Friday, March 6, 2015

Are You Getting a Good Night’s Sleep?

There’s nothing I love more on a frigid winter night than snuggling up in thick flannel pajamas and diving into bed under a heavy down quilt. But it turns out that I may be treating myself to too much of a good thing.

Sleep experts say that in order to get a good night’s sleep, your body needs to stay relatively cool. Otherwise, even though you may fall asleep, you wind up tossing and turning to get comfortable, and then get up the next day feeling groggy. Try to keep the temperature of your bedroom between 60 and 68 degrees and cover yourself with lighter layers that you can shed before slipping into dreamland.

Research also tells us that people who get less than five hours of zzzs a night are 50 percent more likely to be obese than those who get a solid seven to nine hours. But if you’re having trouble sleeping, and it’s not because you’re too warm, try one of these simple tips:
  • Physical activity during the day will help you sleep better at night. Exercise reduces stress and induces sleep by promoting deep relaxation. And you don’t need any fancy equipment — or warm, sunny weather — to do the trick. March or jog in place while you’re watching the evening news. Mix in a few jumping jacks if you’re up to it, and throw in some sit-ups too!
  • Chamomile is a fragrant herbal tea with proven sleep-inducing qualities. So brew a cup before bed and slowly sip it. It’ll help your whole body, including your brain, relax and wind down.
  • Use guided imagery, a form of self-hypnosis, to help yourself to sleep. Listen to a meditation tape or use a progressive muscle relaxation routine to become deeply relaxed, then picture yourself comfortably asleep. Do this nightly for several weeks, and you’ll soon be able to fall asleep more easily.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Potent Perils of Popcorn

Who would ever think that one of America’s favorite — and potentially healthiest — snacks could actually be harming you big time — that is, if you opt for the microwavable stuff in the snack-food section of your local supermarket. Not only is the bag lined with weird nonstick chemicals that have been linked to thyroid disease and other illnesses, but the corn itself contains artificial colorings, flavorings, chemically altered oils, and other gunk that can lead to obesity, diabetes, and (yes) even cancer.

There’s no doubt about it: Microwave ovens have revolutionized the way Americans cook and eat — and when it comes to your health, almost entirely for worse, not better, despite what the food companies want you to think. But Big Food pulled off one of its biggest boondoggles ever with popcorn. They’ve hoodwinked the vast majority of the public into believing these two outright lies:

1. Popcorn is way too messy, complicated, and time-consuming to make the old-fashioned way.

2. The only way you can make popcorn in a microwave is to use the stuff that’s packaged in microwavable bags and loaded with who-knows-what chemicals — and costs mega times more than the real deal to boot.

I have just one word to say about that snow job: Baloney!

Microwave popcorn doesn’t have to put your health at risk. Here’s the ultra-easy, two-step formula that Uncle Orville and his pals would rather you didn’t know about:

Step 1. Put 1/4 cup of unpopped organic popcorn kernels into a clean brown paper bag, and fold the top over a few times. Or use a microwavable glass or ceramic (not plastic!) bowl loosely covered with a lid or a towel.

Step 2. Stand it in the center of your microwave, and nuke it on high for about 5 minutes, or until the popping slows down to one pop about every 2 seconds.

Pour the popped corn into a bowl, add melted butter or whatever other flavorings you like, and enjoy!

Friday, February 20, 2015

2 Freaky Ways Winter Can Wipe You Out

The cold, crisp days of winter can trigger a couple of conditions that can range in severity from painful and debilitating to fatal. Here’s the dastardly duo:

Chilblains (a.k.a. pernio) is the inflammation of small blood vessels in your skin that occurs in response to sudden warming after exposure to cold temperatures. Signs that you’ve been struck include itchy, red patches, swelling, and sometimes blistering, most often on your fingers, toes, ears, and nose. Chilblains generally clear up within a few weeks if you follow these guidelines:
  • Use mild skin lotions to alleviate swelling and itching.
  • Clean the affected skin daily with a natural antiseptic, and cover it to prevent infection.
  • Keep the afflicted area(s) warm but away from heat sources.
  • Don’t scratch!    
To prevent trouble, stay warm at all times, especially if you’ve suffered chilblains in the past.

Raynaud’s disease (a.k.a. Raynaud’s phenomenon) is a disorder in which the blood vessels narrow in response to cold air, thereby reducing blood flow to the fingers, toes, and often the ears, lips, and nose. The affected body parts turn white, blue, and then red, generally accompanied by burning pain when the blood begins flowing back to the stricken areas. There is no cure and, so far at least, no known prevention. If your extremities begin to feel tingly or numb and start to lose color, suspect the onset of Raynaud’s. Hightail it to a warm place where you can quickly raise your body’s core temperature and get your blood flowing normally again. If you already have the disease, do everything you can to protect yourself from the cold, whether that entails bundling up to the Nth degree or, if possible, moving to a warmer climate.

Friday, February 13, 2015

It’s Valentine’s Day! Make a Toast to Heart Health

A few years back, researchers wondered why Americans stuffing down burgers, ribs, and fries tend to keel over from heart disease, while the French ingest just as much fat dining on foie gras, creamy sauces, and pastry — but their hearts never skip a beat. Here’s the difference: French folks regularly drink wine in the normal course of dining. Scientists already knew that wine was a natural antioxidant...and then they stumbled upon resveratrol and quercetin, the two compounds in vino that seem to work to keep gunk from cluttering up your artery walls.

So here’s the bottom line: Drinking red wine in moderation is all it takes to reap its benefits. (More than one or two glasses of wine — or any other form of alcohol — a day actually increases the risk of some cancers and other serious illnesses.)

You can reap even more heart-healthy benefits from wine by combining it with another ticker-protecting powerhouse: onions! Medical science tells us that red wine and onions are both rich in compounds that help keep your heart in good working order. So why not combine the two healers into one easy tonic? Simply add the juice of a medium-size onion to a bottle of red wine, and shake it for a few minutes in a slightly larger bottle or jar. Take 1½ to 3 tablespoons of the potion each day. (Just save this odiferous tonic for after Valentine’s Day — your sweetie may not appreciate onion-scented smooches!)

Friday, February 6, 2015

Need-to-Know Info about Measles

For the first 10 years of the twenty-first century, the United States saw an average of 62 cases of measles per year. In January 2015, following a widely publicized outbreak at Disneyland, there have already been 102 cases. Measles, once considered to be eradicated from the US, is now a major health concern. Here’s why.
  • Measles is considered to be one of the most contagious diseases there is. The virus lives in droplets that are sprayed out in coughs and sneezes. The droplets linger in the air for up to two hours and can sicken others who never came face-to-face with the original carrier.
  • One case of measles can lead to 20 more. Compare that to Ebola, one case of which generally leads to two more. 
  • People are contagious before they become sick, and they unknowingly spread the virus to 90 percent of non-immune people who come in contact with the virus.
  • Symptoms of the measles virus start with fever, cough, stuffy nose, and loss of appetite. Within a few days, an uncomfortable rash starts, and patients get spots all over their bodies. Around 40 percent of patients suffer complications — mostly pneumonia, but sometimes encephalitis — from the virus.

Ask any healthcare professional, and he or she will tell you that measles is entirely preventable with a widely available vaccine. The shot isn’t given until patients are at least a year old, however, and that’s why infants are most at risk. And as for the notion that the vaccine causes autism, that theory was debunked and retracted back in 1998.

If you have never received the vaccine, or you’re not sure if you have, call your doctor right away. You can have a blood test to check for immunity, but it’s a whole lot easier to just get the shot — it won’t hurt you if you’ve already had it.  

Friday, January 30, 2015

High Blood Pressure? Get It Down!

I met a friend for coffee yesterday morning and she filled me in on the results of her recent physical exam. She told me she was shocked that her blood pressure was higher than usual, and that her doctor told her she had every reason to be concerned. While high blood pressure itself is not a disease, it puts you at a greatly elevated risk for every heart problem under the sun. What’s even more sobering, though, is that your blood pressure can be sky high without your even knowing it.

I told my friend that she wasn’t alone. A whopping half of all women over 45 have high blood pressure. And then I passed along a few helpful hints to help her get her numbers down.

Track it at home. A DIY blood pressure monitoring kit gives you a dandy way to keep tabs on your vital stats between doctor’s appointments. But it can give you even more peace of mind after your visit with the doc. How so? Because of a common but little-known condition called “white-coat hypertension.” It’s caused when a doctor or nurse walks into the examining room and your anxiety level leaps skyward — accompanied by your blood pressure. With the kit you can check the numbers for yourself — and rest a whole lot easier.

Celery can lower your blood pressure?! Yep. This highly under-rated vegetable contains an oil that can be one of your strongest allies in sending your numbers downward. It works its magic by allowing the muscles that regulate your blood flow to dilate, thereby taking the pressure off of those life-giving, fluid-carrying “canals.” Incorporate these crunchy (and ultra-low-cal) champs into your diet as much as you can.

Up your K and Mg. Adequate intake of both potassium and magnesium (which you may recall from high school chemistry is K and Mg on the periodic table of elements) is essential for maintaining proper blood pressure. So if you need to get your numbers down, or simply want to stay on an even keel, pack plenty of these health workers into your daily diet:
Magnesium. Good sources include baked potatoes, bananas, broccoli, dairy products, nuts, pumpkin seeds, spinach, and wheat germ.

Potassium. You’ll find it in avocados, baked potatoes, bananas, cantaloupe, dried fruits, milk, mushrooms, tomatoes, and yogurt.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Stop Hitting the Snooze Button and Hit the Gym!

I’ve read a bunch of studies lately that say that working out in the morning is better than exercising in the evening. I have lots of friends who beg to differ, but I’ve been a fan of the morning workout for years. Here’s why:
  • You get your exercise in before the day’s distractions can interfere with your plans. Face it, no one is going to schedule a meeting or a birthday party at 6:30 a.m. If you think of your morning exercise as an appointment you must keep, you won’t let anything change your plans.
  • It improves your sleep. (Really — a study proves this too!) People who work out for 4 hours a week in the morning report better sleep than those who exercise the same amount in the evening. And better sleep leads to better overall health and easier weight loss.
  • You’ll have a sense of accomplishment that’ll pump you up for the day.
  • You’ll build up an appetite for breakfast which will fuel your morning and help you make smart lunch choices. 

If you can’t keep your hands away from the snooze button, try these tips:

Gradually go to bed earlier. Figure out how many hours you need to feel like you got a good night’s sleep, then count back from your ideal wake-up time. Go to bed 15 minutes earlier every night until you’ve found the bedtime that works for you.

Forget you even have a snooze button. Force yourself to get up as soon as your alarm goes off. Those 10 minutes of groggy sleep don’t make you feel any more awake, and might actually make you feel sleepier.

Plan your workout. Lay out your exercise clothes and shoes, water bottle, and iPod, and decide what the morning’s workout will be. That way, you’ll be ready to go faster with plenty of time to accomplish your goal.

Ease into it. Starting off slow and steady with gradual increases in speed or time will help you stick to your new morning routine. If you go too hard too fast, you’ll probably end up quitting.