Hypertension. High cholesterol. Diabetes. These medical conditions plague our people in record numbers—in fact, they are so common, we tend to think in terms of when we’ll be diagnosed, not if. “That might lead you to believe they’re inevitable, but nothing could be further from the truth,” says Mehmet Oz, M.D., host of The Dr. Oz Show and a vice-chair and surgery professor at Columbia University.
You’re never too old—or too young—to benefit from a healthy makeover, but don’t panic: You don’t have to jump into a strict diet and exercise routine to reduce your risk factors or improve an existing condition.
The following lifestyle changes can help you get it together in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond.
In Your 20s:Say no to salt.
The major food factor for hypertension is salt, says Dr. Oz. “Where salt goes, water will follow. Think of your blood vessels as a hose: the more water in the hose, the greater the pressure.” Replace all that salt with flavorful mixed herbs—oregano, peppers and Indian blends. Another salt-free substitute: capsaicin-based sauces, which add a spicy kick and provide a bonus benefit: “Capsaicin reduces your appetite.” Capsaisin is found in chile peppers, the common ingredient in most hot sauces.
Cut back on processed and take-out foods, opting instead for fresh food when possible. “Ninety percent of the salt we eat comes from processed foods,” says Dr. Oz. And watch your intake of the “salty six,” common foods often loaded with extra salt: bread, cold cuts, pizza, poultry, such as chicken nuggets, soups and prepared sandwiches. Read the labels.
In Your 40s:Move your body.
A 2009 study found that the cholesterol-lowering effects of exercise were more significant for middle-aged African-American women than White women—a good reason to get your workout on, regardless of your gender. that doesn’t mean you have to join a gym: “The thing that people who live a long time have in common is regular activity,” says Dr. Oz. “It’s a part of their day—walking to work, taking the stairs—they’re in environments where physical activity is mandatory.” If fashionably fierce footwear is your norm, carry sneakers to work and slip them on whenever you have to do extensive or strenuous walking.