12 head-to-toe health boosters
It seems as if every day researchers discover new ways to reduce the risk of disease. What you eat and drink, how you interact with others and seemingly little everyday habits can impact your long-term health. Try these simple and effective, expert-recommended tips for boosting your health from head to toe.
-- By Linda Melone
Munch on carrots ... and reduce breast cancer risk
It appears Bugs Bunny may have been on to something. A new study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (December 2012) shows that carotenoids (pigments that act as antioxidants) found in vegetables may reduce the risk of breast cancer in women. Researchers analyzed data from over 3,000 case studies and found an inverse relationship between levels of carotenoids in the blood and breast cancer risk. In addition to carrots, adding carotenoid-rich yellow and orange squashes such as acorn and butternut to your diet offer similar benefits, says Laura Cipullo, a New York-based registered dietician. "Sources of carotenoids that may surprise you include egg yolks, broccoli, kale and even spinach." Try carrots with hummus, a bowl of hot spaghetti squash with parmesan cheese or half of an acorn squash drizzled with cinnamon and maple syrup.
Be sociable ... for overall well-being
How often you socialize may influence your well-being by the time you reach midlife, according to a study from the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (August 2012). Men and women with a wide circle of friends (10 or more) they saw regularly ranked higher in psychological well-being than those with fewer friends. "Close friendships help reduce depression and anxiety and also buffer stress," says Elizabeth R. Lombardo, Ph.D., MS, psychologist and author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness, (Morgan-James, 2009). Virtual friendships aren't the same, says Lombardo. "While there is nothing wrong with socializing on Facebook, make sure that is not your only social outlet. Prioritize spending time with a friend in person at least once a week."
Practice good posture ... to keep shoulder pain at bay
Keeping your shoulders back and head up does more than make you look more confident — it may help prevent shoulder pain. "In theory, poor upper-body posture can lead to impingement when the rotator cuff muscles (shoulder stabilizers) become compressed against the underside of the shoulder blade," says Dr. David Geier, anorthopedic surgeon and director of sports medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina. With poor posture, the rib cage sits in a hunched forward position, which causes the shoulder blade to rise and tilt forward and can lead to pain. Poor posture could also lead to a muscle imbalance that allows even further compression. Check your posture: While standing sideways to a mirror, you should be able to run an imaginary line through the center of your ear, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle.
Walk in circles ... to de-stress
Stress wreaks havoc with our bodies and can speed up aging and even impair memory, according to a study published in the journal Neuron (March 2012). Meditation can help, but sitting still isn't easy for busy people. As an alternate approach, research shows that walking a labyrinth, a convoluted pathway that winds around a center, also has positive effects, lowering stress and blood pressure. A labyrinth resembles a maze but contains only one winding path with no offshoots or dead ends. Participants follow the circular path in a slow, walking meditation. A pilot study published in the Journal of Addictions Nursing (February 2012) found positive trends in blood pressure after only one to six weeks of labyrinth walking. To find a labyrinth near you and for tips to build your own, go to: http://www.labyrinthlocator.com/ and http://www.labyrinthsociety.org/.
Skip the food channel ... if you're trying to lose weight
If the very sight of food makes your stomach growl, you may want to steer clear of cooking shows when you're trying to lose weight. Merely looking at appetizing food boosts appetite, according to a study published in the journal Obesity (January 2012). Researchers showed an increase in the appetite-regulating hormone ghrelin when study participants viewed photos of appetizing food. If you watch these shows to pick up on new techniques, just keep a few things in mind, says dietician Cipullo. "If watching cooking shows makes you hungry, watch as you prepare dinner, but once you sit down to eat, turn off the TV." Cipullo also recommends keeping a pen and paper in hand, not snacks, when tuning in to your favorite cooking show. "Jot down ingredients, skills and tricks. Or eat a full meal before turning the TV on," she says.
Sip green tea ... and reduce your risk of digestive cancers
Swapping out your coffee for green tea can lower your risk of digestive cancers, according to researchers from Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville, Tenn. Interviews with 75,000 women enrolled in the Shanghai Women's Health Study found that drinking green tea at least three times a week for six months links with a 17 percent reduced risk of digestive cancers. Women who drank two to three cups of green tea per day had a 21 percent reduced risk of digestive system cancers. Natural chemicals in the tea called polyphenols, EGCG and ECG, contain antioxidant properties, which researchers believe may reduce DNA damage and tumor cell growth and invasion.
Pick healthy friends ... for a healthier lifestyle
Your friends may influence whether or not you become obese, according to a 2007 study from the New England Journal of Medicine. The study showed that when a person becomes obese, his friends and even family members are likely to gain weight as well. Researchers believe that friends may subconsciously share the same ideas about healthy weight. "You are the average of the 10 people you spend your most time with when it comes to your physical health and happiness," says psychologist Lombardo. "Healthy friends are more likely to invite you and encourage you to engage in healthy activities with them." To find healthy friends, Lombardo recommends that you "go where they go." Join a gym, sign up for a group activity (like hiking or joining the softball team), take a class (such as a healthy cooking course or Zumba) or volunteer (perhaps at a race for a cause).
Stand up ... for a smaller waistline
Sitting for extended periods of time without taking breaks is associated with a larger waistline, increased risk of inflammation and lower levels of HDL ("good cholesterol"). However, a study published in the European Heart Journal (January 2011) shows that getting up and out of your chair for as little as one minute can help your heart and waistline. Researchers discovered that even those who spend long periods of time sitting down had smaller waists and lower levels of inflammation if they took frequent breaks (the more breaks the better). Standing for one minute was enough to turn around the negative effects of sitting. Kristen James, a New York-based fitness expert, recommends these additional tips: Get an adjustable desk that can be elevated, and you can stand at your computer, or place your laptop on top of a file cabinet. Take walks to address co-workers instead of emailing, and drink water, which gives you a reason to get up and use the restroom frequently.
Floss your pearly whites ... for a healthy heart
Flossing your teeth may seem unrelated to general health, but a build-up of bacteria in your mouth could enter the bloodstream and trigger blood clots and even endocarditis, a life-threatening condition of the heart valves. "Flossing removes the bacteria between the teeth, not just food," says Sanda Moldovan, DDS, MS, CNS, diplomate of the American Academy of Periodontology. "Flossing also prevents bone loss and gum disease." Bone loss occurs when pockets of bacteria build up and produce a toxin that leads to bone loss. Moldovan recommends flossing no more than once a day, as over flossing can cause (gum) recession. Flossing may also help you live longer, says Moldovan. "In a recent study, people who floss live five to seven years longer than those who didn't floss."