- Make flexibility, balance training and muscle recovery key parts of any workout regimen.
- Take the three cardiac health tests that your doctor isn’t telling you about.
- Make restful sleep a higher priority
It’s time to revisit a fact we know all too well but frequently ignore: We can’t live our best lives—at work, at home or out in the world—if we don’t take care of our health.
And yet, how often do we fail to be proactive about our health or blow off health-related issues that crop up?
We’re all guilty here, so don’t beat yourself up over it. Instead, commit to taking a few smart steps that can empower and energize you. That way, you’ll have the full engagement necessary to make a major impact on the people you care about most in life—who could be your family, your employees or other people you want to help achieve their best lives.
The good news: It’s not as hard you as might think. Here’s a curated list of four top health ideas for today’s busy high achievers, courtesy of Dan Carlin, MD. One of the nation’s top concierge physicians, Carlin and his practice—WorldClinic—help affluent clients manage their health and get access to top-shelf health solutions 24/7.
Smart move #1: Avoid exercise injuries by going beyond cardio
Whether you exercise regularly or are a weekend warrior, take a lesson from elite athletes: Lay off the cardio-only regime and add some time for flexibility, balance and muscle recovery.
Doing so can lead to better results and, just as important, prevent injuries that can derail your workout routine.
Start with muscle recovery, the primary technique that differentiates elite athletes from typical gym-goers. One common recovery practice is a post-workout cold water immersion, which consists of immersing your limbs (or even your whole body) in 45- to 60-degree water. Cooling fatigued muscles causes blood vessels to constrict, expelling lactic acid and other waste products faster—and thus speeding recovery. If your gym doesn’t have immersion equipment, you can make your own ice bath at home.
Caution: Do CWI for up to six minutes only. Staying in the water longer than that could lower your body temperature to dangerous levels.
Another effective way to head off soreness and stiffness is by incorporating flexibility and balance exercises into your workout time. All muscles extend and contract, and well balanced muscles can stretch and tighten equally well. Many injuries occur when muscles become imbalanced. Example: Soccer players injure their ACLs (knee-stabilizing ligaments) because their hamstrings become so tight from running that their range of motion is limited.
Balance is closely related to flexibility. Just think about how much easier it is to stay stable while squatting on a swaying stability ball when your legs and hips can move freely. In one study* from Victoria University in Australia, balance training—which consists of strengthening exercises on unstable surfaces—was shown to “significantly reduce the recurrence of ankle ligament injuries in soccer, volleyball and recreational athletes.”
Together, flexibility and balance protect your joints and muscles from injuries and tears. Incorporating both into a training program can therefore have a big impact.
- “Dynamic” exercises, or exercises that use multiple muscle groups, such as lunges with a torso twist, can build balance and flexibility along with strength.
- Static stretches, where you hold a limb still in a position that extends a muscle, increase blood flow. But they should be done carefully and after warmups and workouts to avoid overstretching.
* Con Hrysomallis, “Relationship Between Balance Ability, Training and Sports Injury Risk.” Sports Medicine, June 2007, Volume 37, Issue 6.
Smart move #2: Focus on your sleep—without drugs
Many ambitious people see sleep deprivation as a sign of drive and commitment. In reality, few things can make you more powerless.
We have found anecdotally that the most successful people—including the self-made Super Rich, with a net worth of at least $500 million—tend to put a high value on sleep and are quite strict about sticking to a healthy sleep schedule. They know that a well-rested brain is their greatest asset. Good sleep is the key to cognitive fitness and is just as important as diet and exercise for overall health. Not having enough of it can lead to degenerative illnesses, cardiovascular disease and premature death.
To get a truly good night’s sleep consistently, take steps such as:
- Get seven to eight hours every night.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
- Limit exposure to blue light at least one hour before bedtime (by using the “night shift” feature on your iPhone/iPad, for example).
- Get evaluated for sleep apnea if you are a heavy snorer (sleep apnea is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease).
Note: None of these tips and strategies is rocket science. You can implement all of them with relative ease—but you’ve got to make the conscious choice to do so.
Likewise, you’ll improve your sleep habits and outcomes by avoiding actions like these:
- Trying to get by on five or six hours a night and “catch up” by sleeping more than eight hours later.
- Changing your bed and wake times frequently. This leaves your brain perpetually jet lagged.
- Relying on stimulants and/or sedatives to wake up and fall asleep. They interfere with your ability to get truly restorative sleep.
- Drinking alcohol at night.
- Taking hot showers or vigorously exercising within three to four hours of going to sleep.
- Eating within two hours of bedtime.
Warning: You can’t “hack” a good night’s rest with medication. Ambien and other sleep aids actually prevent the restful sleep that allows the brain to function at its peak.
Smart move #3: Take these three heart tests
The standard stress tests to assess cardiac health are good. But these three types of screeners do a better, more thorough job.
- High-sensitivity CRP test. This blood test reveals how much plaque you have throughout your vascular system. If your plaque level doesn’t change, you aren’t enlarging the plaque burden you already have. If the value increases over time, you could be heading for trouble.
- Cardiac myeloperoxidase (MPO) test. This test reflects your risk for the rupture of unstable plaque, which occurs when a cholesterol pocket in the wall of your coronary artery is large enough to spontaneously burst into the artery itself, causing a heart attack.
- PLAC test. This test is like the MPO test, but uses a different mechanism. The PLAC test is very good at assessing whether you are vulnerable to a high-risk plaque rupture.
One or two of these biochemical blood tests can be combined with cardiac calcium scoring (an X-ray of your heart) or a carotid artery Doppler (an ultrasound of the carotid vessels in your neck), minimally invasive exams of your vascular anatomy that show how much plaque is in your coronary arteries. Along with the results of the blood tests, they provide information that can tell you whether the situation is likely to worsen.
You and your doctor can then sort out key issues related to your lifestyle and whether statins (a controversial class of cholesterol-lowering medication) might make a positive difference in your future.
Important: Pay particular attention if the results show that you have obvious plaque and an elevated MPO or PLAC test. If so, you are at higher risk of a serious event. Anyone with such results should be under the care of an attentive physician and have a deliberate but aggressive program to stabilize and arrest plaque formation. Such a program may involve major changes in areas such as diet, stress management, exercise and blood pressure/ blood sugar medications. Of course, the return on that investment can be your life—literally.
Caveat: Don’t be surprised if you don’t hear about these three tests from your physician, as many health insurance plans don’t cover them.
Smart move #4: Take these two nutrients together for better heart health
Want those heart tests results to come back looking strong? Get to know two nutrients:
- Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
These naturally occurring antioxidants are beneficial on their own, but research shows that when combined, their effects can be life-altering.
CoQ10 has been recommended as a supplement for over a decade since it was found to decrease in the body as we age. Selenium is also sold as a supplement with antioxidant properties. Deficiency in this mineral is linked to chronic illnesses such as cancer and diabetes.
Alone, selenium and CoQ10 each can eliminate free radicals—molecular byproducts that cause damage over time to cellular structures. In the heart, that often translates into coronary artery disease and impaired cardiac muscle function.
But their ability to work together reveals a combined effectiveness that is far greater. A Swedish study* examined this combination among people aged 70 to 88. The result was astonishing: a 50 percent decrease in cardiac death risk among those who took a daily combination of selenium and CoQ10!
Bonus: The benefit of the selenium/CoQ10 combination appears to be long-lasting.
- Following the first study, the same researchers tracked the original group for four more years, showing that they had 15 percent fewer inpatient hospital days.
- Ten years later, the original group—most of whom were no longer taking selenium/ CoQ10—continued to experience an almost 50 percent reduction in death rates from heart attack, stroke and congestive heart failure.
Advice: Try to consume the two nutrients through a daily Mediterranean diet. That means oily fish (like tuna and salmon), organ meats (such as liver), whole grains, and unprocessed sunflower seeds and Brazil nuts. Otherwise, a daily selenium/CoQ10 tablet supplement will do. However, if you’re over age 60, consider a slightly modified version of CoQ10, called ubiquinol, that’s more easily absorbed.
We all know that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the old adage goes. Being proactively smart with your exercise routine, your sleep and your heart health today can potentially set you up for decades of amazing results—and an even better life than you thought possible.
*Urban Alehagen, Peter Johansson, Mikael Björnstedt, Anders Rosén, Ulf Dahlström. “Cardiovascular mortality and N-terminal-proBNP reduced after combined selenium and coenzyme Q10 supplementation: A 5-year prospective randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial among elderly Swedish citizens.” International Journal of Cardiology, September 1, 2013, Volume 167, Issue 5.
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VFO Inner Circle Special Report
By Russ Alan Prince and John J. Bowen Jr.
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