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13 Healthy Habits to Improve Your Life
Gut Check: A Low-Carb, High-Protein Menu
Exercises You Can Stop Doing



13 Healthy Habits to Improve Your Life

Disregard them, and you may well be taking a big gamble with your mental and emotional well-being.

This time of year, the two teams in the Super Bowl have a lot at stake. But you have even more on the line. We're talking about your health and wellness. There are 13 ways to boost your chances of living a happy, healthy life. More can be added to this list, but, for simplicity's sake, we'll stick with this typically unlucky number.

Instead of bringing misfortune, however, the 13 habits promise a life of vigor and vivacity. There are, of course, no guarantees, but many of the practices mentioned here have been published in scientific journals. Disregard them, and you may well be taking a big gamble with your mental and emotional well-being.

Healthy Habit No. 1: Eat Breakfast Every Morning

Breakfast eaters are champions of good health. Research shows people who have a morning meal tend to take in more vitamins and minerals, and less fat and cholesterol. The result is often a leaner body, lower cholesterol count, and less chance of overeating.

"That one act [of eating breakfast] seems to make a difference in people's overall weight," says Melinda Johnson, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (ADA). She says breakfast can hold off hunger pangs until lunchtime and make high-calorie vending machine options less enticing.

Not only that, researchers at the 2003 American Heart Association conference reported that breakfast eaters are significantly less likely to be obese and get diabetes compared with nonbreakfast eaters.

Another study in the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition showed that people who consumed breakfast cereal every day reported feeling better both physically and mentally than those who rarely ate cereal in the morning.

For kids, breakfast appears to enhance alertness, attention, and performance on standardized achievement tests, reports the ADA.

To get the full benefits of breakfast, the Mayo Clinic recommends a meal with carbohydrates, protein, and a small amount of fat. They say that because no single food gives you all of the nutrients you need, eating a variety of foods is essential to good health.

Yet, even with so much scientific support that breakfast does the body good; many people still make excuses not to eat in the morning. They include not having enough time and not feeling hungry. For these people, Johnson suggests tailoring breakfast to the day.

"When I'm getting ready in the morning, I don't really want to take the time to eat breakfast because that would mean sacrificing sleep," says Johnson. "So I bring my breakfast with me, and I know I have an hour when I'm reading emails in the office when I can eat it. By that time, I'm hungry because I've been up for almost a couple of hours."

Healthy Habit No. 2: Add Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids to Your Diet

The AHA recommends a serving of fish two times per week.

Besides being a good source of protein and a food relatively low in the bad type of dietary fat called saturated fat, fish has omega-3 fatty acids -- which have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Fatty fish such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon, are rich in two kinds of omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Foods such as tofu, soybeans, canola, walnuts, flaxseed, and their oils contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which convert to omega-3 in the body. Even though the benefits of ALA are controversial, the AHA still recommends foods containing it as part of a healthy diet.

In addition to their heart-health benefits, there is some evidence that omega-3 fatty acids may also soothe an overactive immune system, says Johnson. Even though this benefit is still being studied, she says there appears to be a link between getting more omega-3s in your diet and reducing allergies, asthma, eczema, and autoimmune disorders.

Healthy Habit No. 3: Get Enough Sleep

"Your body has to have enough time to rest," says Michael Fleming, MD, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). Otherwise, he says you may find yourself feeling cranky and tired.

This may sound like common sense, but according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), more than two-thirds of older adults suffer from sleep problems and many American adults don't get the minimum amount of shuteye needed to stay alert.

Sleep is vital to good health and to mental and emotional well-being. The NSF reports that people who don't get enough slumber are more likely than others to develop psychiatric problems and to use health care services. Plus, sleep deprivation can negatively affect memory, learning, and logical reasoning.

Not enough ZZZs can also be hazardous. More than one-half of adult drivers -- some 100 million people -- say they have driven drowsy in the past year, according to NSF polls. About one out of five of these drivers -- 32 million people -- say they've fallen asleep while driving.

Each year drowsy driving causes more than 100,000 car crashes, 1,500 deaths, and tens of thousands of injuries, reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The NSF recommends taking a 15 to 20 minute nap. Because it takes about 30 minutes for the caffeine to work, taking a nap while you wait for the caffeine to kick in can help restore alertness.

To avoid the pitfalls of insufficient sleep, make sure to get at least seven to 10 hours of slumber each night. Kids need more sleep, depending on their age.

Healthy Habit No. 4: Make Social Connections

Volunteer. Go to church. Join a club. Whatever you do, do it with people. Communal activities are good for your physical and mental health, according to a study published in the March/April 2004 issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior.

It makes sense, says C. David Jenkins, PhD, author of Building Better Health: A Handbook of Behavioral Change. He says social ties have many benefits, including:

Providing information. You may think for instance your frequent nosebleeds, coughing, and sneezing episodes are trivial, but when a close friend or relative hears of it, he or she may encourage you to go to a doctor. If the symptoms turn out to be a serious condition, the social tie could have saved your life.

Instrumental help. Friends and family can provide physical support in time of need. They may help with cooking, cleaning, running errands, doing grocery shopping, and driving to the doctor's office.

Emotional support. Sharing a problem with a trusted person can help alleviate an internal burden. "It's a load off your chest," says Jenkins.

Offering a sense of belonging. This feeling not only helps reinforce a person's identity, it also assists in preventing and overcoming depression and anxiety.

Community ties also help improve mental functioning, says Fleming. Group activities can help keep the mind active and maintain desirable levels of serotonin -- the brain chemical associated with mood. "Lack of social interaction will [decrease] serotonin levels," says Fleming.

Healthy Habit No. 5: Exercise for Better Health

We already know that physical activity has a bounty of benefits, which makes it so puzzling why so many people just don't do it. According to the CDC, more than 60% of Americans do not get regular exercise.

In case you needed an incentive, here is a review of the advantages of exercise, per the National Cancer Institute:

Studies have also shown a link between exercise and a reduced risk of certain cancers.

Besides its long-term effects, moving your body has immediate benefits, says Cedric Bryant, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. The short-term results of exercise include helping people to think and move better, manage stress, improve mood, and get an energy boost.

The excuses that people often give to not exercise are the precise reasons to exercise, says Bryant. People who say they are too tired or don't have time to workout don't realize that exercise gives people more energy and allows them to be more productive with the rest of their time.

Healthy Habit No. 6: Practice Good Dental Hygiene

Flossing your teeth every day could add 6.4 years to your life, according to Michael Roizen, MD, author of RealAge. In his book, Roizen lists flossing as one of the most important daily activities -- along with exercise and quitting smoking -- that could extend life span.

Roizen's calculation may raise some eyebrows, but the idea that oral health is connected to overall health isn't far-fetched.

The mouth, after all, is an integral part of the body. "Teeth have a blood supply, and that blood supply comes from the heart," says Richard Price, DMD, consumer advisor for the American Dental Association (ADA).

Researchers suspect that the bacteria that produce dental plaque enter the bloodstream. They say these bacteria are somehow associated with the inflammation that occurs with plaque that blocks blood vessels and causes heart disease.

Other researchers have found links between oral bacteria and stroke, diabetes, and the birth of preterm babies and those that have low birth weight.

In addition to preventing disease, flossing and brushing can help keep your pearly whites intact for more than just cosmetic reasons. Teeth help you chew food, speak properly, and smile -- which, according to Price, can help you keep your dignity.

Healthy Habit No. 7: Take Up a Hobby

Look up the word "hobby" in the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, and you will find the definition as "a pursuit outside one's regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation."

Since they are relaxing activities, hobbies are usually enjoyable. Some people find joy in craftwork, bird watching, sports, going to flea markets, walking in the park, or playing cards.

The joy may help people live healthier and recover better from illness. For one thing, taking part in hobbies can burn calories, more so than just sitting in front of the TV.

In a study of people who had undergone surgery, Jenkins found that people who were involved in hobbies before their operation had better recovery six months later, compared with people who did not have hobbies.

The participants with hobbies tended to have more drive and interest in things and other people, says Jenkins. "It was a more active orientation to life."

Healthy Habit No. 8: Protect Your Skin

Our skin starts to age as soon as we are born and, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), the best way to protect it and look younger is to stay out of the sun.

The sun has harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays that can cause wrinkles, dryness, and age spots. Overexposure can cause sunburn, skin texture changes, dilated blood vessels, and skin cancers.

Avoiding the sun, however, is not always ideal or practical. To reduce the risk of skin damage, the AAD offers the following tips:

Healthy Habit No. 9: Snack the Healthy Way

The ADA recommends five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day as part of a healthy diet. These plant foods can do many things to boost good health, including:

One way to incorporate fruits and veggies into your diet is to have them as snacks. "If you can do one thing [to improve your health], concentrate on getting fruits and veggies," says Johnson. "They are low in calories and high in nutrients."

She says baby carrots and cut-up produce make tasty, convenient munchies. Other healthful snacks include low-fat yogurt and nuts (in moderation).

The best time to snack is when you are hungry between meals, says Johnson. But beware: Cravings could easily be mistaken for hunger cues, especially for people who are dieting.

Healthy Habit No. 10: Drink Water and Eat Dairy

Water and milk are essential fluids for good health, but they can also help with shedding pounds.

The body needs water to keep properly hydrated and individuals vary widely in how much water they need. Joints need it to stay in motion, and vital organs such as the heart, brain, kidney, and liver need it to work properly.

If you don't get enough water, the body goes into emergency mode, and clings to every single water molecule it can find, reports the University of Minnesota Water Resources Center. The stored molecules appear as extra weight. The weight is only released once the body gets enough water.

The calcium in dairy, on the other hand, is known to be important for strong bones and teeth. Studies have also shown it can help prevent high blood pressure, kidney stones, heart disease, and colon cancer.

In the weight loss arena, three 8-ounce glasses of low-fat or fat-free milk appear to encourage body fat loss while maintaining muscle mass, according to the ADA. The dairy consumption must be part of a balanced reduced-calorie meal plan.

Healthy Habit No. 11: Drink Tea

"Decaffeinated tea is better," says Fleming, noting that the caffeinated variety can be dehydrating, and sugary drinks can lead to weight gain.

There is some evidence that tea may help in improving memory, and preventing cavities, cancer, and heart disease. Fleming says, though, that the overall research is still inconclusive.

"There may well be some beneficial effects of tea, particularly the potential antioxidant effect, but we don't have great data on that right now that is that specific."

However, there's no doubt that a cool iced tea can be a refreshing treat during hot days. Try flavoring your tea with juices, fruits, cinnamon sticks, ginger, and other condiments.

Healthy Habit No. 12: Take a Daily Walk

We already mentioned the merits of exercise in habit No. 5. Now, here's a tip on how to incorporate physical activity into your daily life: WALK.

We're not talking about taking the time out of your busy schedule to work out -- that's important, too -- but infusing life- and limb-saving movement into your waking hours.

"Just move. Pace during phone calls, while you're brushing your teeth, while watching your son's soccer game," says Bryant, noting that every 20 steps a person takes is 1 calorie burned.

An eight-year study of 13,000 people also showed that people who walked 30 minutes daily had a significantly reduced chance of premature death compared with those who rarely exercised, reports the American Council on Exercise.

And there are plenty of opportunities to move those legs:

Healthy Habit No. 13: Plan

There is, perhaps, no better word in the English language to better illustrate how you can incorporate healthy habits into your everyday life.

"A little planning goes a long way," says Johnson. "Eating healthy never happens by accident."

For the most part, neither do good fitness, skin protection, healthy teeth, weight loss, and social ties. Many of these habits take effort that need to be scheduled into busy lives.

To eat healthy, for example, it would help to set aside time to draft a menu, make a grocery list, go to the store, prepare meals, and pack breakfast and lunch.
Sources: Melinda Johnson, RD, spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association. Michael Fleming, MD, president, American Academy of Family Physicians. C. David Jenkins, PhD, author, Building Better Health: A Handbook of Behavioral Change. Cedric Bryant, chief exercise physiologist, American Council on Exercise. Richard Price, DMD, consumer advisor, American Dental Association. American Heart Association web site. Mayo Clinic web site. American Dietetic Association web site. National Sleep Foundation web site. National Cancer Institute web site. American Academy of Periodontology web site. "Help or Hype: Consumer Products for Periodontal Care." American Dental Association web site. 21st Century Dental web site. "Michael F. Roizen." WebMD Medical News: "Social Connections Build Healthier Lives." American Academy of Dermatology web site. National Institute on Aging, AgePage: "Skin Care and Aging." 5 A Day web site. American Council on Exercise web site. American Heart Association: "Why Should I Be Physically Active?" University of Minnesota Water Resources Center: "Water Will Help You Lose Weight!"


"Economy Class" Lawsuits May Proceed Soon

The first U.S. "economy class syndrome" lawsuits, brought by airline passengers who developed life-threatening blood clots after sitting immobile on long flights, have passed early hurdles and may go to trial this summer.

Food Fight: Expert Blames Overeating On Industry Marketing

When Marion Nestle gives talks on the politics surrounding America's burgeoning obesity epidemic, she sometimes displays an attention-getting image on a screen. In it, a corpulent Uncle Sam clutches a huge cheeseburger while declaring, "I want YOU to eat more."

Mountain Biking Linked To Infertility

Frequent mountain-biking may reduce fertility in men, according to a small Austrian study that adds fodder to a debate over cycling and male sexual function.

Longevity Runs In Families: Study Looks At Genetics, Environment

Children of parents who live to be 100 are much less likely to develop heart disease and other health problems than those whose folks die at an average age, a Boston Medical Center study has found.

Exercise Hits Cholesterol Risk

Need another reason to exercise? Scientists have discovered it makes cholesterol less dangerous.

Runner's High? Fiction, Many Scientists Say

Despite a widespread belief in the so-called runner's high, a feeling of intense euphoria that is supposed to come with vigorous exercise, the experience is not consistent or predictable. Some researchers have asked whether it exists at all.

Iron-Binding Compounds Decrease Body Odor

Iron in human sweat is a necessary ingredient for bacteria to create the compounds responsible for body odor, and fortifying deodorants with an active system that starves these bacteria of iron significantly decreases body odor.
Source: American Society for Microbiology,

Exercise May Cut Cancer Risk

Physically fit people are less likely to die of cancer, including cancers related to smoking, even if they smoke, a study finds.

Alternative Fitness Program Offered

A bit sheepishly, the elderly cardiac patients head to the middle of the room in sweatshirts and sock feet. For 15 minutes they move gingerly through a series of stretching exercises under the tutelage of Ann Smith, whose writings and videos are dedicated to the proposition that staying fit need not be torturous.

Sugared Soft Drinks Make You Softer in Middle

Study finds less weight gain with artificially sweetened ones.

Seniors Need to Stay Fit

Strength and balance exercises benefit older adults.

Gaining Insight About Losing Weight

'Boomerang' pounds are a problem.

The Effect Of Laws Mandating Bicycle Helmet Use

Five Canadian provinces have introduced laws mandating the use of bicycle helmets in a direct attempt to lower the incidence of bicycle-related deaths, 75 percent of which are due to head injury.
Source: Canadian Medical Association Journal,

Academy Issues Skateboard Guidelines

Unless they're supervised by adults, kids under 10 shouldn't use skateboards and those under 8 shouldn't use non-motorized scooters, according to new guidelines from the AmericanAcademy of Pediatrics.

Older Adults Can Exercise Just Once A Week To Maintain Muscle Strength

Exercising just one day a week can give older adults the strength to maintain their independence and to avoid injuries, according to a study by a group of scientists at Ball State University, Muncie, IN.
Source: The Gerontological Society of America,

You're Getting Faster: Athletes Exercise Their Mental Muscles With Hypnosis

With a growing preoccupation on the mental side of sports, mental coaching has found its niche as a supplement to traditional coaching.

Running May Cut Stroke Risk

You don't have to be a super-athlete to significantly reduce your risk of stroke, but you do have to exercise consistently, a recent study finds.

Teens Use Yoga To Relieve Stress

Across the country, as yoga surges in popularity among adults, it is also attracting teen-agers.

Fraud Fighters Target Ab Belts

You can't get washboard abs just by strapping an electronic exercise belt around your waist and pushing a button, the government says.

HHS Urges World's Kids To Be Active

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson warned that three times as many American children are overweight than 20 years ago, and urged the world to get moving, "literally."

Creatine May Help Older Men

Creatine may not be just for young athletes. Older men who took the supplement increased strength in just a week, a study found.

HHS Urges Community Partnerships To Improve Physical Activity

HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson yesterday called on families, communities and businesses to work together and create innovative ways to encourage greater physical activity among children.
Source: sports.html

Some Foods Raise Dehydration Risk

What athletes take in may dry them out. Fast foods like hamburgers and carbonated drinks such as sodas can wind up causing dehydration, experts say.

Health Secretary Heeds Own Advice

The nation's health secretaries always preach healthy habits. But call this one Mr. Prevention: Tommy Thompson has made his mantra the lifesaving benefits of a little exercise and good nutrition, and is taking his own advice to slim down.

Regular Exercise Lowers Blood Pressure In All Groups Of People, Study Shows

An analysis of data on 2419 adults from 54 studies of exercise found that regular exercise decreased blood pressure in all groups of people, including those who had high or normal blood press, those who were overweight or not overweight and those who were black, white or Asian. Exercise decreased systolic blood pressure by 3.84 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by 2.58 mm Hg in the participants, who were previously inactive. The types of aerobic exercise included walking, swimming, jogging and cycling.
Source: American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine,

New Material To Patch Injured Knee Ligaments

Good news for injured athletes. Damaged knee ligaments heal better if patched with a scaffold made from pig's intestine.
Source: New Scientist,

Doctor-Patient Collaboration Necessary To Change Unhealthy Behavior

While evidence builds that tobacco use, obesity and lack of exercise contribute to the incidence of chronic illness and premature death, a new government report suggests that because patients pay attention to their doctor's advice, doctors should pay more attention to counseling their patients.
Source: Center for the Advancement of Health,

Declining Physical Activity Levels Are Associated With Increasing Obesity

The recent worldwide increase in obesity has been attributed to environmental factors such as more sedentary lifestyles and excessive food intake.
Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,

Health Clubs Need Defibrillators

With research showing a slightly higher risk that people's hearts may give out during exercise, doctors are calling on health clubs to buy portable defibrillators.

Government Study: 7 In 10 Not Exercising

Americans refuse to get off the couch. A new government report says seven in 10 adults don't regularly exercise and nearly four in 10 aren't physically active at all.

WHO Advises Basic Exercise To Beat Heart Disease, Diabetes

Exercises as simple as walking up the stairs or even dancing could reduce the millions of deaths caused each year by diseases related to physical inactivity, the United Nations said.

Health Officials Warn Against 'Epidemic' Of Sedentary Lifestyle In Asia

Lack of physical exercise, high-fat diets and smoking are leading to a deadly "epidemic of inactivity" in the Asia-Pacific region, health officials warned.

New Hope For Weight Loss

Forget counting the calories -- dieting may soon be a thing of the past if Kyoto University researchers are right about hormones.

At-Home Exercise Helps Caregivers Care For Themselves

An estimated 3.5 million American women care for demented spouses or parents at home, putting their own physical and emotional health at risk. New research indicates that a simple, home-based exercise program can reduce the personal toll their caregiving takes.
Source: Center for the Advancement of Health

More Exercise, Less Smoking May Extend, Enhance Life Even At Advanced Age

Adults over the age of 72 who exercise more and smoke less than their counterparts are most likely to enjoy long, healthy and happy lives, new research reveals.
Source: Center for the Advancement of Health

Crash Diet And Exercise Key To Reducing Obesity

The best way to slim down the growing youth obesity rate is for parents to make sure their children are breastfed, that their TV-watching time is cut and that they have a proper diet and plenty of exercise, a government medical expert told a Senate panel.

Dip In Icy Water May Help Runners

An ice water bath may help distance runners prepare for a race, and researchers say it works best with a rectal thermometer.

Pop a Pill, Get in Shape

Researchers ssay a pill may someday replace sweaty workouts for the health conscious.

Doping Widespread In Britain

The use of banned performance-enhancing drugs is a widespread problem in Britain, according to a study issued by the British Medical Association.

Creatine: A Parent's Nightmare

Over-the-counter nutritional supplements are very appealing to adolescents hoping for bigger, more muscular bodies. But there’s a lot more -– and a lot less -– to creatine and other supplements than the advertising would suggest.

New Findings Represent The First Aerobic Capacity QTLs Identified In Genetic Models

It is not by the pure chance of nature that some individuals have enhanced aerobic capacity. The ability to sustain efficient oxygen utilization is a quantitative trait influenced by the interaction of multiple genetic and environmental factors. This has been evidenced by previous studies on the genetic nature of aerobic endurance capacity in humans that suggest that between 70-90 percent of the total phenotypic (characteristics devolved from the interaction of genes to the environment) variance can be attributed to an inherited genetic component.
Source: American Physiological Society,

Gender Differences In Fatigue Explained By The Use Of The Body's Aerobic Pathways

Differences in fatigue between men and women have been found in a number of previous research studies. The collective results are mixed, but a significant number of findings indicate that women fatigue less than men.
Source: American Physiological Society,

High Protein Diets Cause Dehydration, Even In Trained Athletes

Adiet high in protein silently caused dehydration in endurance athletes, individuals whose training gave them a greater capacity to adapt to dehydration than the average person.
Source: Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology,


Fitness Quest Announces Recall Of 'Total Gym' Exercise Machines

In cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, (CPSC), Fitness Quest Inc., of Canton, Ohio, is voluntarily recalling about 310,000 Total Gym exercise machines. The handles on these exercise machines can detach during use and the cable attached to the handles can break, resulting in injury to the user.

BikeE Corp. Announces Recall Of Recumbent Bicycles

In cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, (CPSC), BikeE Corp., of Corvallis, Ore., is voluntarily recalling about 13,500 BikeE recumbent bicycles. The recumbent seats on these bicycles can crack and break, causing the seat to come off the frame and resulting in injury to the rider.

Specialized Bicycle Components Announces Recall Of Bicycles

In cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), Specialized Bicycle Components Inc., of Morgan Hill, Calif., is voluntarily recalling about 2,200 bicycles. The rear seatstays, the tube behind the seat that connects the rear axle to the rear shock, can break, possibly causing the rider to lose control and crash.

InSTEP Announces Recall Of Trailer Bikes

In cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, (CPSC), InSTEP LLC, of Mendota Heights, Minn., is voluntarily recalling about 4,300 Hitchhiker III Trailer Bikes. The bike's universal joint system can fail, causing a rider to lose control of the bike. This poses a risk of injury to either of the two riders.

Horizon Fitness Announces Recall Of Treadmills

In cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), Horizon Fitness, of DeForest, Wis., is voluntarily recalling about 5,900 treadmills. A component of the electronic control panel can malfunction, causing the motor and walking belt to rapidly accelerate and the user can lose balance and fall.

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