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A-Z Guide to Good Health

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H-R

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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