Heidi Godman

Heidi Godman is the executive editor of the Harvard Health Letter. Before coming to the Health Letter, she was an award-winning television news anchor and medical reporter for 25 years. Heidi is a journalism fellow of the American Academy of Neurology, and has been honored by the Associated Press, the American Heart Association, the Wellness Community, and other organizations for outstanding medical reporting. She is most proud of a government proclamation for her efforts to secure health insurance for less fortunate children. Heidi holds a bachelor of science degree in journalism from West Virginia University.

Posts by Heidi Godman

Heidi Godman

Making peace with holiday buffets

Overeating during the holidays is practically a tradition. But overindulging can lead to weight gain, fatigue, and guilt. There are several tactical strategies you can employ to get you through the season of eating. Plan ahead: Find out when you’ll be eating, and plan your day around the meal; if you can bring a dish for the buffet, bring something healthy. At the buffet: Grab a salad plate instead of a dinner plate, and choose wisely; don’t waste calories on foods that aren’t special. At the table: Pace yourself by taking small bites, chewing slowly, and sipping water in between bites. Slowing down helps your brain get the message that you’re full. If all else fails: Don’t beat yourself up. Just get back to a healthy eating plan as soon as possible.

Heidi Godman

Adopt a Mediterranean diet now for better health later

It’s been a big year for the Mediterranean diet. Convincing evidence published in 2013 has shown that this kind of eating pattern is effective at warding off heart attack, stroke, and premature death. While you probably get the biggest payoff by adopting such a diet early in life, a new study shows that doing it during midlife is good, too. In the study, women who followed a healthy diet during middle age were about 40% more likely to live past the age of 70 without chronic illness and without physical or mental problems than those with less-healthy diets. The healthiest women were those who ate more plant foods, whole grains, and fish; ate less red and processed meats; and had limited alcohol intake. That’s typical of a Mediterranean-type diet, which is also rich in olive oil and nuts.

Heidi Godman

For borderline underactive thyroid, drug therapy isn’t always necessary

A slowdown in the output of the thyroid gland can cause many problems, ranging from extreme fatigue and depression to intolerance to cold, weight gain, dry skin, and dry hair. Millions of Americans have an underactive thyroid, a condition known as hypothyroidism. The symptoms can usually be controlled with a daily dose of synthetic thyroid hormone called levothyroxine. Who actually benefits from taking levothyroxine is being called into question. New evidence suggests that many people with borderline hypothyroidism may be taking this medication unnecessarily.

Heidi Godman

Two questions can reveal mobility problems in seniors

The hottest trend in mobility right now is not a smart phone or wireless gadget. The mobility that’s making health headlines is the kind that let us do what we need to do: walk and move. Mobility is essential for getting through the day, whether you need to walk across a room to the bathroom or kitchen, get out of bed or a chair, or walk through a grocery store. Loss of mobility, which is common among older adults, has profound social, psychological, and physical consequences. The cascade of negative effects that comes with immobility can often be prevented or limited. Two questions can help determine if someone is having mobility issues.

Heidi Godman

Above-normal blood sugar linked to dementia

There are many reasons to keep your blood sugar under control: protecting your arteries and nerves are two of them. Here’s another biggie: preventing dementia, the loss of memory and thinking skills that afflicts millions of older Americans. A study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that even in people without diabetes, above normal blood sugar is associated with an increased risk of developing dementia. The study does not prove that high blood sugar causes dementia, only that there is an association between the two. For that reason, don’t start trying to lower your blood sugar simply to preserve your thinking skills, cautions Dr. Nathan. There’s no evidence that strategy will work, although he says it should be studied. But it is still worth keeping an eye on your blood sugar. Excess blood sugar can lead to diabetes and a variety of other health problems, including heart, eye, kidney, and nerve disease.

Heidi Godman

Checking blood pressure at home pays off

Do-it-yourselfers, take heart. Here’s something else to do at home that can have a substantial benefit on your health: measure your blood pressure. It’s easy, inexpensive, and helps control blood pressure better than visits to the doctor. The latest evidence for the benefits of home blood pressure monitoring comes from researchers in Minnesota. In a 12-month clinical trial, 72% of those doing home monitoring had their blood pressure under control compared to 57% who received usual care. The benefits persisted six months after the program had ended. Anyone can monitor blood pressure at home. You can buy a good home blood pressure monitor at a pharmacy or online merchant for anywhere from $50 to $100. Some insurance companies cover the cost.

Heidi Godman

Move over Mediterranean—a vegetarian diet is equally good for health

The Mediterranean diet has been getting a lot of press as being the very best for health. But there’s another diet that appears to be equally good: a vegetarian diet. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who ate a vegetarian diet were 12% less likely to have died over the course of the five-year study than nonvegetarians. The benefits were especially good for men, who had a significant reduction in heart disease. This study underscores the idea that meat consumption influences long-term health, and not in a good way. Should you consider ditching the Mediterranean diet and becoming a vegetarian instead? Either one is healthier than the typical American diet, so it’s really a matter of personal choice.

Heidi Godman

Extra protein is a decent dietary choice, but don’t overdo it

Adding more protein to the diet and cutting back on carbohydrates, especially highly processed carbs, is an eating strategy adopted by a growing number of people. A new study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that 43% of women surveyed are using the practice of eating more protein to prevent weight gain, and this strategy was associated with weight loss. It isn’t necessary to eliminate all carbohydrates and focus only on protein. Such an eating strategy may have a short-term payoff for weight loss, but it may also come with some long-term risks. Tips for getting a healthful mix of nutrients include adding the healthful trio of fat, fiber, and protein to each meal; avoiding highly processed foods; and choosing the most healthful sources of protein, such as fish, poultry, eggs, beans, legumes, nuts, tofu, and low-fat or non-fat dairy products.

Heidi Godman

Which is better for keeping your mind fit: physical or mental activity?

Physical and mental activities are both important for protecting your thinking skills and warding off dementia. But does one trump the other? A study published yesterday in JAMA Internal Medicine tried to tease out if one was better than the other for brain health. Researchers recruited 126 older adults who felt that their memory or thinking skills had recently gotten worse, and divided them into four groups. All were asked to do an hour of mental activity three times a week and an hour of physical activity three times a week. What differed were the intensities of these activities. After 12 weeks, scores on thinking tests improved across the board. The big surprise was that there weren’t any real differences in improvement between the groups. The researchers concluded that the amount of activity is more important for stimulating the brain than the type of activity, because all of the participants both exercised and engaged in mental activities each week.

Heidi Godman

Your well-being: more than just a state of mind

Americans are a diverse lot, so it’s no surprise they give different answers when asked about their well-being. But it seems that well-being differs from state to state, too. In the latest Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which gauges the physical and emotional health of people in all 50 states, residents of Hawaii reported the best sense of overall well-being while West Virginia residents reported the worst. The index calculates overall well-being based on six quality of life categories, each of which is made up of several components. Poll respondents in Hawaii had the highest scores in the emotional health and work environment indexes, and were most likely to say they were thriving. People in West Virginia were most likely to say they were not thriving, and had the worst emotional health, the worst health habits, the most diagnoses of depression, and high rates of obesity. People in the other 50 states fell in between. It’s possible to change both emotional and physical well-being, and improve happiness.