Time to eat right, exercise

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Editor’s note: Reporter Amy Gillentine is participating in a six-month preventive medicine program. She will chronicle her experience here and online in a special Health Track blog at CSBJ.com.

As promised, I took the first step in getting healthier this weekend.

I went to the first screening of the Healthy Neighborhood collaboration between the Old North End Neighborhood Association and Penrose-St. Francis Health Services.

The screening took about an hour. I was weighed — with clothes and shoes on, which I think is unfair — measured, poked and prodded by cheerful volunteers from Well Centers. They were nice, professional and very non-judgmental.

So the good news — weight, waist circumference and blood pressure are all within healthy ranges. I am more flexible than 60 percent of people my age, and haven’t lost any bone mass, something women need to watch as they get older.

The bad news — I could stand to lose a little bit of weight and my cholesterol level is 197. A cholesterol level of 200 or more is considered to be high. My HDL cholesterol or good cholesterol, is below 50, which means watching more closely what I eat, and exercising more.

In the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t been exercising as I should. And I have really good excuses for that: the cold weather; I’m a single mother of two, and life has been especially hectic lately. But excuses won’t cut it anymore, so armed with these new numbers, I will have to make some small but permanent lifestyle changes.

The coach I was assigned to, Mary Bailey, couldn’t have been nicer.

I grew up in Mississippi and my idea of nutritious eating involves barbecue and fried catfish. But Mary gave me a few easy tips to start changing the way I eat (and get those cholesterol numbers to a lower level.)

And surprisingly, it’s seems easy to do.

Step one: use a smaller plate and fill it up with colorful veggies — the more colors, the better. As she said, “the meat should be a condiment, and the veggies the main meal.”

Because I’m interested in lowering those cholesterol numbers, I should limit “food with a face,” except for fish. Limit chicken, turkey and beef, she said.

Shop the grocery store at the perimeters — where the fresh vegetables and fruits are. Stay away from the processed food in the middle.

Eat whole grains. Whole grain bread and pasta can add fiber to your diet, without adding a lot of calories.

Cut back on dairy products. “Most women think they need dairy for calcium, but not necessarily. They can choose another kind of food that’s high in calcium.

And the big one — the one that’s going to take some planning to fit into my schedule — exercise. I’ve joined the YMCA and will go do “something” four times a week. I’m not sure what yet, but I hope to mix it up with group classes and use the cardio machines.

So far, I’ve used the elliptical machine, lifted weights and taken a Zumba class.

In the summer, I’m outdoors a lot — hiking, backpacking, camping with the kids. In the winter, I ski, but don’t really like to exercise in the cold and the wind. So I’m going to the gym until it’s warmer.

Amy Gillentine covers health care for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.