If you're not measuring your waist more often than you step on the scale, you didn't get our "waist is more important than weight" message the first 100 times we said it.
Maybe this shocker will do the trick: A big nine-year study recently found that, regardless of weight, not only do older Americans with extra-large waists double their risk of dying sooner, but the link is strongest in normal-weight women!
This news makes our plea more urgent than ever: Size counts. Get out your tape measure.
If your waist is bigger than 37 inches (women) or 40 inches (men), ask yourself three things:
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What's in your fridge? Our guess is that it's stocked with steak and chocolate-chip cookie dough. No? How about sausage pizza and blue-cheese salad dressing? Thought so. You're getting too much saturated fat from somewhere, and it's not from fruits and veggies. Track down foods saturated with fat and toss 'em. You just started losing your belly fat and power-washing your arteries, too.
What's on your "must do" list? It should include walking 10,000 steps a day and doing some strength training 30 minutes a week. No? Buy a pedometer, some stretchy resistance bands or a DVD workout, and get a move on.
How's your stress level? The bigger your waist, the higher your stress. Take five-minute breaks several times a day to do some deep-belly breathing. Releasing tension also will ease stress eating.
The 10-minute workout
You've got 10 minutes to kill before your kid's tuba lesson ends. Will you:
A. Take a quick walk.
B. Catch up on the You Docs column you missed last week.
C. Curl up with a triple-espresso-caramel-macchiato and a blueberry muffin.
We hope you picked A. Not B, because you already read that column, right? And you certainly don't need the fat, sugar and calories in C. Why A, a "quick" walk? In a study so high-tech that it sounds like science fiction, researchers measured 200 compounds in the blood of super-fit runners who'd just run the Boston Marathon and of regular walkers right after they hopped off a treadmill.
The result? Even just 10 minutes of walking altered levels of 20 blood compounds tied to better health, including ones linked to burning fat, controlling blood sugar and cholesterol, building energy and protecting cells from free radical damage.
Walking also moved the needle on compounds the researchers didn't know exercise affected, such as niacinamide, which boosts sensitivity to insulin (a good thing). They found another hidden bonus, too: After a 10-minute walk, you get to enjoy the beneficial changes for up to 60 minutes. (Not surprisingly, the marathoners got more dramatic payoffs.)
Walking for 30 minutes a day is still your magic number. That's the amount you need in order to burn calories and help your heart, as well as get all of these other inner benefits. But on a jam-packed day, each 10 minutes can make a huge difference.
Keep fruits, veggies fresh longer
We're all for the locavore movement. No, that's not a new aerobic dance class. It's a serious commitment to eat food grown locally. But if you lose your mind at the farmers market (raspberries! baby beets!), try these tips for preserving just-picked flavors and rev-you-up vitamins.
Give broccoli, beets, carrots and kale some air. Put them in perforated plastic veggie bags or airy, reusable cotton gauze produce bags (available online). Chill in the vegetable crisper.
Wrap melons and apples. If that lovely melon ripens at room temp too fast, treat it like a baby: Wash, dry and swaddle it in plastic wrap or biodegradable BioFilm (green plastic wrap minus the cling, sold at health-food stores or online), then refrigerate it.
Oops. You bought a bushel of apples for two people? Wrap each apple in newspaper and store in a single layer in a cool, dry, dark place.
Bathe pears. To keep pears from over-ripening and losing nutrients, soak them for up to 15 minutes in a citrus bath: 1 quart water and 1/4 cup orange or lemon juice.
Is a little caffeine OK for moms-to-be?
Is a morning cup of coffee for a bleary mom-to-be the equivalent of smoking a fat cigar or tossing back a martini? The "pregnancy police" (well-intentioned relatives, friends, some books/websites) say yes. But America's most vigilant baby protectors — the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists — now say it's OK for some pregnant women to enjoy a little java. Though they do mean "little."
Lingering does-it-or-doesn't-it questions about caffeine's real role in miscarriages, preterm births and low birth weight for babies led the ACOG to review the evidence. Their reassuring conclusion is that pregnant women may consume no more than 200 mg of caffeine per day, which is about a cup of coffee.
Just stick with no more than one cup of coffee or two cups of black tea a day — and when you say cup, think measuring cup. As in 8 ounces. A medium "cup" from a coffee shop like Starbucks has 16 ounces and 320 mg. Turbo-charge it with a shot of espresso and you've added another 75 mg.
Cola, many other sodas, coffee-flavored ice cream and dark chocolate can have significant amounts of caffeine, too, so keep track to be sure you don't go over 200 mg a day. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy your morning brew guilt-free, while you count down to your Big Day.
Brain pills that work
Wouldn't it be nice if scientists would invent a mental Viagra to give your brain a lift? Several so-called memory management drugs look promising, but why wait? We think you'd be smart to make a pre-emptive strike. Here are our top memory-savers:
Why? The arteries of people who take 162 mg of aspirin a day have a 40 percent slowdown in arterial aging, the major cause of memory loss. Aspirin also may help prevent gunk from building up on your mental wiring.
Who and how much? Men over 35 and women over 40, if your doc agrees, can take 162 mg (two baby aspirin or half a regular aspirin) morning and night. Have a half a glass of warm water before and after to lower the risk of stomach irritation.
2. B vitamins such as B-6, B-12 and folic acid.
Why? Your neurotransmitters — chemicals that ferry messages around your brain — need B vitamins to run efficiently.
Who and how much? Men and women over 18 can take 40 mg of B-6, 800 mcg of B-12, and 400 mcg of folic acid daily. (Count what's in your multivitamin, and don't take too much.)
3. DHA Omega-3s
Why? About 60 percent of our brains are fat, and 50 percent of that is DHA. DHA keeps brain cells young and does repair work. People with mild memory decline saw their brains become three years younger after taking 900 mg a day for just six months.
Who and how much? Men and women over 18 can take 900 mg of algae-based DHA a day.