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Enjoy the benefits of green tea and exercise

| Friday, March 16, 2012

Editor's note: Week nine of reporter Judy Kroeger's Highlands Health Challenge.

The Highlands Health Challenge officially ends with a final weigh-in on March 29, but with two weeks to go, I'm feeling better and get to tackle two favorite topics: my favorite drink and how to avoid exercise.

Although St. Patrick's Day is traditionally observed in the United States with vast quantities of green beer, my favorite green beverage is green tea.

I love tea and drink it with no sweeteners nor milk, probably from early imprinting when we lived in Japan when I was young and my dad was in the Army.

Worldwide, only plain water outranks tea as the drink of choice. Boiling water for tea has prevented cholera epidemics from spreading, and tea has less than half the caffeine of coffee. Green tea has about a quarter of the caffeine. Its greenish-golden hue arises because tea leaves are only dried and perhaps cut, not cured or "fermented," in tea lingo, like black and oolong teas. Despite the word "fermentation," tea does not contain alcohol. All tea comes from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. The variety of tea springs from different growing circumstances, processing and blending techniques and added flavors.

This week's health challenge handout contained disturbing statistics. Unlike the rest of the world, Americans don't drink much tea. Soft drinks "account for more than 25 percent of all drinks consumed in the United States. More than 15 billion gallons of soda pop were sold in the U.S. in 2000. This works out to more than one 12-ounce can daily for every man, woman and child. The average can of (sweetened) soda pop has 150 calories and 250 calories in a 20-ounce bottle. The consumption of soda pop has been linked to weight gain and the increased risk of Type 2 diabetes."

The handout continues, "To that we say, go green! As in green tea. Because these leaves aren't fermented like black and oolong teas, they contain the highest concentration of powerful antioxidants called catechins. Studies have shown that drinking green tea is associated with a lower risk of some cancers. Other research suggests that downing multiple cups can lower 'bad' LDL cholesterol and promote weight loss."

Green tea has grown in popularity. A variety of flavored green teas is available in grocery stores, alongside traditional greens. Bigelow, Lipton and other popular brands provide a reliable introduction. Wendy's serves a blend of green and lemon grass that's very refreshing, and Sheetz carries green teas at its self-serve hot beverage counter.

Despite a lifetime of drinking unsweetened tea and not soda, the challenge is teaching that I need to exercise to lose weight. I bike for 30-45 minutes as soon as I get up, pedal for as much time as I can at work and bike after work for another 30 minutes more days than not.

I haven't used my trial membership at the John P. Murtha Wellness Center as much as my husband, Bryan, who has gone almost every day since March 1, but I have reached the point that I feel better if I exercise than if I don't. That's a milestone.

It's all too easy to avoid exercise. For years I achieved expert status by mastering the excuses in another challenge handout: "I'm too tired, too busy, it's inconvenient, and I don't like it."

Not exercising increases fatigue. I've been surprised that I don't need to sleep as much as before. Too busy• I can find lots of ways to waste time. Same with inconvenient. I haven't yet gotten up early enough to visit the wellness center before work, but exercise at home. Bryan goes to the center straight from work.

"I don't like working out." Well, that's still true. If I can stifle that lazy little voice long enough to get started, it goes away, and I do enjoy myself. Stifling that voice has become easier. I also use www.presidentschallenge.org to record exercise and earn awards.

Bryan found a solution to that excuse at the wellness center. He finds the cardio machines boring.

"I couldn't do 30 minutes on the elliptical unless you were there to talk to, so I decided to split it up. I go 15 minutes, then use the weight machines and do another 15 minutes. It's fine," he said.

Experts recommend adults receive 30 minutes of moderate exercise, think brisk walking or riding a bike, five days a week. But it doesn't have to be constant. A 10-minute stroll around the building during a break repeated three times will do it.

I received an email from a woman who lives in a dangerous neighborhood and can't afford a gym membership or exercise equipment: "I get out of breath going upstairs, so made that my exercise. I go up and down the stairs for 10 minutes several times a day. Haven't lost weight yet, but breathe better and will go check out exercise DVDs from the library." You go, girl!

Bryan lost 0.4 of a pound this week for a total loss of 9 pounds. He's been lifting weights, and his clothes fit looser, so he's building muscle.

I lost 4.8 pounds for a total of 9.2. I started at 195 on Jan. 16 and now weigh 185.2. Staying away from vending machine snacks and salty food helped this week, but increasing exercise really made a difference.

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