Health & Lifestyle – Page 2 – Better Off Healthy
zika

These 8 Bug Sprays Are Useless Against Zika

By now you know to be a little concerned about mosquitos carrying the Zika virus, which means it’s more important than ever to protect yourself from bug bites. We know: Most sprays leave you smelling worse than a citronella candle, but the CDC says insect repellent truly is the best defense against Zika.

However you can’t just pick up any bug spray and expect it to protect you. ConsumerReports tested dozens of sprays against mosquitos that spread Zika and West Nile viruses, as well as ticks carrying lime disease, for its annual insect repellent ratings. The brands that topped the list (Sawyer Picaridin and Ben’s 30 Percent Deet Wilderness Formula) protected for up to seven hours, while the loser, EcoSmart Organic, worked for only 30 minutes! In general, you want to look for repellents with deet, lemon eucalyptus oil, or picaridin.

As for brands to avoid? Check out our handy graphic of the bug sprays that failed ConsumerReport’s tests:

 

Source: http://greatist.com/live/bug-spray-these-brands-are-useless-against-zika

probiotics

Do Probiotics Actually Work?

We’ll be the first to admit we’ve gone a little cuckoo for kombucha. But as much as we love the fermented drink, we may need to rein in our enthusiasm for it—and similar gut-friendly goodies. As this video from The Atlantic points out, there’s not enough scientific evidence to actually support the probiotic craze. What we do know is this: A high-fiber, minimally processed diet is your best bet for a healthy gut. Bacteria thrive on the fiber found in whole foods, and fiber transforms into short-chain fatty acids, which help regulate the immune and digestive systems.

So go ahead and keep sippin’ small-batch kombucha if you like the taste, but you may want to hold off on probiotic pills until researchers find a kind that improves gut health in scientific studies.

Source: http://greatist.com/live/probiotics-do-they-actually-work

spf

These 12 Sunscreens Are Lying About Their SPF

It takes only one long day at the beach to realize the importance of sunscreen. Sunscreen protects against two types of rays: UVA and UVB. The latter causes sunburns, but any product with an SPF above 15 should protect you. Anything higher gives you marginally better protection against burns but does a better job of reflecting the UVA rays that are associated with skin cancer.

But don’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet. ConsumerReports’s annual sunscreen ratings found many sunblocks have a significantly lower SPF than advertised. We took the worst offenders (products whose actual SPF was less than half of what they claimed) and made this handy graphic, so you know which brands to steer clear of the next time you’re shopping for sunblock.

Source: http://greatist.com/live/sunscreens-that-are-lying-about-their-spf
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5 Things You Should Know About Detox Teas

So-called “detox” teas have been popular for years, primarily among people who frequent health-food stores, or consult with alternative practitioners. These days, though, they’ve become big business, and a handful of celebrities are touting their weight-loss benefits on social media. In a way, detox teas have become the liquid version of waist trainers—the before and after results are often dramatic, and their celeb backing generates buzz, but you may be wondering: Do they really work, and are they safe? Before you plunk down your hard-earned money and start sipping, here are five things you should know.

You still have to diet and exercise for them to work

One detox tea brand, recently Instagrammed by Amber Rose, advises per their website that for “best results,” the tea should be consumed along with plenty of water, healthy, balanced meals, and three to five workouts a week. Another, which has been Instagrammed by several celebs, including Kourtney Kardashian, Christina Milian, and Hilary Duff, states online that the tea “…is recommended to be taken in conjunction with a healthy energy-controlled diet and regular exercise” and the website offers an accompanying meal plan for sale. Personally, I’d love to see a study comparing outcomes generated by a detox tea compared to a placebo, with both groups following the exact same eating plan, but I haven’t found any. That makes it difficult to know whether the weight-loss results people are getting from these teas are actually due to drinking them, or simply the result of  a cleaned-up diet and consistent workout routine, which we already know can lead to weight loss. In any case, simply sipping detox tea while continuing to skip the gym and order takeout is unlikely to help you shrink your shape.

You might lose water weight, not actual fat

Detox teas that combine caffeine with diuretics can trigger the loss of water weight. Just two cups of water weighs one pound on a scale, so shedding fluid can make you look and feel lighter—even if you haven’t lost an ounce of body fat. Detox teas can also trigger a laxative effect, which causes your body to eliminate waste from your GI tract, another result that can make your stomach flatter, and allow you to feel lighter, even if your lean-to-fat ratio remains exactly the same. If this quick-fix effect gives you the confidence boost and motivation you need to start eating healthier and working out—the real keys to getting healthy and lean—terrific (assuming the teas are even safe to drink—see below). Just remember: If you go back to your former less-than-stellar eating or exercise habits, or stop drinking the tea, you can gain the weight right back just as quick as you dropped it.

Some detox tea ingredients can have unwanted side effects

In addition to actual tea, detox concoctions typically include additional herbs, which may be designed to curb appetite, rev metabolism, or boost weight loss in other ways. One example is senna, a plant with a natural laxative effect. According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, the potential side effects of senna use may include abdominal pain and discomfort, cramps, bloating, gas, nausea, and diarrhea; excessive use can lead to potassium depletion and other electrolyte abnormalities, which can trigger muscle spasms and an abnormal heart rhythm. Another popular ingredient in weight loss teas is guarana, a plant that’s often added to energy drinks. Its side effects are commonly related to its caffeine content, which may include nervousness, restlessness, stomach irritation, nausea, vomiting, headache, anxiety, agitation, ringing in the ears, and fast heart and breathing rates. Bottom line: Do your homework about exactly what’s in a product before you put it in your body. Even “all-natural” substances can have potential side effects, especially if they’re overused, combined with other supplements or medications that result in negative interactions, or if taken by those with pre-existing medical conditions. RELATED: 10 Fast Weight Loss Tips (We Tried Them!)

They may interfere with sleep

Most detox teas contain caffeine, probably because this stimulant may suppress appetite, trigger your digestive system to let go of waste, and help you shed water weight. A caffeine-induced energy boost may also lead to working out a little longer or harder than usual. However, too much caffeine can also be risky (see above) and interfere with getting enough sleep—and catching too few zzzs may ultimately undo the tea’s weight-loss effects. In fact, too little shuteye has been shown to trigger excessive eating and weight gain and even slow metabolism, which can make it easier to gain weight even if you don’t eat extra calories. A good rule of thumb, regardless of where your caffeine is coming from, is to nix it at least six hours before bed. And if you’re trying to shed pounds, commit to making adequate sleep a top priority.

The research on detox teas is scant

While there are some published studies on various ingredients often found in detox teas, I haven’t seen any research on the teas themselves, particularly in the precise formulas they’re prescribed (that research isn’t required for the teas to be sold, by the way). That means that using detox teas leaves unanswered questions about if and how they work, how they should be used, how much may be too much, and possibly who shouldn’t use them. If you’re unsure, or are planning to start drinking them, talk to your doctor, nutritionist, or health care provider. Just be sure he or she doesn’t have a vested interest in the sale of the product you’re considering: If they happen to be selling or endorsing it, seek a second opinion.

 

Source: http://news.health.com/2015/06/15/5-things-you-should-know-about-detox-teas/

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9 Foods That Boost Metabolism Naturally

Foods that boost metabolism

Your metabolism is partly ruled by genetics, but you can rev it up naturally by eating right. Fill up on the following nine foods to increase your body’s fat-burning power.

 

Egg whites

Egg-Whites

Egg whites are rich in branched-chain amino acids, which keep your metabolism stoked, says Chicago nutritionist David Grotto, RDN. Eggs are also loaded with protein and vitamin D.

 

Lean meat

lean meat

Lean meat is full of iron; deficiencies in the mineral can slow metabolism. Eat three to four daily servings of iron-rich foods, such as chicken or fortified cereal.

 

Water

drinking

If you’re even mildly dehydrated, your metabolism may slow down, says Scott Isaacs, MD, clinical instructor of medicine at the Emory University School of Medicine. Tip: Drink water cold, which forces your body to use more calories to warm it up.

 

Chili peppers

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Chili peppers contain capsaicin, a chemical compound that can kick metabolism into higher gear, Dr. Isaacs says. He suggests adding a tablespoon of chopped chili peppers to a meal once a day. Chili peppers are also an unexpected source of vitamin C.

 

Coffee

cup-of-coffee

A study published in Physiology & Behavior found that the average metabolic rate of people who drank caffeinated coffee was 16 percent higher than that of those who drank decaf.

 

Green Tea

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The brew contains a plant compound called EGCG, which promotes fat-burning, research suggests.

 

Milk

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Studies conducted by Michael Zemel, PhD, former director of The Nutrition Institute at the University of Tennessee, suggest that consuming calcium may help your body metabolize fat more efficiently.

 

Whole grains

Whole-Grains

Whole grains help your body burn more fat because they take extra effort to break down than processed grains, like white bread and pasta. Whole foods that are rich in fiber, like brown rice and oatmeal, are your best bets.

 

Lentils

lentils-for-baby

About 20 percent of women are iron deficient, which is bad news for your waistline—your body can’t work as efficiently to burn calories when it’s missing what it needs to work properly. One cup of lentils provides 35 percent of your daily iron needs.

 

Source: http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20746339_10,00.html

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5 Healthy Habits That Fight the Signs of Aging

How to Maintain a Youthful Appearance

 

Eat Right: Healthy Skin Starts with Healthy Eating
You really are what you eat. Every cell in your body is made from the foods you eat, so why not feed your body high-quality, nutritious foods for best results? After all, your diet has a major impact on the overall health of your body, inside and out. If you need motivation to eat more fruits and vegetables, caring about your appearance may just be the push you need to fill your plate with more plant foods.

Nutrients such as beta carotene, vitamin C, selenium and zinc are abundant in fresh produce, while vitamin E is found in healthy nuts and seeds. These antioxidants help increase cellular regeneration and the production of elastin and collagen, keeping your skin firm and wrinkle-free. Essential fatty acids, such as those found in flaxseed and fatty fish, help your skin function properly and aid in tissue repair. Bottom line: If it’s a whole food, it’s good for both your body and your skin.

Wear Sunscreen: The Perfect Anti-Aging Cream
Too much sun exposure can damage your skin, causing wrinkles, sun spots, uneven tone, and dryness—not exactly the picture of youth. If you’re sensitive to the sun or spend more than 10-15 minutes outside most days (the amount recommended you spend outside without sunscreen for vitamin D synthesis), then sunscreen is a must.

Dermatologists recommend applying SPF 15 (or greater) sunscreen every day, even in the winter. For maximum anti-aging benefits, make sure to apply sunscreen to your ears, neck, décolletage and hands, too. If looking younger is important to you, then add sunscreen to your beauty regimen. As a bonus, it also moisturizes your skin!

Stay Hydrated: Water is the Fountain of Youth
Drinking lots of water is one of the easiest ways to look (and feel) your best. Water is needed for almost every body process, including perspiration and the removal of waste products. Water also keeps the skin moist, plump and supple. Fine lines and wrinkles appear more pronounced when you are dehydrated, so make sure you meet your daily quota—that’s about eight cups a day (or equivalent).

Drink Less: Alcohol Ages You
Alcohol may have some health benefits according to recent research, but it could be detrimental to your appearance. Drinking alcohol causes dehydration and depletes your body of valuable vitamins and minerals. When you drink alcohol,  your liver has to work extra hard to eliminate the toxins from your body, but when you cut down or eliminate alcohol, your body can flush out impurities more efficiently—resulting in clearer skin and a rosier complexion.

Don’t Smoke: Tobacco Tarnishes Your Skin
Ever heard of smoker’s face? This term, added to the medical dictionary in 1985, describes the telltale characteristics that make smokers look older than they really are: grey skin, gauntness, and wrinkles around the mouth and eyes, and deep lines in the cheeks. If all the other health problems related to smoking haven’t made you quit yet, maybe vanity will.

Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 toxins, many of which are absorbed directly into the skin. Smoking causes the blood vessels in the top layers of the skin to constrict, reducing the amount of oxygen in the blood and causing a sickly pallor. Smoking causes the skin to thin due to poor circulation, making lines and wrinkles more noticeable. Smoking also reduces the production of collagen, which is needed to keep the skin plump and firm. One study of 25 sets of identical twins (one a lifelong smoker, the other a non-smoker) by British researchers at St. Thomas’s Hospital found that the skin of the smoker was 25 percent thinner than the non-smoker’s. In a few cases the skin was up to 40 percent thinner. Your appearance is just one of the many reasons why you shouldn’t smoke, so take steps to quit today.

Aging is inevitable, but looking older doesn’t have to be. While a certain amount of how your skin ages is due to genetic factors beyond your control, just knowing I can help keep Father Time at bay with a healthy lifestyle makes me feel better about the future. Bring on the 40s—I’m ready to put my best face forward! Are you?

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5 Mind-Body Exercises for a Healthier Heart

There are a myriad of factors that affect heart health. From regular exercise to smoking cessation to eating a nutritious diet, there are a number of things you can do to strengthen your heart. But did you know that the mind-body connection can also be a strong ally in reducing your risk of heart disease?

While many of us think of physical health when it comes to heart health, research shows that your mood, outlook, and stress levels strongly affect the body—and the heart. This means that heart disease prevention isn’t just a matter of eating better or exercising; engaging in stress-reducing exercises and mind-body practices can significantly improve the health of your heart, too. As a bonus, these activities have other body and mind benefits, too, like boosting your mood, helping you focus, improving your fitness, and increasing your overall life satisfaction. Talk about a win-win!

Here are five mind-body activities you can incorporate into your healthy lifestyle to help your mind, body—and heart!

Yoga
Yoga is probably best known for its flexibility benefits, along with its ability to help you sleep better, feel better about yourself and promote mindfulness. But, yoga has also been shown to be a powerful contributor of heart health. In fact, according to November 2009 research published in the International Journal of Medical Engineering and Informatics, those who practice yoga have higher heart rate variability (a sign of a healthy heart) than those who do not regularly practice yoga. In addition, the study found that regular yogis had stronger parasympathetic control, which indicates better autonomic control over heart rate—a sign of a healthier heart.

Another recent study by Ohio State University researchers, published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, found that women who routinely practiced yoga had lower levels of the cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6) in their blood. IL-6 is part of the body’s inflammatory response and has been correlated with heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, arthritis and a host of other age-related chronic diseases, making it a key marker in heart-health research. The women doing yoga also showed smaller increases in IL-6 in their blood after stressful experiences than women who were the same age and weight but who were not practicing yoga. Scientists believe that this indicates that yoga may also help people respond more calmly to stress in their everyday lives, which is a boon to heart health.

Although researchers can’t exactly pinpoint which part of yoga—the breathing, stretching, relaxation or meditation—is responsible for the positive results, it’s encouraging to say the least!

How to incorporate yoga in your life: Reap the heart-healthy benefits of yoga with just 20 minutes of yoga three times a week. Be sure to read our beginner’s guide to yoga to get you started!

Meditation
There is ample research on how meditation can help reduce stress, which helps the heart stay healthy. But the most impressive study came from researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee in collaboration with the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. After following about 200 patients for an average of five years, researchers found that high-risk patients who practiced Transcendental Meditation (where you sit quietly and silently repeat a mantra) cut their risk of heart attack, stroke and death from all causes almost in half compared to a group of similar patients who did not meditate. In addition, the group that meditated tended to remain disease-free longer, reduced their blood pressure and had lower stress levels. Researchers hypothesize that some of the benefits of meditation come from stress reduction, which causes a reduction of the stress hormone cortisol and dampens the inflammatory processes associated with atherosclerosis or the hardening of the arteries.

How to incorporate meditation in your life: While the research focuses on Transcendental Meditation, there are a variety of ways to meditate including walking meditation, guided meditation via a CD or simply sitting and listening to the sounds around you. Starting out with just five minutes a day of quiet time with your thoughts can yield big results. For seven ways to get your zen on, click here.

Pilates
Pilates is a great form of exercise. Its mat-based moves have been shown to increase flexibility, build core strength, improve posture and alleviate lower-back pain. But did you also know that it can help prevent heart disease by improving the fitness of your heart? According to a 2005 report from the American College of Sports Medicine, a beginner Pilates workout counts as low- to moderate-intensity exercise, which is comparable to active stretching. Intermediate Pilates workouts are the cardio equivalent of working at a moderate-intensity level, such as speed walking at a rate of 4 to 4.5 mph on the treadmill. Advanced Pilates workouts provide the most cardiovascular benefit with a moderately high intensity, similar to basic stepping on a six-inch platform, according to the report. All Pilates workouts have also shown to improve circulation.

In addition to improving the cardiovascular system, similar to yoga, Pilates also links movement to breath, enhancing your mind-body connection, and thereby reducing stress and lowering the heart rate.

How to incorporate Pilates in your life: If you’re ready to try Pilates, try this short lower body Pilates workout. You can add this on to the end of your usual cardio workout or do it first thing in the morning before heading to work. For best results, try to get in a short 10- to 20-minute Pilates workout three times a week.

Also known as moving meditation, Tai Chi combines mental concentration with slow, controlled movements to focus the mind, challenge the body, and improve the flow of what the Chinese call “chi,” or life energy. If you’ve ever seen someone doing Tai Chi, it looks like a slow and graceful low-impact dance.

But Tai Chi isn’t just slow dancing; it has serious health benefits, including improving heart function and decreasing blood pressure and stress reduction. In fact, a May 2010 systematic review in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that Tai Chi was effective in reducing stress, anxiety, depression and mood disturbance, and increasing self-esteem.

How to incorporate Tai Chi in your life: Sign up at your local health club or community center for a series of Tai Chi classes with an experienced instructor. Practicing formally in class each week will give you the skills to practice Tai Chi on your own!

Deep Breathing
What do most of the above mind-body practices listed above have in common? That’s right: deep, slow and controlled breathing! While not really an “exercise,” the simple act of sitting and focusing on your breathing can do wonders for your heart. While there isn’t much research on how deep breathing affects the heart, you can feel the results for yourself when you simply sit and take five big deep breaths, focusing on a deep inhale and exhale. You can almost instantaneously feel your body release stress and your mind calm down.

Because it helps fuel your body and its cells with nutrient-rich oxygen, deep breathing has been shown to slow down the heart rate and lower blood pressure, making it the perfect heart-healthy activity when you’re short on time and need a quick way to relieve some stress.

How to incorporate deep breathing in your life: Try to take a few deep breaths at multiple times throughout the day. Making a habit to take three deep breaths upon waking, at lunch and when sitting in traffic can greatly benefit your heart health without disrupting your busy schedule. And, of course, when you’re really feeling stressed, excuse yourself to the restroom for some deep breathing. They don’t call it a “restroom” for nothing!

Mind-body exercises are a powerful way to boost your heart health and keep your ticker ticking stronger and longer, so be sure to incorporate one or more of these mind-body exercises in your heart-healthy lifestyle.

This article has been reviewed and approved by SparkPeople fitness experts and certified personal trainers, Jen Mueller and Nicole Nichols.

Sources:
American College of Sports Medicine. “Pilates Research Offers New Information on Popular Technique,” accessed March 2011. www.acsm.org.

Associated Press. Breath Deep to Lower Blood Pressure, Doc Says,” accessed March 2011. www.msnbc.msn.com.

Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association. “Effects of Stress Reduction on Clinical Events in African Americans With Coronary Heart Disease,” accessed March 2011. www.circ.ahajournals.org.

Cleveland Clinic. “Heart and Vascular Health Prevention: Pilates,” accessed March 2011. www.my.clevelandclinic.org.

Framson et al. Development and Validation of the Mindful Eating Questionnaire. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2009; 109 (8): 1439 DOI: 10.1016/j.jada.2009.05.006

Sarnataro, Barbara Russi. “Tai Chi Exercises Both Mind and Body,” accessed March 2011. www.webmd.com.

Science Daily. “Tai Chi Gets Cautious Thumbs Up for Psychological Health,” accessed March 2011. www.sciencedaily.com.

ScienceDaily. “Yoga Boosts Heart Health, New Research Finds,” accessed March 2011. www.sciencedaily.com.

ScienceDaily. “Yoga Reduces Cytokine Levels Known to Promote Inflammation, Study Shows,” accessed March 2011. www.sciencedaily.com. text

Smith, Rebecca. “Meditation ‘cuts risk of heart attack by half’,” accessed March 2011. www.telegraph.co.uk.

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Nutrition Tips and Supplements for Insomnia

Dietary Changes for a Better Night’s Sleep

Is a good night’s sleep eluding you?
Tossing and turning the whole night through,
Drowsiness, fatigue, a lack of sleep,
There is more help than just counting sheep.

There are many factors that can cause sleep problems, and even more potential solutions. The steps you take to improve your sleeping patterns will be individual, based on the cause of your insomnia and the treatment plan laid out by your health care provider. In addition to the many lifestyle changes that can help you sleep better, the following nutrition tips and supplements may also help improve the quality and quantity of your shut-eye:

Stop eating at least two to three hours before your regular bedtime. If your body is trying to digest food, you won’t be able to fully relax, fall asleep or stay asleep.

Limit: fried and fatty foods, refined carbohydrates (such as white rice, breads, pasta, and sugars), and spicy foods (especially if you are prone to heartburn), especially before bedtime. The effects of these foods can interfere with your ability to get a good night’s sleep.

Enjoy a light snack approximately two hours before bedtime, as falling and staying asleep can be difficult if you are hungry. A healthy snack can help take the edge off of your hunger and help you sleep through the night. Your snack should contain mostly carbohydrates and a small amount of protein. This combination may help increase the availability of tryptophan (an amino acid that helps induce sleep) to your brain. A few pre-bedtime snack ideas include:

  • A small bowl of oatmeal
  • Cereal with low-fat milk
  • Yogurt with granola sprinkled on top
  • Half of a bagel topped with peanut butter
  • A piece of whole wheat bread with one slice of deli turkey
  • Six whole-grain crackers with one ounce cheese
  • Sliced apple with one ounce cheese or peanut butter

Avoid alcohol before bedtime. Alcohol may help you to fall asleep quickly, but it can disrupt your normal sleep patterns and leave you feeling un-rested the next morning.

Avoid caffeinated drinks and foods during the afternoon and evening. Caffeine is a stimulant found in coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate that can delay your sleep or cause you to wake up during the night. You may want to avoid caffeine entirely and see if your sleep improves.

Limit the consumption of liquids in the evening, to decrease the urge to go to the bathroom during the night.

Along with these lifestyle measures, you may wish to consider a natural sleep aid supplement. Supplements should NEVER be taken together or with other sedative drugs. Discuss the appropriateness of these supplements with your doctor first, as well as dosage and the risk of physical and psychological dependency. The two best-researched, most effective supplemental sleep aids are valerian root and melatonin.

  • Valerian root (valeriana officinalis) is a sedative herb that has been used for centuries. Several small studies have suggested that valerian helps people fall asleep and stay asleep. It may take up to four weeks (or more) of usage to notice improvements in sleep, and this herb can leave some people feeling “fuzzy” the next morning. A typical dosage of valerian root is 300-600 milligrams of valerian extract in tablet or capsule form, 30 minutes before bedtime. Always discuss valerian root with your doctor before trying it.
  • Melatonin is a hormone (made in the brain of humans but also produced by animals and plants) that appears to play a critical role in the regulation of the sleep-wake cycle. So far, the effects of melatonin are complex and poorly-understood, but research shows that it is “possibly effective” in decreasing sleep disturbances caused by jetlag, as well as “likely effective” in easing sleep disorders in blind children and adults, and people with mental retardation, autism, or other central nervous system disorders. There is not enough research to conclude anything about melatonin’s effectiveness for other sleep disturbances. Melatonin supplements are available over-the-counter, but always discuss melatonin use with your doctor before trying it.

When it comes to treating insomnia, there is insufficient evidence or limited research to support the following supplements:

  • Hops
  • Indian snakeroot
  • Kava
  • Lavender
  • Lemon balm
  • Passionflower

While nutritional changes and supplements alone are possibilities for curing your insomnia, it’s best to take a comprehensive approach. Work with your doctor to find potential underlying causes to your sleeping problems, and create a treatment plan that encompasses lifestyle, diet and exercise changes to help you sleep better.

 

Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=876&page=1

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Fitting Healthy Habits Into Your Hectic Life

13 Tips to Get More Nutrition and Fitness into Your Day

We often get questions about the best abs exercises—after all, who doesn’t want to tone their tummy in the least amount of time? There are countless exercises that target the abs, including fitness DVDs (Does “8 Minute Abs” ring a bell?) and even pricey machines that you often see on infomercials. But do you need a video or specialized piece of equipment to get the abs of your dreams?

A study conducted at San Diego State University’s Biomechanics Lab (and published by ACE, the American Council on Exercise) says no. Their research revealed that the best exercises for your abs don’t require any gizmos, and are surprisingly easy to fit into your day.

Researchers looked at the effectiveness of 13 common abdominal exercises—everything from crunches to the “Ab Roller”  machine. Using EMG (electromyography), researchers measured the muscle activity of the participants to determine which exercises best targeted the abs and the obliques, while also limiting the activity of the hips and thighs (because when an abdominal exercise is executed poorly, the hips and thighs engage to “help out” the abs).

Overall, researchers said that all of these exercises are “relatively effective” ways to train the abs—but some are more effective than others.

There just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to accomplish everything you need to do. And it can feel like an added stressor when you are trying to integrate healthy habits into your already hectic schedule. But if you make time for healthy habits, you’ll find yourself with extra reserves of energy that will lower your stress and help you get through life’s challenges.

Here are a few things you can start doing right now to make healthy habits a relatively painless part of your routine:

1. Drink water throughout the day. You don’t hear this nearly enough: water is an all-purpose wonder-substance. It’s great for your skin, your digestive system, and circulatory system, and aids in weight loss and cellulite reduction. If you feel fatigued during the day, it’s often because you aren’t hydrated properly. Drink water throughout the day, sipping from a large bottle or glass. If you have it nearby, it’s easy to remember. If you don’t like the “taste” of water, keep a supply of lemon so that you can add a slice to your water – it cuts any bitterness, adds a bit of vitamin C and makes it taste more festive!

2. Cut back on the amount of soda and coffee you drink. Sugar and caffeine dehydrate you and create energy rushes followed by crashes, which are ultimately energy-depleting. Substitute with drinks like green tea or 100% fruit juice.

3. Replace high-sugar foods with low-sugar versions. Cutting back on the amount of refined sugar you consume helps reduce calories and weight gain and also helps you avoid the energy slumps that come from sugar withdrawal. Items high in refined sugar include most soft drinks, cereals, baked goods, and of course, candy and ice cream. Look for low-sugar or no-sugar versions of these, or simply opt for healthy snacks instead.

4. Stock up on healthy, portable snacks. When you are grocery shopping, pick up bags of baby carrots, string cheese, nuts, fresh and dried fruit, single serving packs of applesauce, yogurt, wholegrain crackers, peanut butter, turkey jerky, etc. Having healthy portable snacks around will help you avoid bad vending-machine, convenience store and fast-food options. Read some more portable snack ideas.

5. Take the time to plan healthy meals for the week. Spend 15 minutes or so to map out your meals. Keep it simple. Then, when you shop for groceries, make your purchases based on the meals you will make during the week. This will help you avoid relying on less healthy take-out or fast food choices.

6. Purchase frozen, ready-to-cook ingredients. Frozen fruits and vegetables have high vitamin and mineral content because they don’t sit around losing these nutrients for long before they are preserved. Although you’ll want to keep plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables around, it’s great to have frozen produce available for quick meal additions and smaller servings. Also, some grocery stores offer frozen boneless chicken breasts and a wide variety of seafood items in re-sealable packages. These are great for quick, healthy meals.

7. Pack your lunch the night before. You’ll have given yourself the gift of extra time in the morning and you will assure that you have a healthy meal during the day. Don’t forget to pack snack items so you can avoid the vending machine.

8. Cook double batches of whatever you’re cooking. When you prepare dinner, especially on weekends, cook extra and freeze to use for another dinner or lunch. Then, you’ll have a healthy meal ready to go when you are.

9. Give yourself some slack. If you are stressed out about preparing healthy meals every day, use what some experts call the “80/20” rule in your eating. If 80 percent of what you eat is healthy, then allow yourself to take it a little easier for the remaining 20 percent. You and your diet will survive.

10. Fit in exercise whenever you can. Experts recommend that adults exercise a minimum of 30 minutes three times per week. Aim for this amount, but don’t kick yourself if you can’t meet this goal. Any amount of exercise is better than none. No time to go to a gym? Build a stock of exercise tapes – many have routines that you can complete in 20-40 minutes. Use hand weights or do crunches, leg-lifts and lunges while watching television. Or invest in an exercise bike – you can pedal while catching up on your reading. Think of what would be most interesting to you and what best fits your schedule

11. Take a walk break during the day. Even 20 minutes can make a difference in your energy level, plus it gives you time to clear your head. If you walk with a friend or colleague, it also gives you time to socialize.

12. Whenever possible, walk. Increase the amount of time you can walk, versus sit or drive. It doesn’t take that much extra time to park a bit farther from the store entrance, or to make a personal visit to a colleague rather than phoning, instant messaging or e-mailing.

13. Get enough sleep. Even if you gain more time in your day by cutting back on sleep, you will be less effective throughout the day, as your energy level and cognitive functioning will be reduced. Insufficient sleep also makes you more susceptible to illness. By getting enough sleep, you become more efficient during the time you are awake.

Begin integrating some or all of these habits today. Make them part of your normal routine. You’ll be surprised at how little time is involved and how much better you’ll feel!

 

Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/wellness_articles.asp?id=186&page=1

antibotics

Why You Might Not Need Your Antibiotics

About 30% of antibiotics that are prescribed in doctor’s offices, clinics and emergency rooms are unnecessary, according to a new report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers looked at medical care survey data from 2010-2011 to analyze rates of prescriptions for oral antibiotics. The study authors looked for cases where the medication prescribed was “inappropriate”, meaning it wasn’t necessary, or when the wrong antibiotic was chosen, the dosage wasn’t right or the drug was used for too long or too short a time.

More than 12% of the 180,000-plus visits in the study ended with an antibiotic prescription, often for cases that didn’t meet clinical standards for the condition. Sinus infections were the most common conditions to get antibiotics; ear infections and sore throat were also common. During the study period, the estimated yearly antibiotic prescription rate was 506 per 1,000 people, but only 353 of the prescriptions were deemed appropriate for the condition.

For most common conditions, clinicians generally know if antibiotics are needed or not,” says study author Dr. Katherine Fleming-Dutra, a medical officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Often, clinicians are worried about patient satisfaction. They think that a patient wants antibiotics, and they want the patient to be satisfied with their care, sometimes leading them to prescribe when they shouldn’t.”

Two million Americans get infections that are resistant to antibiotics each year, which lead to about 23,000 deaths. Antibiotic resistance is a national priority, and the goal of the White House National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria is to reduce outpatient antibiotic use by 50% and inpatient use by 20% by the year 2020.

The good news is that the majority of patients trust clinicians to recommend the right treatment,” says Fleming-Dutra. “Clinicians can address patient satisfaction by communicating effectively when antibiotics are needed, and when they aren’t.”

 

 

Source:  This article originally appeared on Time.com.


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