Friday, July 17, 2015

3 Plants That Keep Wasps Away

There are more than 75,000 kinds of wasps in the world. Nearly all of them are not only harmless, but also highly beneficial because they prey on other insects, including disease-carrying mosquitoes and almost every crop-destroying garden pest you can name. But, zowie! Their stings really pack a punch. So place containers filled with any of this trio of repelling plants wherever you want to keep wasps away:

Citronella. This is most potent when you crush the leaves and rub them onto your skin (or use citronella oil, available in health-food stores). But dense groupings of the real deal also discourage wasp visits.

Mint. Both the oil and live plants repel wasps. If you plant it in your garden (rather than in a container), you’ll need to clip it back frequently — otherwise, it’ll take over your whole yard before you know it!

Wormwood. This silvery-gray perennial is highly drought resistant. On the downside, the same aromatic chemicals that repel wasps (and scads of other insects) make wormwood poisonous to people and animals — so don’t plant it if you have small children or pets on the scene.

If you find yourself at the wrong end of a wasp’s stinger, here are two easy ways to control inflammation and ease the pain:

1. Dissolve two effervescent antacid tablets in a glass of water. Then moisten a soft cloth with the solution, and hold it on the bite for 20 minutes.

2. Wet the site, and rub an uncoated aspirin tablet over it.

Whichever remedy you choose, if the culprit was a bee instead of a wasp, remove the stinger before you proceed. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Screen out wrinkles safely

We hear it over and over again, but it bears repeating: Always apply sunscreen to your face, neck, and other exposed skin before you go outdoors. But when you do, keep these two guidelines in mind:
  • To achieve optimal protection, choose a product with an SPF that’s between 30 and 50.
  • Always buy sunscreen labeled “full-spectrum,” which means it’s been proven to protect against both UVB rays, which burn your skin and  increase your risk for skin cancer, and UVA rays, which damage collagen and accelerate the aging process.

When you’re picking out sunscreen in the store, take a look at the label. The jury is still out on how damaging chemical-based sunscreens really are, but with scads of highly effective natural products on the market, why take chances? These three culprits have been shown to be especially damaging to your health and your looks. (And the higher the SPF is, the more chemicals a product contains.)

1. Oxybenzone. This is an active ingredient in most commercial sunscreens. It can cause skin irritation and allergies, and (worse) it reacts with UV rays to create cell-damaging free radicals, which are linked to hormone disruption and increased cancer risk.

2. Parabens. These are synthetic preservatives that disrupt hormones and may stimulate cancerous tumors. In small quantities, they pose little or no risk. The problem is that they’re used in so many beauty and personal-care products, including deodorants, shampoos, shaving creams, makeup, and sunscreens, that you can give yourself a dangerous dose without knowing it. Fortunately, they’re easy to spot because they generally appear last on ingredient lists. Look for methylparaben, propylparaben, and/or butylparaben.

3. Retinyl palmitate (a.k.a. vitamin A). When exposed to UV rays, it breaks down into toxic free radicals, causing premature aging and raising cancer risk. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Incredible Calorie-Burning Power of Housekeeping

Lots of folks love the camaraderie of working out in a gym, where they’re surrounded by their fellow stay-fit warriors. But if you’re not that social by nature, you don’t care for formal workout routines — or you simply don’t have the time or money to squander on a health club membership — don’t fret: Just by performing routine chores around the old homestead, you can easily burn enough calories to keep weight gain at bay and your muscles toned to boot. Here’s a handful of examples:

Digging in your yard burns about 630 calories per hour, in addition to toning the muscles in your calves, thighs, arms, and shoulders. Plus, if you go at it vigorously for 20 minutes or more, you can increase your heart rate and strengthen your cardiovascular system at the same time.

Raking leaves for an hour can burn 450 calories, and the resistance offered by the leaves helps tone all the major muscle groups in your body.

Scrubbing the bathroom burns 400 calories an hour and tones your arm and shoulder muscles.

Sweeping and mopping a floor burns about 240 calories an hour and gives you a great upper- and lower-body workout.

Washing the car burns 286 calories an hour and helps tone your arms and abdominal muscles.

The exact number of calories a person burns during any activity varies greatly, depending on gender, age, weight, and individual metabolism. An Internet search for “calorie burn calculator” will bring up scads of sites where you can type in your vital stats and learn how many calories you’ll expend on common chores, ranging from loading your dishwasher to washing your dog, as well as more athletic endeavors such as swimming, dancing, and hitting the rowing machine at the health club. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Are You Asking for Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is the most prevalent type of arthritis, and it results from either injury or wear and tear on your joints. If your hips or knees ache when you climb out of bed in the morning, and you were a jock or a dancer in high school or college, it’s all but guaranteed that OA is the culprit.

But you don’t have to be a hung-ho athlete to put yourself at high risk for developing OA. There could be potent dangers lurking in your everyday routine. Like these, for example:

The shoes you wear. If you opt for high heels day in and day out — whether they’re pencil-thin stilettos or chunkier versions — you’re all but begging for OA in your knees. Plus, high-heeled shoes (or boots) that are pointy or tight can also lead to arthritis of the toes. Wearing dress-up pumps on special occasions isn’t likely to cause damage, but for daily wear, choose footgear with ample toe room and sturdy heels that are no more than 1 to 2 inches high.

The loads you tote. Walking with heavy bags in your hands, with your arms stretched downward, puts an undue strain on shoulders, elbows, wrists, and fingers. So when your shopping haul weighs any more than a couple of pounds, cradle the bag in both arms, or use one or two long-handled canvas sacks slung over your shoulder(s).

The pounds you pack. Obesity is the leading cause of OA because excess weight puts enormous stress on your knees and hips. Shedding just 10 pounds eases the stress on each knee by a full 40 pounds!

The moves you don’t make. Couch potatoes are prime targets for OA. Even if you’re not overweight, regular physical activity is a must for strengthening the muscles that support your joints — and keeping the joints themselves flexible. But there is one caveat: Running, especially on hard pavement, is murder on your knees. So opt for more easygoing activities, such as walking, yoga, or even bowling. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Don’t Drag the Demons through the Door!

On average, an astonishing 85 percent of household dirt is tracked in from outdoors, primarily on your shoes and your pets’ paws. And that crud includes just about every kind of noxious substance you can name, from viruses and bacteria to mold spores, pesticides, animal waste, insect eggs, construction debris, and even heavy metals. The list goes on. The good news is that while you can’t avoid picking up a little bit of everything from the surfaces you walk on, these three simple ploys will help you keep most of that stuff outside:

Ploy #1: Leave your shoes at the door, and have everyone else in your family do the same. What you do once you’re inside is your call. You can walk around barefoot or in your stocking feet, as many folks like to do, or trade your outdoor footgear for versions you keep for indoor use only. Likewise, you can decide whether to extend the shoes-off demand to visitors, or simply have them comply with Ploy #3 below.

Ploy #2: Wipe your dog’s paws thoroughly after every outing, preferably using a glove or mitt that’s specially designed for the purpose. (You can find them in pet-supply shops, both online and in brick-and-mortar versions; just do a quick search for “paw cleaning gloves.”) And if you know the pup has been walking on a toxic surface—for instance, a lawn that’s been treated with pesticides—give his paws a soak in a povidone iodine bath.

Ploy #3: Invest in a high-quality doormat for every exterior entrance in your home. Make sure it’s the kind specially designed to trap and retain dust, dirt, and water. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

4 Shocking Causes of Asthma

Breathing is something that most of us take for granted. But for folks with asthma, the simple act of inhaling is a constant struggle. And the ranks of those who wage this battle are on the rise — over the past 25 years, asthma rates have quadrupled and the number of deaths from asthma attacks has doubled.

About three-fifths of all asthma cases are hereditary. And while no one knows for sure what triggers attacks in folks whose genes do not predispose them to the condition, natural health practitioners point their fingers at these four factors:

The modern American diet (MAD) and its two ugly offspring: chronic inflammation, which causes your airways to swell up and become clogged with mucus, and nutritional deficiencies, which make you more prone to diseases of all kinds, including asthma.

An overload of chemicals in our food, water, and air — indoors and out — that both weaken your immune system and throw your hormones out of balance.

Increasing levels of allergens, such as mold, mildew, and toxin-bearing dust mites in homes and offices.

A tidal wave of tension, anxiety, and stress, all of which contribute to or worsen every health problem under the sun.

Studies have found that a chemical called limonene, which is found in the rinds of all citrus fruits, can provide potent protection against obstructions in your bronchial tubes. Here’s how to put this a-peeling healer to use:
  1. Sniff it. Fold a piece of peel between your fingers, and squeeze it. Then slowly inhale the refreshing aroma.
  2. Eat it. Add freshly grated lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, or tangerine peels to stir-fries, salad dressings, baked good, and rice. Or top your toast, bagels, and muffins with marmalade.

Bathe in it. Stuff cheesecloth bags or panty hose feet with crushed citrus peels, and toss them into your bathwater. Whatever you do, though, never put loose rinds — or any other solid material — in the tub, or your cleared up wind pipes will come at the expense of clogged-up drain pipes!

Friday, May 29, 2015

3 Slick Tricks for Pulverizing Neck Pain

Got a pain in the neck that just won’t quit? This trio of simple actions will put you on the fast track to freedom from distress:

Practice the complete breath. This yoga exercise opens up airways and is a surefire way to relax and soothe the sore muscles in your neck. Visit the American Yoga Association's website  for the how-to.

Keep your work at eye level. Looking down or reaching up for long periods of time is guaranteed to give you a sore neck. Adjust the height of your desk, chair, or computer monitor so that you’re looking straight at the screen. If you do a lot of reaching up — for instance, to pull supplies from shelves — use a stool, stepladder, or elevated platform to bring you even with your targets.

Change your habits. Poor posture puts a huge strain on neck muscles. So do seemingly innocent activities, such as washing your hair in the sink, cradling a phone receiver between your ear and your shoulder, or falling asleep in a chair and winding up with your head at an awkward angle. Identify and change behavior patterns that keep your neck in unnatural positions for any length of time. And for Pete’s sake, do what your mother (or your drill sergeant) always told you: Stand — and sit — up straight!

While it’s true that most neck pain is the direct result of stress and muscle tension, it can be a sign of far more serious trouble. Make a mad dash to the ER in any of these instances:
  • The problem was caused by a fall or other accident.
  • The pain radiates down your arms and legs.
  • Your neck discomfort is accompanied by a headache, numbness, tingling, or weakness.
  • Your vision is disturbed in any way.