Q: I'm done with holiday partying, hanging with friends, drinking and spending more than I should! I want to get healthy again. What now? — Willie F., Atlanta
A: Hold on a minute, before you give up too much! Hanging with friends, drinking (in moderation) and being generous are actually good for you! And if you want to get healthy, they're a pretty good place to start.
Seeing friends regularly for a walk around the neighborhood (make a pact to do it three days a week) or enjoying afternoon tea together actually makes you healthier. Feeling connected boosts oxytocin levels, and that builds bonds. Plus, the release of oxytocin is contagious, so you spread the cheer. That reduces your responses to stressful events (such as overeating or drinking too much) and builds a network of support that's key for emotional health.
Having a drink or two most days benefits your cardiovascular system (if alcohol isn't risky because of a pre-existing condition or alcoholism). Men 29 to 69 who are moderate drinkers (two a day) lower their risk for heart disease by 30 percent — and women who are moderate drinkers (one a day) also protect their heart and are less likely to be overweight than nondrinking girlfriends. Plus, it boosts immune strength (at least it did in a study of rhesus monkeys, which have immune systems similar to humans').
Q: I'm on high blood pressure meds, and my reading is always around 148/85. Now the news says that if I'm below 150/90 I don't have to worry about it. Can I stop taking my meds?
— Stan G., Austin, Texas
A: Stan, don't stop taking blood pressure medications suddenly — you could suffer a rebound that knocks you off your feet. Talk to your doctor about any adjustments.
And there have been a lot of reports about new hypertension treatment guidelines. But did you know that those guidelines, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, haven't been endorsed by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which established the review panel that issued them? So, we're going to tell you what the guidelines say, and then give you our recommendations for handling high blood pressure.