Controlling your blood pressure with sweat and a smile
Almost half of adults in the U.S. have delayed going to the dentist because of the pandemic — 75 percent of those folks postponed a regular checkup and over 12 percent skipped care for something bothering them, like bleeding gums. That’s bad for oral health, but it has even more far-reaching repercussions, according to a study in Hypertension.
If you have severe periodontal gum disease, you’re twice as likely to have an elevated systolic blood pressure (the top number) of 140 mmHg or more compared to folks with healthy gums. You’re also likely to have other heart-damaging conditions, such as elevated glucose and lousy LDL cholesterol and chronic inflammation.
However, controlling blood pressure depends on more than keeping your gums healthy. You also need exercise — and the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology has issued new guidelines that identify the specific forms that are most effective for controlling or preventing high blood pressure.
■ For people with blood pressure of 140/90 mmHg or higher, aerobic exercise, such as walking, running, cycling or swimming, is the most effective way to reduce high blood pressure.
■ For reduction of high-normal blood pressure (130-139/85-89 mmHg), dynamic resistance training, such as weight-lifting and doing squats and push-ups, is optimal.
■ People with normal blood pressure (less than 130/84 mmHg) can best prevent high blood pressure by doing isometric resistance training, such as handgrip exercises, wall sits and planks.
The blood-pressure-lowering effects of exercise last about 24 hours, say the researchers, so it’s best to do the exercises daily. And remember, any physical activity done daily is better than none!
How coffee helps you exercise more intensely and burns off fat
Katarina Witt, an Olympic gold-medal figure skater, says, “When I get up, I have a cup of coffee, surf the Internet, then do a half-hour run.” Olympic marathoner Shalane Flanagan once declared: “I wouldn’t go to the line without a cup of coffee. On our team, we joke that coffee is our PED [performance-enhancing drug].” Researchers from the University of Granada, who recently published a study on the effect of caffeine on fat oxidation during athletic performance, agree that those athletes are maximizing their performance.
Their study, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, shows drinking a strong cup of coffee 30 minutes before working out in the morning boosts your intensity by 11 percent and increases your maximal fat oxidation by 10.7 percent; in the afternoon it boosts workout intensity by 13 percent and fat oxidation by 29 percent.
Fat oxidation is how your body delivers fuel to the cells and powers performance — not to mention that it’s how it gets rid of excess body fat once other sources of fuel have been used up. That’s why fat loss can increase if you work out on an empty stomach. So brew some joe before your next bout of exercise.
Tip: Brewing coffee by using paper filters keeps cholesterol-boosting phytochemicals out of your cup. A Norwegian study found that drinking filtered coffee lowers your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease or stroke compared to drinking unfiltered coffee. Also, don’t add inflammatory sugars, flavorings or fatty milks to your coffee.
Go green for muscle power
It’s amazing to think that in 1929, Popeye actually knew more than nutritionists about what it takes to build muscle power and function. It’s only recently that researchers published a study in the Journal of Nutrition explaining that a nitrate-rich diet — predominantly from leafy, green vegetables such as spinach — is essential for optimal muscle function.
The study found that over a 12-year period, 1 cup a day of nitrate-rich foods gave folks 11 percent stronger lower limb strength compared with folks with the lowest nitrate intake and up to 4 percent faster walking speed. As they got older, they were better protected from falls too. Psst! Nitrates also help the body produce blood-vessel-relaxing, heart-friendly nitric oxide.
Confused by nitrates, which are sometimes lumped with nitrites as a “bad” additive? Well, when the duo is used as a preservative in processed meats and cheeses, the whole package ups your risk for heart disease and dementia, plus some cancers (from the conversion of nitrates into carcinogenic nitrosamines). But vegetables acquire nitrates and nitrites from the soil they grow in, and because they also contain vitamin C, polyphenols and fiber, which inhibit nitrosamine formation, they’re not a worry.
The most nitrate-rich veggies are greens, in order from No. 10 to No. 1: beets, Swiss chard, oak leaf lettuce, beet greens, basil, spring greens like mesclun mix, butter-leaf lettuce, cilantro, rhubarb, and the winner … arugula (18 times more nitrates than kale). Some fruits, such as watermelon, grape, pears and apples also have a small amount.
Don’t let loneliness gut-punch you
Guru Deepak Chopra once said: “… when you say, ‘I have a gut feeling’… you’re not speaking metaphorically. You’re speaking literally.” Well, a study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry has proof. Researchers explored the connection between loneliness and biology and found that diversity — or lack of diversity — in your gut microbiome influences and is influenced by feeling lonely.
The researchers compared fecal samples from volunteers ages 28 to 97 with their self-reported measures of loneliness, social support and social engagement. It turned out people who are lonely are most likely to have an unstable gut biome.
That reduces their resistance and resilience to stress-related disruptions and disease. Stress-related disruptions and disease can lead to bodily changes that evoke feelings of isolation. The feedback loop between loneliness and gut disruption is complete.
Whichever comes first — lack of gut biome diversity or loneliness — they’re intertwined through the “gut-brain axis.” This network links your gastrointestinal system to emotional and cognitive centers of the brain, and they talk to each other through neural activity, hormones and the immune system.
So if you want to feel less lonely, cultivate a diverse gut biome by eating a diet full of pre- and probiotics. Also, stop eating gut-damaging ultra-processed foods, red meats and added sugars, and consider taking a daily probiotic — we like Digestive Advantage, Culturelle and TruBiotics. Conversely, if you want your gut to feel better, reach out to friends and family and volunteer to help others. Defeating loneliness (and the physiological changes that brings) may nurture a healthier gut biome.
Fitness trackers and weight loss — a good combo
Actor Jon Hamm, President Barack Obama and Google CEO Sundar Pichai have all been spotted wearing fitness trackers and smartwatches — the latest tools designed to count your steps, heart rate, calories burned, even monitor your sleep quality and provide long-term biomonitoring. They can cost from $13 to more than $400 — or you can download a free pedometer to your smartphone.
Studies show they do promote adherence to exercise goals and help boost weight loss efforts. So which type is your best choice?
A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that for overweight/obese folks who have weight-related health conditions, all the wearable fitness trackers and step counters they tested promote weight loss. However, simple step- and calorie-counters are associated with the most weight loss and the greatest reduction in body mass index. And in the study when a step counter was combined with dietary changes or coaching, folks’ BMI went down by 3.4 (say, from 28, which is overweight, to 24.6, in the normal range).
The benefit comes from easy goal-setting (10,000 steps a day), clear readouts and straightforward notifications about when it’s time to move, when goals are met and how many calories have been expended.
Other helpful boosts to your weight-loss plan include these top five tips from the Cleveland Clinic:
■ Don’t skip breakfast and get at least 10 grams of protein.
■ Eat small meals or consider intermittent fasting.
■ Exercise moderately and make sure to add in resistance/strength training.
■ Eat until you’re no longer hungry, not until you are full.
■ Beware of emotional eating.
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. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit www.sharecare.com.