"The prime minister should use this event to be an example to the public."
By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH
If Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - or anybody else, especially if past 40, overweight and sedentary - wants to avoid a stroke, or a recurrent one, there are plenty of ways to adopt a more healthful lifestyle.
He can walk, reduce stress with deep-breathing exercises, learn Tai-Chi, sip a glass of dry red wine and eat a few squares of bittersweet chocolate, take an afternoon "power nap," eat sea fish several times a week and reduce his salt intake.
This advice comes from the lithe and pedometer-wearing dean of the Hebrew University-Hadassah's Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine and expert on human nutrition and metabolism at the HU Medical Faculty, Elliot Berry.
"The clear message of this cerebrovascular accident is that it's never too late to change one's lifestyle, even at 77. You can notice progress very quickly," Berry said. "The prime minister should use this event to be an example to the public. He can do a great deal to promote public health if he shows Israelis that he has changed his lifestyle. Israelis can learn from this, just as Americans took notice when well-known people got lung cancer, stroke, Alzheimer's or colon cancer."
"The prime minister obviously can't walk the streets of Jerusalem for security reasons," Berry told The Jerusalem Post on Monday, when asked what lifestyle changes Sharon should adopt. "But he can walk the halls of the Knesset surrounded by his security guards, and he is, of course, free to walk a lot at his Sycamore Ranch in the Negev. He should definitely buy a pedometer to ensure that he walks 10,000 steps a day and find more creative ways to walk, such as up steps."
Working out in a gym, especially on a treadmill, would also be a possibility, but "not immediately," Berry said. "Exercise should be gradual as he adopts a less-sedentary lifestyle.
"He should definitely lose weight, but it will probably be difficult for him as he reputedly loves to eat fattening foods. But he certainly should convert some of his body fat into muscle," he added.
Few obese people have low blood pressure, he notes, "and most have hypertension. Walking will bring down blood pressure if Sharon has hypertension, and he should then also cut down his salt intake. For every kilo one loses, you bring down your blood pressure by one point. If you adopt a Mediterranean [DASH] diet with lots of vegetables and fruits, fish, low-fat poultry and high fiber, you can lose weight and lower blood pressure by eight to 14 more points. Regular exercise will lower it even more. It is fortunate that he doesn't smoke."
Someone in Sharon's condition should consume sea fish containing Omega 3, preferably by eating them or, if not, by taking Omega 3 pills. "Walnuts have this oil, but they are also fattening, so he should eat only a few. He doesn't have to be a vegetarian, but he should cut his meat consumption. Maybe he should spend more time eating with his son Gilad, who is thin," he said.
Political leaders are at high risk from stress. "A stroke for them is in fact a work accident, but they can minimize the risk with deep breathing exercises, meditation or anything they can fit into their day," said Berry.
"Tai-Chi would be good too for improving balance and control. Sharon has been serving the public for 50 years, but this mild stroke is a warning light. He must devote half an hour a day to look after his own health, even if he has to reschedule things. A short nap in the afternoon would be beneficial. He might do well to hire a personal lifestyle adviser."
Meanwhile, promoters of the current National Stroke Awareness Month, who aroused little attention from journalists before Sunday, are now basking in the limelight. They note that their Web site, www.stroke.co.il, provides much information about strokes, which send 15,000 Israelis to hospitals and are the cause of 20 percent of all deaths each year. Lifestyle changes and taking certain medications prescribed by one's doctor can greatly reduce the risk of stroke.