A-Z Guide to Good Health
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Fitness

A-Z Guide to Good Health

Our primer on the latest research, tips and tricks to protect every inch of you.

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KEEPING UP WITH THE RECENT MIND, body and diet breakthroughs isn't easy.That's why we've compiled this ultimate glossary, which covers 26 simple ways to fight disease and feel great every day.Consider this your quick guide to cutting-edge news and stay-healthy secrets.

A. Antioxidants. Research shows that consuming foods containing these compounds-think vitamins A, C and E-can slash your risk of heart disease, cancer and stroke and ward off the effects of aging. But there's no proof that getting these nutrients in pill form prevents cardiovascular disease, says a new study by the American Heart Association. Instead, aim to have five or more servings daily of antioxidant-rich foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The USDA has released a study showing that the following foods are top sources: small red beans, blueberries, cranberries, cooked artichokes, broccoli rabe and apples.

B. Bites. Leave a few on your plate from meals and snacks and you could lose up to 10 pounds in one year. Taking three bites less of a hamburger, a store-bought muffin or a burrito subtracts 75 to 100 calories from each.

C. Citrus Aurantium. This botanical—also known as bitter orange—is the main ingredient in a new wave of ephedra-free weight-loss aids. Despite its stimulant effect, there's no proof that it melts flab, according to a new study from George-town University. In fact, like ephedra, citrus aurantium can raise blood pressure to dangerous levels and cause potentially harmful interactions with many medications. Play it safe: Avoid products with this ingredient and stick to diet and exercise to lose weight.

D. Diflucan. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that taking this antifungal prescription drug once a week greatly reduced the number of yeast infections women suffered-with 91 percent of study participants remaining infection-free after six months.

E. Enamel. Protect your pearly whites by limiting your daily intake of soda and processed iced tea. According to a new study, the citric acids in these beverages are even more destructive to tooth enamel than sugar is. "These additives increase the acidity of your mouth and eat away at your enamel. Without that, you're more prone to cavities," explains Cindi Sherwood, D.D.S., a spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry. Additionally, researchers found that light-colored drinks have a more detrimental effect on enamel than either cola or canned iced tea. Try switching to plain water, seltzer or freshly brewed tea, none of which contain citric additives. If you do have a soft drink, brush your teeth or rinse your mouth with water afterward to wash away the acids.

F. Fresh vs. Freeze-Dried Fruit. Don't rely on cereals that contain petrified-looking berries to fill the five-a-day requirement. Most don't have enough fruit to make a difference, explains Caroline M. Apovian, M.D., an associate professor of medicine and director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at Boston University School of Medicine. Plus, the longer it sits on the supermarket shelf (and in your pantry), the more nutrients the processed fruit loses. You're better off with the real thing: One cup of strawberries has just 49 calories, provides 100 percent of your RDA for vitamin C and contains three grams of fiber.

G. Gut. Women are roughly three times more likely than men to have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a condition that causes chronic stomach problems such as bloating, constipation and diarrhea. Though it's not clear why women are more prone to the disease, experts suggest that reproductive hormones may play a role, particularly because symptoms can worsen during menstruation. Previously assumed by many doctors to be psychosomatic, this illness may actually be the result of a biochemical defect in the stomach, reports a recent study. If you've been experiencing gastrointestinal distress, talk to your primary- care provider, who can determine if you're a candidate for one of the new prescription medications that treat IBS.

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H. Heart. Protect your ticker by keeping cool when you’re stressed. Young adults whose blood pressure increases when they're under duress may be at risk for heart disease in middle age, finds a study in the journal Circulation. "Anger causes your body to produce more stress hormones, which can lead to arterial plaque buildup," explains Nieca Goldberg, M.D., a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and a spokesperson for the American Heart Association. To help dissipate anxiety and prevent spikes in blood pressure, try this exercise: Close your eyes, inhale for five seconds, then slowly exhale, visualizing all the anger leaving your body.

I. Ibuprofen. If you're taking this medication for aches and pains regularly, avoid alcohol. "Separately, both alcohol and ibuprofen can irritate the stomach lining, so mixing the two together increases the risk of serious gastric side effects like stomach bleeding," explains Carol Morreale, a clinical pharmacy specialist at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia.

J. Jumping Jacks. Just 30 minutes of this old-school staple is the perfect do-anywhere cardio workout that can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels, reducing your risk of heart disease. "Jumping jacks are better for you than jogging because you engage more muscles as you leap," says Steve Zim, a Los Angeles-based trainer. Plus, you'll burn 250 calories or more in a half hour. (Two 15-minute sessions also provide health benefits.)

K. Kegel Exercises. Momsto- be, take note: A recent Norwegian study found that women who did Kegels regularly during their last three months of pregnancy experienced a shorter, easier labor.

Another benefit is that strengthening your pelvic muscles increases blood flow to the genitals, heightening sexual sensation. One to try: Contract the muscles you'd use to stop the flow of urine, hold for 10 seconds, relax, then repeat.Work up to three reps of 10 daily.

L. Legs. These are one of the body parts where melanoma is most commonly found. Why? "This is where women often forget to apply sunscreen, especially on the backs of the legs, which get more exposure than you think," explains Pamela Jakubowicz, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. Whenever you plan to be outdoors in shorts or a skirt for more than 15 minutes, apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen (with a minimum SPF of 15 and UVA protection) on the back and front of each leg. Don't forget to check these areas for suspicious moles monthly: Look for new moles and for old ones that have changed shape or color, are asymmetrical or have an irregular border (with notched or ragged edges) or multiple colors. If you spot any of these warning signs, make an appointment with your dermatologist ASAP.

M. Mold. Household mold is unsightly-but it's probably not dangerous for most people, says a recent review of research by the National Academies of Science, a branch of the Institute of Medicine in Washington, D.C. "A small patch of mold behind your wall or ceiling won't poison you," explains Ron Simon, M.D., head of the division of allergy, asthma and immunology at the Scripps Clinic in La Jolla, California. "You'd need constant exposure to excess amounts to notice any effects." If you spot a bit of mold, simply grab some bleach and scrub it away, suggests Dr. Simon.

N. Noise. Avoid it if you’re trying to slim down. A recent study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology found that after women were exposed to frustratingly loud sounds-at a volume equal to that of a jackhammer-they were more likely to reach for junk food than men were. Even constant background noise such as a blaring TV or loud music can cause you to eat more and faster.

O. Oscillation. A recent study found that toothbrushes that spin in circles remove more plaque than do electric models that move only from side to side. Put this tactic to use when you brush your teeth by hand: First brush in clockwise circles, then go back over your teeth in a counterclockwise motion.

P. Posture. Keeping your spine aligned is a simple way to banish back and neck aches-as well as improve digestion and maintain muscle tone. A few goodposture pointers: First, align your body as if your joints were stacked one on top of another. "Imagine your earlobes pointing straight down to your shoulder blades, shoulder blades over your hips, hips on top of your knees, knees over ankles," says Leon Root, M.D., a professor of clinical orthopedics at Weill Cornell Medical College of New York City and coauthor of Beautiful Bones Without Hormones (Gotham Books, 2004). Next, pull your stomach in by lifting your chest, keeping your toes pointed straight ahead. Hold for a slow count to 10. Additionally, if you sit at a desk all day, walk around and do some light stretching for two to three minutes.

Q. Quit Cold Turkey. Research shows that if you swear off cigarettes completely, you're more likely to ditch the habit for good than if you slowly cut back. A new study from Texas A&M University found that while men are able to quit via nicotine patches or gum, women are not helped by these methods unless they also receive counseling. For tips on how to quit, log on to quitnet.com.

R. Run Around-Outside. It can do more than improve your mood, especially when the sun is shining. A new study from the University of Michigan found that spending at least 30 minutes outdoors on a sunny day can improve your memory and even spark your creativity. What's more, people who remained indoors during good weather ended up feeling more depressed and bored.

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S. Skeleton. Getting at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily is crucial to preventing osteoporosis, but for young women, exercise is more of a bone builder, according to a new Pennsylvania State University study. "All the milk in the world won't ward off osteoporosis later in life without regular physical activity," says Dr. Root. "Like muscles, your bones need to be stressed so that they build mass and strength.” The best skeleton strengtheners are weightbearing exercises, which include stair climbing, cycling, walking and weight training.

Let tap water run for two minutes to flush out contaminants that may have collected in your pipes.

T. Temperature. A newstudy has shown that whether it's cold or hot outside does affect your temperament. Researchers found that a thermostat set at 72 degrees put participants in the happiest mood, while anything higher or lower made their disposition worse. Remember to turn the temperature down before bed-60 to 65 degrees is ideal for getting a good night's sleep. And when it comes to working out, it's better to exercise in a cool environment. "In lower temps, you won't tire out as easily or became dehydrated before you've gotten your heart rate up," says Zim.

U. Urinary Tract Infection. Next time you feel one coming on, quell the pain temporarily by taking an over-the-counter UTI medicine. "These products keep symptoms at bay and are safe to take for up to three days," explains Lisa Masterson, M.D., an ob/gyn at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles. But remember to call your doctor as soon as possible, because only prescription antibiotics can cure the infection. This might seem obvious, but one study found that just 57 percent of women taking the OTC relievers knew that these drugs didn't actually cure the UTI.

V. Visceral Fat. Not all flab is created equal. This type, which accumulates deep inside your abdomen, is more dangerous than fat that lies just under the skin on your hips and thighs. (People who have it tend to be apple-shaped.) "Because visceral fat is next to your internal organs, it increases your susceptibility to a host of health problems, including heart disease and diabetes," explains Dr. Goldberg. "If you have a waist of 35 inches or more, ask your doctor to screen you for other symp toms." The encouraging news: A recent study from Duke University found that women who walked as little as 11 miles a week at a moderate intensity did not increase levels of visceral fat, while those who were sedentary did.

W. Water. More than 90 percent of public water systems in the United States are safe for drinking, but exceptions do crop up. Last year, city officials in Washington, D.C., discovered that lead levels in tap water were higher than normal in more than 4,000 homes, putting children and unborn babies at risk for developmental problems. To make sure yours is safe to drink, check out your county's annual water-quality report at epa.gov/safewater. You can also invest in a filter that attaches to your faucet or comes as a cartridge that fits into a pitcher. These can remove chlorine, arsenic and other impurities, depending on the model you choose.

X. X-Rays. If you’re tempted to get one of those full-body CT scans that use X-ray technology and computer software to catch small, early-stage tumors, seriously reconsider. A new study in the journal Radiology found that one CT scan packs nearly 100 times the radiation in a mammogram and is comparable to the amount some Japanese atomic-bomb survivors were exposed to. Even scarier, getting one scan annually for 30 years increases your lifetime cancer odds. This screening may be worth the risk to diagnose certain diseases, but you should talk to your doctor before having it.

Y. Yo-YoDieting. It may not be a barrier to permanent weight loss after all. A National Institutes of Health panel found no evidence that losing and then gaining back weight affects your metabolism, says John Foreyt, M.D., Ph.D., director of the behavioral medicine re- search center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, who was a member of the panel. What's more, researchers found that many people don't actually have a set weight from which their bodies refuse to deviate. So don't be discouraged if you've lost and gained-it won't ruin your chances of success the next time around.

Z. Zits. Good news for the almost 33 percent of adult women who are still plagued by pimples: Scientists recently mapped out the genes for the bacteria that cause acne-a move that promises to provide more effective treatments to come. In the meantime, you can fight blemishes by applying a 5 percent benzoyl-peroxide lotion or regularly using a salicylicacid wash. Products containing either of these active ingredients will help dry out the zits and kill the bacteria that cause breakouts in the first place, says Dr. Jakubowicz.

Originally published in Fitness magazine.

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