55 PLUS - So your number's up? Here's what to do about it:

Whether that number is blood sugar, high cholesterol or excess weight, diet and exercise are keys to improving it.

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You just got the test results back and your doctor said your numbers aren't good. The bad cholesterol is up, the good is low. Glucose is up, and so is your blood pressure. Feeling scared, you go home and wonder what to do to improve.

"Depending on how scared you are," said Dr. Michael Breland at Providence St. Mary Medical Center. "It's diet, diet, diet. The mantra is fruit, vegetables, low fat, grains and exercise. We've always heard that fruits and vegetables are good for you and now we have scientific data as to why they work."

Fruits and vegetables have substances in them, known as sterols, that naturally compete with cholesterol for absorption, Dr. Breland said. "And if you eat the whole fruit, they contain water-soluble fiber." That type of fiber helps decrease sugar absorption and affects the liver's secretion of cholesterol.

"Food done correctly is medicine," he said. In food choices, you've got good medicine and not-so-good medicine. Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat and the carbohydrates take longer to get into the bloodstream than processed sugar.

With processed sugar, he said, "Bang. It's in your system." Right afterward there's a let down and then more hunger. Other foods, such as pasta are metabolized into sugar in the bloodstream more slowly, rather than all at once.

Maybe you have a plan for food choices. There are plenty of different claims for types of diets: Adkins, South Beach, and others. "'My diet can beat up your diet.'" Breland said, summing up the confusion regarding competing diets on the market.

"You have to look beyond all the hype," he added. "A certain diet will fit a certain person, based on lifestyle and genetics."

In the results from your blood tests, he said blood sugar is number one. According to Dr. Breland, take care of the glucose reading first. "Diabetes changes your metabolism so much," he said. If you get diagnosed with diabetes, that will stress everything else. But you can take control of your health. "Walking just 10 minutes a day can lower blood sugar, lower cholesterol and increase the good cholesterol," he said. "Think of food as medicine and exercise as medicine."

To a certain degree, your body knows what it needs. Learn to read labels. Start with the calories and as you educate yourself, look at fats and transfats. "A balanced diet will prevent cravings, that's a big psychological advantage. A big part of it is to have people around you that want to do the same thing. Walk as a family outing, take healthy snacks and water with you." A family focus on health can help kids and grandkids. The solutions can be common sense and fun for everyone involved.

"The program I developed had them use a pedometer for a week. Put it on and every night note the number. Then try to increase it 10 percent. Little bits mean a lot. Do it slowly, be careful of your joints. If you're not sure what you can do, start slowly." He suggests a 10 minute walk. Set aside 10 minutes and walk until you feel tired, rest, then walk back. "Work on your blood sugar and your cholesterol will come down. Change your diet and exercise and your cholesterol will come down."

"In preparing for your walk, make sure you have decent shoes, don't go out with flip flops," Breland said. He suggests an exercise bag that you can grab on your way out. It could include a hat, snack and water. "If you feel woozy, you've got a snack and a cell phone so you can call for help. It doesn't have to be complicated. You can walk in front of your house. If you get tired, you can go in. And fruits and vegetables, they really are good for you. It's medicine light with no side effects."

He suggests finding a reliable website to research information; one of his favorites is the Mayo Clinic website: mayoclinic.com.

Dr. Breland said we have to see the bad effects of diet and health to get our culture to change. "It's a generational change. People in high school now, when they are 40 years old are going to be teaching their kids, it's going to be very different. For the 20-something generation, career is not the most important thing in the world. Maybe it's health and happiness." It takes time to change.

Many of those sentiments were echoed by Personal Trainer Chris Zagelow. She added, "The number one cause of bad health in our country is anger and high belly fat."

Zagelow suggested the best way to start to improve your numbers and walk a healthier path is to, "Start slowly, then gradually add things. Even in a weight room, go gradually. Make sure they warm up and stretch; and cool down and stretch. It's like starting your car on a cold morning." She said we often treat our cars much better than we treat our bodies. "And stay positive, give yourself credit for all the things you've accomplished and use positive affirmations."

Karlene Ponti can be reached by calling 509-526-8324 or by e-mail at karleneponti@wwub.com.

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