Health & Fitness

Health tips from 2010 to heed in 2011

These are some of the most important health tips we gave you in 2010. We'd repeat them to you every day if you lived next door.

Learn about heart attacks

For better or worse, things rarely happen in real life the way they do in Hollywood. Heart attacks are no exception. Learning about them may save your life:

1. You might not feel any chest pain. The heart itself doesn't have pain receptors. But nerves coming from the heart may trigger nerves in, say, the chest or arm. Or not. Instead, you may notice unusual or extreme fatigue, atypical or prolonged disturbances in your sleep patterns, shortness of breath, indigestion or even pressure, tightness, aching or burning in your upper back, neck, shoulders, arms or even in your jaw or throat.

2. Cholesterol doesn't tell you much. Just one cholesterol number — total cholesterol — doesn't tell you everything you need. Better to know how much is artery-clogging lousy LDL (should be less than 100) and how much healthy HDL you have (should be higher than 50).

3. Cholesterol isn't the only number to watch. High blood pressure is a huge heart-attack risk factor, and is even more powerful than LDL. Your blood pressure should be 115/76 or lower.

4. Women are as vulnerable as men. The risk of dying from heart disease isn't just a guy thing.

5. What's on your mind really matters. Anxiety is hard on your heart. So hard, in fact, that highly anxious people with heart disease are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack or die compared with their more mellow-minded peers.

Bad news about a common sweetener

Following the news about whether high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is bad for you or not is a lot like watching professional table tennis: You could get whiplash trying to keep up.

However, many of the favorable studies are from HFCS manufacturers or associations, and we don't think their data is great. Besides, there's growing evidence that avoiding this el cheapo sugar replacement could help you avoid heart disease, stroke and diabetes, not to mention wrinkles and impotence.

In a groundbreaking 2010 study, a third of people consuming 200 grams of HFCS a day — what you'd get in seven 20-ounce bottles of soda — developed metabolic syndrome in two weeks. Yes, two weeks. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of disorders that sets you up for heart, brain, gonad, skin and kidney trouble.

We're sure you'd probably never swig that much soda, but teens average 73 grams of HFCS a day, and most people take in about 55 grams, mainly from the HFCS in sweet drinks, desserts and candy, which your body absorbs in a flash. The fructose in fruit, by contrast, gets absorbed slowly and safely. (Side note: HFCS also might contribute to obesity by interfering with "I'm full" brain signals.)

Avoiding HFCS is about as easy as avoiding "Desperate Housewives" reruns. The stuff is everywhere, from salad dressings and honey mustard sauce to yogurt and muffins. So keep it simple: Check the label: If HFCS is in the first five ingredients, drop it like a hot rock.

An investment that buys you 35 years

Want to get in on the ground floor of a knock-your-socks-off investment opportunity? The investment: 30 minutes of exercise a day. The return? An extra nine quality years.

Fit people in their 50s are twice as likely to celebrate their 85th birthday than their un-fit classmates. Even better, "fit" doesn't require climbing Mount Everest or doing Ironman triathlons. All you need is a half-hour of physical activity a day plus some strength training. If you've been sitting on the sidelines, adopt this three-part plan as your stay-young investment account:

Step 1: Walk for 30 minutes every day. Make a daily, brisk, half-hour walk your first fitness goal. Get a buddy, and you'll get younger two ways — companionship and the walk. Or walk three times a day for 10 minutes. Aim for consistency. Can't find 10 minutes? Then you need a course in managing your time.

Step 2: Sweat. After 30 days of daily walking, step things up. Add something sweaty one hour a week: Take an exercise class; bike; hike up hills. Go to the health club you joined. A great predictor of how long and well you're going to live is how well you can exercise your heart and how fast it recovers from a maximum interval.

Step 3: Build strength. Find an extra 30 minutes a week — in one session or not — to build muscle by lifting weights.

No time? Do walking meetings. And turn up the intensity when sweeping, mopping, lawn-mowing, walking the dog or gardening to make you younger and give you more energy.

Best way to lose belly fat? Sleep more

Nobody diets to look more like Homer Simpson (d'oh!). So to be sure the weight you're losing is mostly squishy fat — not lean, calorie-torching muscle — take out this night-time insurance policy: Say goodnight to Jimmy Kimmel and the Weather Channel, and spend more time under the covers.

In a provocative new 2010 study, dieters who slept 8.5 hours a night lost twice as much fat and held on to nearly twice as much muscle as those who scraped by on 5.5 hours of slumber.

While everybody lost the same amount of weight, the well-rested group hit the jackpot, because lean muscle looks far sleeker than fat. Plus, the more muscle you've got on board, the better, since muscle is a metabolic engine that burns more calories round the clock. And that makes it easier for you to keep the weight off. Fact: By the end of the study, the long sleepers were burning an extra 114 calories per day (that's about 10 pounds a year)!

While the magic sleep number for most of us is six to eight hours, when you're on a diet, a long night's sleep seems to persuade your body to burn fat as its preferred fuel. Getting plenty of sleep also keeps the hunger hormone ghrelin in check, so you're less tempted to steal the doughnuts hidden in back of the freezer.