion sizes, especially protein. You shouldn’t eat more than six ounces of protein per day. Although a good source of protein, egg yolks are high in cholesterol. Keep the cholesterol down by substituting whole eggs with one egg yolk and two or three egg whites, depending on the number of eggs called for.
Watch your salt and sugar intake. High salt intake can lead to hypertension, a precursor to heart disease. Think twice before reaching for the saltshaker and try to limit your consumption of processed foods, which usually contain a lot of salt. Although sugar isn’t directly related to heart disease, a diet high in it often translates to a diet high in calories and low in complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Grab a banana or apple instead of a snack cake.
Choose healthier foods when shopping, cooking or eating out. Look for words that might signal a food is high in fat, such as “buttered, fried, creamed, au gratin or scalloped.” Purchase the reduced-fat, low-fat or fat-free version of your favorite foods. Be wary of the calorie count, though. Some foods may be low in fat but high in calories. If possible, ask that any dressings or sauces be put on the side when dining out and replace ingredients high in fat and calories with reduced versions when cooking.
Pay attention to your weight. Eat healthy and exercise regularly to maintain your weight. If you are overweight, do your best to shed the extra pounds. Stay away from fad diets, though. They are dangerous and any weight you lose will probably return as soon as you stop the diet. Remember, the best way to lose weight is through proper diet and exercise.
The American Heart Association recommends adults participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity or a combination of both each week. Kids should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
“[Walking is] a tremendous benefit,” said Albany Medical Center Cardiologist Dr. Mandeep Sidhu. “For seniors in particular, it’s important to maintain mobility, and for a cardiovascular perspective as well. For an overall health perspective, it’s really important. “There’s no doubt that that loss of mobility can lead to other issues, but from a cardiovascular standpoint, activity and walking alone can help towards overall health.” People often loss mobility as they grow older. Sidhu still suggests some form of activity for each day. Whereas younger generations are asked to walk for a certain amount of time each day and week, those who find it difficult to walk should simply set a goal to walk each day, regardless of time or distance. “It’s more about fitting that daily walk in to form a habit,” said Sidhu. “For them, I think it’s more critical around company. Having a social network during that walking process. I think it makes it more enjoyable for any of us.”
Before changing your diet or introducing exercise into your daily routine, you should first consult your physician. For more healthy lifestyle tips and information on medical warning signs, visit the American Heart Association at www.heart.org.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.