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Optimize Your Health

It's time to take care of you.

brunette woman meditating on yoga mat
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You never forget your bank PIN or first phone number. But chances are your ideal blood pressure and daily calcium dose don’t spring instantly to mind. Keep tabs on these digits to help optimize your health.

 

1: The number of meditation sessions it takes to ease anxiety.

Talk about an immediate payoff: After 60 minutes of mindfulness meditation, 11 of 14 participants reported lower levels of anxiety, in a 2018 study at Michigan Technological University, in Houghton. But that’s not all. They also experienced heart-function benefits (including a lower heart rate) that should decrease stress on their kidneys and brains, says John Durocher, Ph.D., one of the study coauthors. Don’t have an hour? More research is yet to be done, but Durocher has observed that as little as 10 minutes can be beneficial, too.

 

2 to 3: Years that sunscreen is effective.

Some formulas may still partially block rays for six months after the expiration date, but there’s no guarantee you’re fully protected, says Baltimore dermatologist Anna L. Chien, a spokesperson for the Skin Cancer Foundation. If you use SPF daily, you shouldn’t have any extra.

 

5: Minutes you should sit quietly before a bloodpressure reading.

Whether you’re at home or in a doctor’s office, this pause can calm you for a more accurate readout. For extra precision, take it twice, a minute apart.

 

[DE-STRESS: 4 Meditation Techniques for Beginners to Try]
rose wine
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5: The max number of alcoholic drinks to sip in a week.

This may come as a surprise if you’ve always heard that women can enjoy one drink a day without any health hiccups. But a 2018 U.K. study linked having more than five 6-ounce glasses of wine, 3.5-ounce portions of liquor, or 20-ounce glasses of beer in a seven-day span with a shorter life expectancy (especially in the beer and spirit drinkers). It also increased risk of stroke, heart failure, and heart disease. Blood pressure could be the culprit, although other research shows that imbibing more than the recommended amount can cause abnormal heart rhythms, damage to your heart muscle, and other diseases like liver problems and some cancers, says Victoria Taylor, a senior dietitian with the British Heart Foundation.

 

10: The amount in grams of added sugar not to exceed per day.

You may not dump a packet in your coffee or tea, but sugar lurks in not-so-obvious places, like bread and pasta sauce, under names like cane sugar and corn syrup. The American Heart Association posits 25 grams as an upper limit, but Valter Longo, Ph.D., director of the USC Longevity Institute, in Los Angeles, and author of The Longevity Diet (Avery, 2018), suggests this lower level to minimize the sweet stuff’s effects on insulin release. “Sugar can contribute to insulin resistance and fat accumulation,” says Longo. Fill up on vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and other unpackaged foods instead—and when you buy packaged goods, check the labels.

 

13: The number of cancers associated with obesity.

Only 31 percent of Americans know that obesity is a risk factor for cancer at all, according to an American Society of Clinical Oncology survey. But in a 2016 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, being overweight or obese upped the odds for the following types, which make up 42 percent of all cancer diagnoses: breast, colorectal, esophageal, gallbladder, kidney, liver, meningioma, multiple myeloma, ovarian, pancreatic, stomach, thyroid, and uterine. “While the exact mechanisms aren’t known, the impact of excess weight on levels of various hormones, such as estrogen and insulin, is likely key,” says Graham A. Colditz, M.D., a study coauthor and an associate director of prevention and control at the Alvin J. Siteman For more tips on improving your health and wellbeing, visit marthastewart .com/strive. Cancer Center, in St. Louis. Fat tissue also promotes inflammation, another risk factor for cancer. Losing even 5 to 10 pounds can make a difference, Colditz says.

 

20: The number of years before an Alzheimer’s diagnosis that brain changes begin.

The population of Americans living with this disease is expected to more than double by 2050—up to 14 million from 5.7 million today—and most of it will be female, since two-thirds of sufferers are women. The time to take preemptive measures is not in your 60s, but two decades earlier, according to Dale E. Bredesen, M.D., founding president and CEO of the research facility the Buck Institute and author of The End of Alzheimer’s (Avery, 2017). The best defense, per the Alzheimer’s Association, includes exercising regularly, quitting smoking (or better yet, never starting), eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, staying socially engaged, and challenging your brain with puzzles and games.

 

[TRY: 6 Healthy Recipes Starring Grains and Greens]
julienned carrot and kale salad
Photography by: Mikkel Vang

25: Grams of fiber you need to eat daily.

Yet most Americans get only about 16. Fiber is the nondigestible part of a carb that bulks up plant-derived foods. “It swells in the stomach, so you feel full after eating and generally eat less, leading to weight loss,” says Tanya Zuckerbrot, R.D., author of The F-Factor Diet (Tarcher/Perigee, 2018). There are two types, and you need both: The soluble kind (e.g., oatmeal) turns gel-like in the digestive tract, helping lower bloodglucose and cholesterol levels; insoluble fiber (e.g., kale) moves other food through your system. Along with its slimming benefits, a fiber-rich diet can help reduce risk of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and breast and colon cancers. To up your intake, start meals with a salad or vegetable soup.

 

30: The level of lipoprotein A that’s the tipping point for high cholesterol.

Doctors routinely measure the lipoproteins LDL and HDL when they take blood work—but not lipoprotein A, aka Lp(a). If someone in your immediate family has heart disease, or if you have early-onset heart disease (before age 60 for women), ask your doc to include this test, says Stacey E. Rosen, M.D., vice president at the Katz Institute for Women’s Health, in New Hyde Park, New York. While an Lp(a) level over 30 mg/dl is considered abnormal, the risk of heart disease rises over 60 mg/dl, and shoots up between 150 and 300.

 

84: The number in millions of U.S. adults who are prediabetic.

And 90 percent of them don’t know it. Anyone with increased belly size, borderline blood pressure, or a family history of the condition should be tested. The good news: “Diet and lifestyle can reverse prediabetes and prevent diabetes,” says Eliot A. Brinton, M.D., president of the Utah Lipid Center, in Salt Lake City.

woman drinking glass of water
Photography by: Maiwolf/Getty Images

91: Ounces of water you need to drink every day.

It turns out that the long-touted eight-by-eight rule (eight 8-ounce glasses) isn’t quite enough. Add 27 more ounces to maintain health and lower disease risk, according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. To make sipping second nature, carry a reusable water bottle with you and refill often. Juice and fruit count, too.

 

130: The systolic level that signals high blood pressure.

Elevated readings no longer start at 140/90, the previously established threshold. Heart-disease risk now begins when your systolic pressure climbs above 120 mm Hg, and anything over 130 is considered hypertension, per the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association. If you meet this new, lower marker, expect your doctor to recommend lifestyle changes, or in some cases medication. Fortunately, maintaining an ideal body weight, eating a well-balanced diet, limiting salt, managing stress, sleeping enough, and quitting smoking can help bring it down.

 

150: The minimum number of minutes of moderateintensity exercise you need weekly.

Aim for a half hour of activity (a brisk walk and gardening both qualify) five days a week, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

 

400: Milligrams of caffeine you can enjoy daily sans negative side effects.

No need to limit yourself to just one cup of coffee, two to four cups shouldn’t cause insomnia, headaches, or a fast heartbeat, per a recent meta-analysis of caffeine consumption. Plus, every additional serving a week is associated with a lower risk of stroke and heart failure, per a 2017 study—good news for latte lovers.

 

1,000: Milligrams of calcium needed for strong bones.

This is the daily amount the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends for women 50 and younger; older women need 1,200 per day. Reach that goal with foods such as milk (314 milligrams in one cup of 1 percent), yogurt (415 in eight ounces of plain low-fat), tofu (434 in a half-cup), sardines (325 in three ounces), and greens like broccoli rabe (100 in one cup) and chopped kale (177 in one cup).