Celebrity Spotlight: Nancy O’Dell

NANCY O’DELL is one busy woman. In addition to being the co-host for the syndicated television show Entertainment Tonight since 2011, she’s also a journalist, wife, mother, author and entrepreneur. She recently added designer to her list of
credits debuting her clothing line, The Nancy O’Dell Collection, with EVINE Live. A huge passion of Nancy’s is her philanthropy work; she currently serves as the spokesperson for ALS.net, a Global Ambassador for the Special Olympics, and an Honorary Board Member for Best Buddies. But even with her busy schedule, Nancy finds time to exercise regularly (she’s an avid runner) and eat a healthy diet. She has always been very active, so it came as a big surprise when Nancy was diagnosed with high cholesterol. My Hometown Health recently talked to the Daytime Emmy Award winner to find out how she’s fighting back against high cholesterol, and winning!

When did you first learn you had high cholesterol?
The first time I ever heard I had high cholesterol was in high school. It was such a surprise as I played every sport under the sun, I was a beanpole, and I was so young. I knew my mom and dad both had high cholesterol so I knew it was a possibility, but I just didn’t expect it because of my lifestyle. Because I was a teen and it wasn’t that high, my doctor said he wasn’t worried about it back then. But then I got my cholesterol results from a 2013 routine physical. My total blood cholesterol was 228, which means I have a higher risk for heart disease. Ideally, your total cholesterol should be less than 200.

What was your reaction when you found out?
I was really shocked because I thought I had my cholesterol under control. As I mentioned, high cholesterol runs in my family. My cholesterol levels were slightly high when I attended college. My sister, Karen, also has high cholesterol. As a result, I have always been very conscientious about doing the right things to keep my cholesterol low—eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise. Obviously, I needed to do more.

What steps did you take to lower your cholesterol?
My doctor told me if I didn’t decrease my cholesterol levels, I might need to start taking a statin drug, which lowers your cholesterol. That was not an option I wanted to take, so I was extremely motivated to do what my doctor recommended: increase my aerobic physical exercise even more and make some healthy changes to my diet.

How did you change your diet?
I really increased my intake of fiber, eating more whole-grain bread and pasta, fruits and vegetables. I even added fiber capsules to my diet, taking four a day. Oatmeal, fish, avocados, walnuts, almonds and nuts are also important parts of any diet if you want to lower your cholesterol. I don’t eat a lot of fish so I never forget my Fish Oil capsule in the morning either. I think that has helped a lot and I also take a flax seed supplement. So these are all natural things I have done.

What about exercise? How do you find the time given your busy schedule?
For me, early morning is the best time to exercise. I’m just too busy during the day. And if I wait until evening, I’m just too tired and I’d much rather spend that time with my family and prepare a healthy dinner. I’m on the treadmill for an hour starting at 5:00 a.m. when my family is asleep. Of course, there are mornings when exercising is the last thing I want to do. But by watching a television show or a movie, the time goes by quickly.
I also use a heart rate monitor when I exercise. I make sure I keep my heart rate up to at least 130, but I try to go even higher than that and usually I keep it up more towards 150. That way I know I am getting the aerobic exercise I need for the cholesterol. The heart rate monitor is a great tool to know how long I’ve worked out and how many calories I’ve burned. I’ve discovered that simple pleasures like playing tag with my children can burn just as many calories as a workout.

Have these lifestyle changes made a difference?
Yes! When I went back to see my doctor, my cholesterol levels were significantly lower. My total cholesterol was at 206, down tremendously. I had also increased my good cholesterol (HDL) up to 68 in the excellent category and I had lowered my bad cholesterol down to 117 from 148!
My doctor and I were both very excited with the progress I had made…naturally. Still, I realize that I can’t let up now. So I’ve made a commitment to practice heart-healthy habits for the rest of my life. It’s so important for all women to take the time to take care of themselves. A few years ago, when I was caring for my mother as she battled ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), I failed to take care of myself as well. I didn’t exercise regularly and my diet wasn’t very healthy. I realized then that I needed to take care of myself if I wanted to really be there to help and support my family.

Do you have any final thoughts?
First, I encourage people to have their cholesterol checked on a regular basis—every five years is recommended. High cholesterol can really sneak up on you if you’re not careful because there are no warning signs for high cholesterol. When I learned I had high cholesterol, my blood pressure and glucose levels were healthy.

Finally, many women don’t realize that heart disease is the number one threat to their health, killing 31 times more women in the United States than breast cancer. But the good news is that 80 percent of heart disease is preventable. Just making a few lifestyle changes can make a big difference in your cholesterol numbers. It sure did for me!