Get a fresh start in 2010! Our PARADE month of makeovers will help you with everything from finances to family. This week, we kick things off with your health. To inspire you, Kaley Cuoco and Johnny Galecki, stars of the hit CBS sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” joined PARADE Contributing Editor Dr. Mark Liponis for a three-day stay at Canyon Ranch Health Resort, where he is the medical director. They were game for some healthy changes. Are you?
Kaley and Johnny are both young and healthy, but they wanted to look and feel even better. So on a brief hiatus recently from shooting their TV show, they visited me in Lenox, Mass. Over a period of three days, we ran tests to check everything from cholesterol to bone density to blood sugar, then gave them advice on health, nutrition, and fitness. Through it all, Kaley and Johnny were great sports. They agreed to share their experiences so that others could benefit from what they learned, too.
As actors living in Hollywood, Kaley and Johnny have pretty similar lifestyles these days. But their childhoods were very different, and their backgrounds continue to shape their health—not just through genetics but also through the lessons they learned from their parents. Many factors affect your physical condition, and family background is one of them.
HANDLE STRESS BETTER
Kaley, 24, grew up in a tight-knit family that valued healthy eating and exercise. When stressed, she’s likely to get active—playing with her dogs or riding one of the horses she’s had since childhood.
Johnny, 34, grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood outside Chicago. At 15, he left home and headed to L.A. on his own. Now when he’s stressed, Johnny tends to reach for a cigarette or an unhealthy snack. To help him learn better ways to cope, we hooked him up to a biofeedback monitor, which works much like a lie-detector test. “Sensors measure a person’s physical reaction to stress, and the results appear on a computer screen in real time,” explains my colleague Dr. Jeff Rossman. “ Johnny’s testing showed a strong physiologic response to stress, but he was able to control it using some simple breathing and visualization exercises.” Johnny says the experience helped him realize that “it’s important to take time for myself and decompress. I like to immerse myself in my work, but I need balance in my life.”
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SAVE YOUR JOINTS
Kaley is in excellent physical shape, but her posture is her Achilles’ heel. “It’s true,” she says. “I told the doctors that my back hurts when I slouch, and they said, ‘No, your back hurts because you slouch!’” To help her with the problem, physical therapist and physiologist Reba Schecter analyzed Kaley’s carriage and movement.
“Kaley often has pain in her neck and hips, which could be improved by being more mindful of her posture and doing some simple exercises,” Schecter says. Additionally, her ankles are rotated slightly inward—a skeletal problem she’s had since childhood—which can be corrected with custom inserts (orthotics) in her shoes. We were happy to catch this now, because if left uncorrected it could cause serious joint problems later in life.
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Schecter helped the actress get comfortable with the feeling of good posture—shoulders back, head up, chin in, and spine straight. “Kaley learned how to take the strain out of her neck by shifting her posture,” Schecter says. “She really got the hang of it and felt better almost immediately.” Kaley agrees. “Standing straight helps me look taller and more confident,” she says. “ That’s really cool.”
GET THE RIGHT NUTRIENTS
Both Kaley and Johnny have struggled with food in the past, so they met with nutritionist Chrissy Wellington to assess their eating habits. Before she began working with her own nutritionist several years ago, Kaley felt like she was constantly grappling with her weight, despite being hungry all the time. She now “grazes” throughout the day to avoid feeling hungry and makes notes about what she eats to stay in control. “It’s an everyday battle for me,” she says. “I need guidelines.”
Johnny has been through several crash diets to slim down for roles, and we saw the effects in his bone-density scores, which were slightly lower than normal. (Smoking also decreases bone density.) These days, Johnny is eating much better. He has become a vegetarian for the most part, though he still eats fish. And he has made other sacrifices, too. “I stopped drinking soda about six weeks ago,” he says. “I wanted to make a new health change, so that’s what I picked.” Wellington applauded him for that but encouraged him to make sure he has breakfast every morning. Eating right after you wake up kick-starts your energy and metabolism and sets a healthy tone for the rest of the day.
Kaley’s and Johnny’s blood tests looked good overall, though Kaley has an elevated level of a hereditary form of “very bad” cholesterol known as lipoprotein(a), which diet and the addition of a B vitamin can help control. Surprisingly for a guy who lives in sunny Southern California, Johnny is severely deficient in vitamin D. We recommended that he get out of the studio and into the sun more often, and that he take a vitamin-D3 supplement daily. Actually, that’s good advice for many people.
PLAN A HEALTHY NEW YEAR
At the end of our long weekend together, Kaley, Johnny, and I reviewed their health plans for the coming year. Kaley’s main goals are to improve her posture and lower her levels of lipoprotein(a). She’ll continue to exercise and watch what she eats.
Johnny, who’s been hooked on cigarettes for 20 years, needs to quit smoking. His lungs already show mild but significant damage. “After talking to the doctors and undergoing lung-capacity tests, it became clear to me that I smoke too much,” he says. “That’s one of the things I was worried about. But I’ve been cutting way, way down, and hopefully I’ll continue to wean myself off cigarettes until I’m smoke-free. It’s definitely time.” Johnny is also a terrible snorer and likely has a condition called sleep apnea, which means he stops breathing periodically throughout the night. He could probably benefit from a complete sleep study. But for now he’s planning to practice meditation and exercise more. “I need to look at how to best sustain a healthy lifestyle over a long period of time,” he says.
After their checkups, Kaley and Johnny had a lot of information to process, but they felt relieved and inspired to make healthier choices in the future. Empower yourself to do the same. Start by talking with your doctor about any concerns you may have, and then determine what you need to work on going forward. Make 2010 your healthiest, happiest year yet.
How do you compare?
Health Measurement Kaley Johnny Desired Range Your Score
Body-mass index (BMI) 19.9 24.4 Less than 25
Body fat 22.4% 25.1% Less than 25%
Bone density 92% 88% 100%
Cholesterol 182 203 Less than 200
HDL (“good”) cholesterol 62 63 Over 50
LDL (“bad“) cholesterol 97 119 Less than 100
Lp(a) (“very bad”) cholesterol 12 6 Less than 10
Triglycerides 119 118 Less than 150
Vitamin D 32.4 13.4 32–100
Blood sugar (A1c level) 5.6% 5.6% Less than 6%
Blood Pressure 90/60 110/70 Below 130/80
Your Own Health Makeover
Small steps can make a big difference in your health.
Get a complete checkup. Ask your doctor to help you fill in the above chart. Knowing your numbers tells you the areas in which you need to improve.
De-stress. Try 10 minutes of meditation or yoga. Simple stretches can loosen tense muscles in the neck, back, and legs. Or blow off steam by exercising, dancing—even relaxing in a hot bath.
Stand up straight. If you’re a sloucher like Kaley, start by taking a look at yourself in a full-length mirror. Good posture balances the head directly above the neck and a straight spine. Try standing against a wall—the back of your head should be about an inch away, and your shoulder blades and buttocks should touch the wall.
Eat breakfast. Start the day right with fruit, a whole-grain, high-fiber cereal, and a source of protein such as soy milk, eggs, or a protein-powder smoothie.
Take your vitamins. Like Johnny, many of us are deficient in vitamin D and need a D3 supplement. Talk with your doctor.
Stay fit. Make exercise a part of your routine. Just 30 to 40 minutes of physical activity a day will help you stay fit for life.
Watch CBS’s The Early Show on Monday, 7–9 a.m., for more health advice from Dr. Liponis