Crash Program in Anti-Aging

How much younger can you get in 40 days? Three women with common health problems added a total of 17 years to their lives by reinventing their diets, exercise routines and stress management techniques.

By Nancy Stedman
Rosa DaGraca after 40 days
Photograph: Sophie Olmsted

ROSA DAGRACA, 56
HER GOAL: Lower blood pressure, without medication
START: 140/90
FINISH: 128/70
YEARS YOUNGER:  3

A few months ago, ROSA DAGRACA looked like the poster woman for good health. The daughter of Portuguese immigrants, she grew up in Newark, New Jersey, eating a Mediterranean diet—plenty of fish, soups, beans, rice and olive oil—and as an adult she continued to make smart food choices. When the corporation she works for as a merchandising planner opened an on-site gym nine years ago, Rosa started exercising there every work-day at six AM. The svelte divorcée also walked or ran each Saturday and Sunday.

Yet when More first caught up with Rosa, she acknowledged a few health problems in her life, such as an abundance of stress. “I can get 200 e-mails a day at work,” she said. “On days like that, my heart starts racing. Sometimes I’ll notice that my fists are clenched when I’m driving.” Because there’s so much she wants to accomplish—this is a woman who worked two jobs for 12 years to put her son, Patrick, through school—she slept only five to six hours a night. And all that exercising? Turns out you can have too much of a good thing. (More on that later.)

Over the past six or seven years, Rosa’s blood pressure crept up to 144/90, with an occasional spike to 154/90 (120/80 is considered a healthy score). Because high blood pressure, aka hypertension, greatly increases the risks of kidney disease and stroke, among other concerns, her physician prescribed a medication to bring her numbers closer to normal. The drug caused no obvious side effects, but Rosa stopped using it; she wanted a more natural approach. Which is just what Roberta Lee, MD, medical director of the Continuum Center for Health & Healing in New York City, came up with when Rosa joined More’s  antiaging program.

STEP ONE: MANAGE STRESS BETTER
As a mind-body expert, Lee suspected that reducing Rosa’s stress level would also lower her blood pressure. Under the doctor’s direction, Rosa learned how to calm down on the job by visualizing her “happy place” (she imagined a beach) or leaving her desk and walking around the building. Lee also pre-scribed daily sessions on a biofeedback machine called Resperate. Not a cheap gizmo (it sells for $290 on amazon.com), the machine analyzes your breathing patterns and guides you, through aural and musical cues, into slowing down your breathing. Preliminary evidence suggests that using it daily for 15 min-utes can significantly lower blood pressure. Rosa ended up working with the machine four to five nights a week.

STEP TWO: A NEW DIET
Although Rosa already followed a low-fat diet, Health & Healing Center nutritionist Mary Beth Augustine switched her to a more stringent eating plan called DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which was developed by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute specifically for patients with issues such as Rosa’s. (For tips and sample menus, go to nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/index.htm.)

High in plant-based foods (eight to 10 servings a day) and low in red meat, the diet is rich in nutrients that are associated with controlling blood pressure, especially potassium, calcium, magnesium and fiber. Processed and prepared foods, which tend to be high in sodium, are on the “do not eat” list. Re-search shows that within just two weeks, the DASH diet can lower blood pressure in hy-pertensive people by 11.4 points in the top (or systolic) number and 5.5 in the bottom (or diastolic) number.

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