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Category Archives: Health

The Facebook Effect For Your Self

Is it us, or are news headlines about Facebook’s impact on our health popping up more and more these days? Considering that 51 percent of Americans over age 12 now have profiles on the social networking site compared to 8 percent just three years ago, according to new data from Edison Research, it’s no wonder there are entire scientific journals devoted to the psychology of social networking, and piles of studies analyzing such sites’ effects on our moods, body image, friendships, and marriages.

Negative conditions such as “Facebook depression” or Facebook-fueled divorces bear the brunt of the media blitz, but much of the body of research actually points to positive perks from Facebook use. Here, a deeper look at how all those “likes,” “pokes,” and status updates are really affecting you and your family’s well-being, and how you can outsmart some of the potentially negative side effects.

Health Benefits of Facebook

Research shows that Facebook can:

  1. Fuel self-esteem. In a Cornell University study, students felt better about themselves after they updated their Facebook profiles; a control group of students who didn’t log onto the site didn’t experience such a mood lift. The very act of posting something about yourself — regardless of what you write — can boost your self-confidence because you control the image you present to your network of friends, according to researchers.Similarly, according to a Michigan State University study, students with low self-esteem and happiness levels who used Facebook more frequently felt more connected to friends and campus life than those who logged on less often.
  2. Strengthen friendship bonds. In a small study of heavy Facebook-using young British adults between ages 21 and 29, Lancaster University researchers found that the site helped cement positive interactions among friends. Both private messages and wall posts allowed Facebook users to confide in their friends, surf down memory lane, and laugh out loud, promoting happy feelings.
  3. Stamp out shyness and loneliness. In a soon-to-be-published Carnegie Mellon study, researchers who surveyed more than 1,100 avid Facebook-using adults found that receiving messages from friends and consuming info from friends’ news feeds boosted feelings of connectedness, especially in people with self-described “low social skills.” Authors say that for shy people, gleaning information from news feeds and profiles can help start conversations they otherwise might not be comfortable enough to strike up. “People who are uncomfortable chatting face to face gain more through their use of the site,” says study co-author Moira Burke, a PhD candidate in the university’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute.Similar benefits hold true for tweens and teens: Australian researchers who studied more than 600 students between age 10 and 16 found that communicating online helped improve communication skills for lonely adolescents, giving them an outlet to talk more comfortably about personal topics.

Health Risks of Facebook

Research also shows that Facebook can:

  1. Cause depression. A recently published American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) paper made a major splash when it described Facebook depression — a condition said to result when tweens and teens spend too much time on social media, leading them to turn to “substance abuse, unsafe sexual practices, or aggressive or self-destructive behaviors.”However, the phenomenon is more anecdotal than based on solid science, and some experts suggest that it’s more of a correlation — that people who are depressed may simply be more likely to use Facebook. “People who are already feeling down or depressed might go online to talk to their friends, and try and be cheered up,” wrote John M. Grohol, PsyD, founder and editor-in-chief of PsychCentral.com on his blog. “This in no way suggests that by using more and more of Facebook, a person is going to get more depressed.”

    In one of the papers cited by the AAP report, researchers found that the more time first-time Internet users spent online, the more likely they were to experience loneliness and depression but a follow-up study showed such effects disappeared a year later, according to Dr. Grohol. “It may simply be something related to greater familiarity with the Internet,” he wrote. In another paper referenced by the AAP report, the depression-Facebook link only held true among people with “low-quality” friendships; people with good pals did not experience depression with increasing Facebook use.

  2. Trigger eating disorders. The more time adolescent girls spent on the social networking site, the more likely they were to develop eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and extreme dieting, Israeli researchers recently found. Exposure to online fashion and music content, as well as watching TV shows like Gossip Girl, were also associated with an increased risk for eating disorders.But researchers aren’t saying that social networking sites necessarily cause eating disorders; as with Facebook depression, it may be that people prone to eating disorders spend more time online. What’s more, the researchers found that parents can help protect their daughters from harmful effects of media: The children of parents who were aware of what their daughters were viewing online — and talked to them about what they saw and how much time they spent — were less prone to develop eating disorders, according to study authors.
  3. Split up marriages. Facebook was referenced in 20 percent of divorce petitions processed in 2009 by Divorce-Online, a British law firm. Time magazine reported that feuding spouses use their Facebook pages to air dirty laundry, while their lawyers use posts as evidence in divorce proceedings. Sexual health expert Ian Kerner, PhD, recently blogged on CNN that he’s seen many relationships destroyed by “Facebook bombs” — people reconnecting with high school sweethearts or other blasts from the past that can lead to emotional, if not actual, cheating.

    “The mistake I often see is when someone gets friended or messaged by an ex and doesn’t tell their partner,” Kerner told Everyday Health. “It’s a slippery slope from the moment you don’t disclose information.”

    He warns that it’s easy to over-romanticize the past, which can cause people to check out of their current relationship. Kerner advises couples to not keep secrets about whom they’re chatting with on Facebook. And while the site certainly makes it easy to reconnect with old flames and flirt behind the façade of your computer, the potential damage it can do depends on the stability of your relationship in the first place. “It all depends on your level of trust in your spouse,” says Kerner. “Have a dialogue, set some rules. The key is transparency.”

Live Long and Be Positive

Patients with coronary heart disease who have positive expectations about recovery, expressing beliefs such as “I can still live a long and healthy life,” had greater long-term survival, researchers reported.

Among a cohort of almost 3,000 patients undergoing coronary angiography, those with the highest expectations for outcomes actually had the best outcomes, Dr. John C. Barefoot, and colleagues from Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.

“Patients differ widely in terms of their psychological reactions to major illnesses such as coronary heart disease,” Barefoot’s group explained online in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

To explore the specific potential influence of recovery expectations, rather than overall optimistic personality traits, the investigators enrolled 2,818 patients with clinically significant disease and followed them for about 15 years.

Recovery expectations were assessed on the Expectations for Coping Scale, in which patients agreed or disagreed with statements such as “I doubt that I will ever fully recover from my heart problems” and “My heart condition will have little or no effect on my ability to do work.”

Patients were stratified into quartiles according to their expectation scores.

After adjustment for multiple variables, the mortality rate in the highest quartile — the most optimistic group — was 32 per 100 versus 46 per 100, respectively, “illustrating a substantial magnitude of this effect even after taking multiple covariates into account,” Barefoot and colleagues observed.

“These observations add to a compelling body of evidence that endorsing optimistic expectations for one’s future heart health is associated with clinically important benefits to cardiovascular outcomes,” Dr. Robert Gramling, and Dr. Ronald Epstein, of the University of Rochester in New York, wrote in a commentary accompanying the study.

“The degrees of evidence observed in these studies suggest that optimism is a powerful ‘drug’ that compares favorably with highly effective medical therapies,” they wrote.

Other experts advised caution, however.

“Like all observational studies, unmeasured patient characteristics may have contributed to the better outcomes,” observed Dr. Steven E. Nissen, of the Cleveland Clinic.

“Patients with a ‘positive’ attitude may simply be healthier than patients with a negative attitude. In fact, their ‘attitude’ may reflect their health status,” Nissen wrote to MedPage Today and ABC News in an e-mail.

Two “plausible” hypotheses can help explain the study findings, according to Barefoot and colleagues.

First, patients who are optimistic may use more effective strategies to cope with recovery from illness, by addressing the problem and reducing risk factors.

Second, patients whose outlook is more negative may experience worse stress that in turn could have harmful cardiac effects.

Limitations of the study, according to the investigators, included the possibility of confounders and selection bias.

“These findings argue for expanded efforts to understand the influence of recovery expectations and the potential benefits of attempts to modify them,” Barefoot’s group concluded.

However, the potential efficacy of such efforts is uncertain, according to Dr. James Kirkpatrick, of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

“Whether a patient’s outlook can be changed (or patients can change their outlook) and improve results, and whether there are other factors which might make these patients do better, is unknown. One of those factors might be that cardiovascular providers give better care to patients with a positive outlook — perhaps spending more time with them or being more conscientious,” wrote Kirkpatrick in an email toMedPage Today and ABC News.

“Future studies will need to take this possible mechanism into account,” wrote Kirkpatrick.

The study was supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Institute on Aging.

One author has a patent pending on an allele as a marker of cardiovascular disease and stress, and is a founder and major stockholder in Williams LifeSkills Inc.

Editorialist Gramling is funded by the National Palliative Care Research Center and the Greenwall Foundation.

Cell Phones Affect Brain Activity

Holding a cell phone to your ear for a long period of time increases activity in parts of the brain close to the antenna, researchers have found.

Glucose metabolism — that’s a measurement of how the brain uses energy — in these areas increased significantly when the phone was turned on and muted, compared with when it was off, Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and colleagues reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Although we cannot determine the clinical significance, our results give evidence that the human brain is sensitive to the effects of radiofrequency-electromagnetic fields from acute cell phone exposures,” co-author Dr. Gene-Jack Wang of Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, where the study was conducted, told MedPage Today.

Although the study can’t draw conclusions about long-term implications, other researchers are calling the findings significant.

“Clearly there is an acute effect, and the important question is whether this acute effect is associated with events that may be damaging to the brain or predispose to the development of future problems such as cancer as suggested by recent epidemiological studies,” Dr. Santosh Kesari, director of neuro-oncology at the University of California San Diego, said in an e-mail to MedPage Today and ABC News.

There have been many population-based studies evaluating the potential links between brain cancer and cellphone use, and the results have often been inconsistent or inconclusive.

Most recently, the anticipated Interphone study was interpreted as “implausible” because some of its statistics revealed a significant protective effect for cell phone use. On the other hand, the most intense users had an increased risk of glioma — but the researchers called their level of use “unrealistic.”

But few researchers have looked at the actual physiological effects that radiofrequency and electromagnetic fields from the devices can have on brain tissue. Some have shown that blood flow can be increased in specific brain regions during cell phone use, but there’s been little work on effects at the level of the brain’s neurons.

So Dr. Volkow and colleagues conducted a crossover study at Brookhaven National Laboratory, enrolling 47 patients who had one cell phone placed on each ear while they lay in a PET scanner for 50 minutes.

The researchers scanned patients’ brain glucose metabolism twice — once with the right cell phone turned on but muted, and once with both phones turned off.

There was no difference in whole-brain metabolism whether the phone was on or off.

But glucose metabolism in the regions closest to the antenna — the orbitofrontal cortex and the temporal pole — was significantly higher when the phone was turned on.

Further analyses confirmed that the regions expected to have the greatest absorption of radiofrequency and electromagnetic fields from cell phone use were indeed the ones that showed the larger increases in glucose metabolism.

“Even though the radio frequencies that are emitted from current cell phone technologies are very weak, they are able to activate the human brain to have an effect,” Dr. Volkow said in a JAMA video report.

The effects on neuronal activity could be due to changes in neurotransmitter release, cell membrane permeability, cell excitability, or calcium efflux.

It’s also been theorized that heat from cell phones can contribute to functional brain changes, but that is probably less likely to be the case, the researchers said.

Dr. Wang noted that the implications remain unclear — “further studies are needed to assess if the effects we observed could have potential long-term consequences,” he said — but the researchers have not yet devised a follow-up study.

“The take-home message,” Dr. Kesair said, “is that we still don’t know, more studies are needed, and in the meantime users should try to use headsets and reduce cell phone use if at all possible. Restricting cell phone use in young children certainly is not unreasonable.”

Exercise and Talk Help Ease Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Patients with chronic fatigue syndrome who participated in programs aimed at helping them overcome their symptoms — a combination of exercise and counseling— improved more than those whose treatment was intended to help them adapt to the limitations of the disease, a large randomized trial found.

Mean fatigue scores among patients treated with graded exercise therapy — a tailored program that gradually increases exercise capacity — were 3.2 points lower than scores in patients who received specialist medical care alone, according to Dr. Peter D. White, of Queen Mary University of London, and colleagues.

Furthermore, fatigue scores were lower by 3.4 points among patients receiving cognitive behavioral therapy, in which a therapist works with the patient to understand the disease, alleviate fears about activity, and help overcome obstacles to functioning.

In contrast, among patients who were treated with a program known as adaptive pacing therapy, which emphasizes energy limitations and avoidance of excess activity, scores differed by only 0.7 points the researchers reported online in The Lancet.

In a press briefing describing the study findings, co-investigator Dr. Trudie Chalder, of King’s College London, said, “We monitored safety very carefully, because we wanted to be sure we weren’t causing harm to any patients.”

“The number of serious adverse events was miniscule,” she added.

Another co-investigator, Dr. Michael Sharpe, of the University of Edinburgh, commented that a difficulty in the management of chronic fatigue syndrome has been ambiguity — about the causes and whether these treatments recommended by NICE actually are effective.

“The evidence up to now has suggested benefit, but this study gives pretty clear-cut evidence of safety and efficacy. So I hope that addresses the ambiguity,” Sharpe said during the press briefing.

However, the investigators conceded that the beneficial effects of these treatments were only moderate, with less than one-third of participants being within normal ranges for fatigue and functioning, and only about 40 percent reporting that their overall health was much better or very much better.

“Our finding that studied treatments were only moderately effective also suggests research into more effective treatments is needed,” they wrote.

In addition, they stated that their finding of efficacy for cognitive behavioral therapy “does not imply that the condition is psychological in nature.”

The importance of cognitive behavioral therapy was further emphasized by Dr. Benjamin H. Natelson, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

“This approach of encouragement of activity and discouragement of negative thinking should be a tool in every physician’s armamentarium,” he said.

“We know that cognitive behavioral therapy and gentle physical conditioning help people cope with any chronic disease — even congestive heart failure and multiple sclerosis,” Natelson said in an interview with MedPage Today.

Chronic fatigue syndrome is characterized by persisting or relapsing fatigue for at least six months that cannot be explained by any other physical or psychiatric disorder.

The fatigue is debilitating, and often is accompanied by joint and muscle pain, headaches, and tenderness of the lymph nodes.

In an editorial published with the study, Dr. Gijs Bleijenberg, and Dr. Hans Knoop, of Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, explained the differences in these types of treatment for chronic fatigue.

“Both graded exercise therapy and cognitive behavior therapy assume that recovery from chronic fatigue syndrome is possible and convey this hope more or less explicitly to patients. Adaptive pacing therapy emphasizes that chronic fatigue syndrome is a chronic condition, to which the patient has to adapt,” Bleijenberg and Knoop wrote.

Graded exercise therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy have both been recommended by the U.K. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, although evidence supporting these approaches remains sparse.

Some patient groups have expressed strong disagreement with these recommendations, arguing that cognitive behavioral and graded exercise therapies actually have caused harm to some patients.

These groups advocate exercise pacing and specialist medical care, according to the investigators.

To address this controversy, White and colleagues conducted the largest trial thus far of treatment for chronic fatigue, enrolling 641 patients from six U.K. specialty clinics.

Patients were randomized to receive specialist medical care alone, or specialist medical care plus cognitive behavioral therapy, graded exercise therapy, or adaptive pacing therapy for 24 weeks.

More than three-quarters were women, average age 38, and most had been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome almost three years before entering the study.

At week 52, these percentages of patients improved by at least two points on the fatigue scale and by eight points or more on a physical function scale:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy, 59 percent
  • Graded exercise therapy, 61 percent
  • Adaptive pacing therapy, 42 percent
  • Specialist medical care, 45 percent

The investigators also looked at percentages of patients who were in the normal range for fatigue and functioning at 52 weeks:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy, 30 percent
  • Graded exercise therapy, 28 percent
  • Adaptive pacing therapy, 16 percent
  • Specialist medical care, 15 percent

Better outcomes also were seen for cognitive behavioral therapy and graded exercise therapy in a number of secondary outcomes such as social adjustment and sleep disturbances.

Serious adverse events were seen in 2 percent of patients in the cognitive behavioral therapy group, and in 1percent of each of the other three groups.

White’s group acknowledged that the trial had certain limitations, including the exclusion of patients unable to attend the therapy sessions, self-rating by participants, and the unblinded structure of the study.

They plan further study of factors such as cost-effectiveness of the treatments, possible differences in response among subgroups of patients, and long-term outcomes.

Dangerous Bacteria Outside Hospitals

The dangerous bacteria Clostridium difficile spreads not only in hospitals but also in other health-care settings, causing infections and death rates to hit “historic highs,” U.S. health officials reported Tuesday.

C. difficile is a deadly diarrheal infection that poses a significant threat to U.S. health care patients,” Ileana Arias, principal deputy director at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a morning news conference. “C. difficile is causing many Americans to suffer and die.”

The germ is linked to about 14,000 deaths in the United States every year. People most at risk from C. difficile are those who take antibiotics and also receive care in any medical facility.

“This failure is more difficult to accept because these are treatable, often preventable deaths,” Arias said. “We know what can be done to do a better job of protecting our patients.”

Much of the growth of this bacterial epidemic has been due to the overuse of antibiotics, the CDC noted in its March 6 report. Unlike healthy people, people in poor health are at high risk for C. difficile infection.

Almost 50 percent of infections are among people under 65, but more than 90 percent of deaths are among those aged 65 and older, according to the report.

Previous estimates found that about 337,000 people are hospitalized each year because of C. difficile infections. Those are historically high levels and add at least $1 billion in extra costs to the health care system, the CDC said.

However, these estimates might not completely reflect C. difficile’s overall impact.

According to the new report, 94 percent of C. difficile infections are related to medical care, with 25 percent among hospital patients and 75 percent among nursing home patients or people recently seen in doctors’ offices and clinics.

Although the proportion of infection is lowest in hospitals, they are at the core of prevention because many infected patients are transferred to hospitals for care, raising the risk of spreading the infection there, the CDC said.

Half of those with C. difficile infections were already infected when they were admitted to the hospital, often after getting care at another facility, the agency noted.

The other 50 percent of infections were related to care at the hospital where the infection was diagnosed.

The CDC said that these infections could be reduced if health care workers follow simple infection control precautions, such as prescribing fewer antibiotics, washing their hands more often and isolating infected patients.

These and other measures have reduced C. difficile infections by 20 percent in hospitals in Illinois, Massachusetts and New York, the CDC said.

In England, infections have been cut 50 percent in three years, the agency said.

Patients get C. difficile infections mostly after taking antibiotics, which can diminish the body’s “good” bacteria for several months.

That’s when patients can get sick from C. difficile, which can be picked up from contaminated surfaces or spread by health care providers.

The predominant sign of C. difficile infection is diarrhea, which can cause dehydration. If serious, the infection can become deadly. Other symptoms include fever, nausea and loss of appetite.

The CDC advises that if diarrhea occurs after a patient starts antibiotics, C. difficileshould be suspected and treatment continued with another antibiotic.

Commenting on the report, infectious disease expert Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at New York University, said, “All these recommendations are fine; the problem is they are not going to work, you can’t stop these practices. This bug exists in a climate of overuse of antibiotics.”

It is hard to eradicate C. difficile because it buries itself in the colon, then recurs and testing isn’t always accurate, Siegel said. “It’s a pervasive problem in hospitals, and even in communities,” he said.

Medications Safety

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) judges a drug to be safe enough to approve when the benefits of the medicine outweigh the known risks for the labeled use.

Doctors, physician assistants, nurses, pharmacists, and YOU make up your health care team. To reduce the risks from using medicines and to get the most benefit, you need to be an active member of the team.

To make medicine use SAFER:

  • Speak up
  • Ask questions
  • Find the facts
  • Evaluate your choices
  • Read the label and follow directions

Speak Up

The more information your health care team knows about you, the better the team can plan the care that’s right for you.

The members of your team need to know your medical history, such as illnesses, medical conditions (like high blood pressure or diabetes), and operations you have had.

They also need to know all the medicines and treatments you use, whether all the time or only some of the time. Before you add something new, talk it over with your team. Your team can help you with what mixes well, and what doesn’t.

It helps to give a written list of all your medicines and treatments to all your doctors, pharmacists and other team members. Keep a copy of the list for yourself and give a copy to a loved one.

Be sure to include:

  • prescription medicines, including any samples your doctor may have given you
  • over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, or medicines you can buy without a prescription (such as antacids, laxatives, or pain, fever, and cough/cold medicines)
  • dietary supplements, including vitamins and herbs
  • any other treatments
  • any allergies, and any problems you may have had with a medicine
  • anything that could have an effect on your use of medicine, such as pregnancy, breast feeding, trouble swallowing, trouble remembering, or cost

Ask Questions

Your health care team can help you make the best choices, but you have to ask the right questions. When you meet with a team member, have your questions written down and take notes on the answers. You also may want to bring along a friend or relative to help you understand and remember.

Find the Facts

Before you and your team decide on a prescription or OTC medicine, learn and understand as much about it as you can, including:

  • brand and generic (chemical) names
  • active ingredients — to make sure that you aren’t using more than one medicine with the same active ingredient
  • inactive ingredients — if you have any problems with ingredients in medicines, such as colors, flavors, starches, sugars
  • uses (“indications” and “contraindications”) — why you will be using it, and when the medicine should/should not be used
  • warnings (“precautions”) — safety measures to make sure the medicine is used the right way, and to avoid harm
  • possible interactions — substances that should not be used while using the medicine. Find out if other prescription and OTC medicines, food, dietary supplements, or other things (like alcohol and tobacco) could cause problems with the medicine
  • side effects (“adverse reactions”) — unwanted effects that the medicine can cause, and what to do if you get them
  • possible tolerance, dependence, or addiction – problems that some medicines can cause, and what you can do to avoid them
  • overdose — what to do if you use too much
  • directions — usual dose; what to do if you miss a dose; special directions on how to use the medicine, such as whether to take it with or without food
  • storage instructions — how and where to keep the medicine
  • expiration — date after which the medicine may not work, or may be harmful to use

Your pharmacy, the library, the bookstore, the medicine maker, and the Internet have medicine information made for consumers. If you have questions, ask your health care team.

Evaluate your Choices — Weigh the Benefits and Risks

After you have all the information, think carefully about your choices. Think about the helpful effects as well as the possible unwanted effects. Decide which are most important to you. This is how you weigh the benefits and risks. The expert advice from your health care team and the information you give the team can help guide you and your team in making the decision that is right for you.

Read the Label and Follow Directions

Read the label to know what active ingredient(s) is (are) in the medicine. The active ingredient in a prescription or OTC medicine might be in other medicines you use. Using too much of any active ingredient may increase your chance of unwanted side effects.

Read the label each time you buy an OTC medicine or fill your prescription. When buying an OTC, read the “Drug Facts” label carefully to make sure it is the right medicine for you. Prescription and OTC medicines don’t always mix well with each other. Dietary supplements (like vitamins and herbals) and some foods and drinks can cause problems with your medicines too. Ask the pharmacist if you have questions.

Before you leave the pharmacy with your prescription, be sure you have the right medicine, know the right dose to use, and know how to use it. If you’ve bought the medicine before, make sure that this medicine has the same shape, color, size, and packaging. Anything different? Ask your pharmacist. If your medicine tastes different when you use it, tell your health care team.

Read and save all the information you get with your medicine.

Read the label each time before you use the medicine. Be sure it’s right in 5 ways:

  1. the right medicine
  2. for the right patient
  3. in the right amount
  4. at the right time
  5. in the right way (for example, swallow instead of chew a pill)

Follow directions on the label and from your health care team. When you are ready to use the medicine, make the most of the benefits and lower the risks by following the directions.

If you want to stop a medicine your doctor told you to use or to use it in a different way than directed, talk to a team member. Some medicines take longer to show that they are working. With some medicines, such as antibiotics, it is important to finish the whole prescription, even if you feel better sooner. When you stop using some medicines, you must reduce the dose little by little to prevent unwanted side effects.

6 Ways to Boost Women’s Health

To look and feel your best at every age, it’s important to make smart lifestyle and health choices. Here are six simple things that women can do every day (or with regularity) to ensure good health:

Health Tip #1: Eat a healthy diet. “You want to eat as close to a natural foods diet as you can,” says Donald Novey, MD, an integrative medicine physician with the Advocate Medical Group in Park Ridge, Ill. That means a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods. Eat whole grains and high-fiber foods and choose leaner cuts of meat, fish, and poultry. Include low-fat dairy products in your diet as well — depending on your age, you need between 800 and 1,500 milligrams of calcium daily to help avoid osteoporosis, Dr. Novey says. Avoid foods and beverages that are high in calories, sugar, salt, and fat.

Healthy eating will help you maintain a proper weight for your height, which is important because being overweight can lead to a number of illnesses. Looking for a healthy snack? Try some raw vegetables, such as celery, carrots, broccoli, cucumbers, or zucchini with dip made from low-fat yogurt.

If you’re not getting enough vitamins and nutrients in your diet, you might want to take a multivitamin and a calcium supplement to make sure you’re maintaining good health.

Health Tip #2: Exercise. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women in America, but plenty of exercise can help keep your heart healthy. You want to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week, if not every day. Aerobic exercises (walking, swimming, jogging, bicycling, dancing) are good for women’s health in general and especially for your heart, says Sabrena Merrill, MS, of Lawrence, Kan., a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor and a spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise.

Health Tip #3: Avoid risky habits. Stay away from cigarettes and people who smoke. Don’t use drugs. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Most women’s health studies show that women can safely consume one drink a day. A drink is considered to be about 12 to 14 grams of alcohol, which is equal to 12 ounces of beer (4.5 percent alcohol); 5 ounces of wine (12.9 percent alcohol); or 1.5 ounces of spirits (hard liquor such as gin or whiskey, 80-proof).

Health Tip #4: Manage stress. No matter what stage of her life — daughter, mother, grandmother — a woman often wears many hats and deals with a lot of pressure and stress. “Take a few minutes every day just to relax and get your perspective back again,” Novey says. “It doesn’t take long, and mental health is important to your physical well-being.” You also can manage stress with exercise, relaxation techniques, or meditation.

Health Tip #5: Sun safely. Excessive exposure to the sun’s harmful rays can cause skincancer, which can be deadly. To protect against skin cancer, wear sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 if you are going to be outdoors for more than a few minutes. Even if you wear sunscreen faithfully, you should check regularly for signs of skin cancer. Warning signs include any changes in the size, shape, color, or feel of birthmarks, moles, or freckles, or new, enlarging, pigmented, or red skin areas. If you spot any changes or you find you have sores that are not healing, consult your doctor.

Health Tip #6: Check for breast cancer. The American Cancer Society no longer recommends monthly breast self-exams for women. However, it still suggests them as “an option” for women, starting in their 20s. You should be on the lookout for any changes in your breasts and report any concerns to your doctor. All women 40 and older should get a yearly mammogram as a mammogram is the most effective way of detecting cancer in its earliest stages, when it is most treatable.

A woman’s health needs change as she ages, but the basics of women’s health remain the same. If you follow these six simple healthy living tips, you will improve your quality of life for years to come.

A Guide to Good Personal Hygiene

 Mom was right: Good personal hygiene is essential to promoting good health.

Personal hygiene habits such as washing your hands and brushing and flossing your teeth will help keep bacteria, viruses, and illnesses at bay. And there are mental as well as physical benefits. “Practicing good body hygiene helps you feel good about yourself, which is important for your mental health,” notes Donald Novey, MD, an integrative medicine physician with the Advocate Medical Group in Park Ridge, Ill. People who have poor hygiene — disheveled hair and clothes, body odor, bad breath, missing teeth, and the like — often are seen as unhealthy and may face discrimination.

Personal Hygiene: Healthy Habits Include Good Grooming

If you want to minimize your risk of infection and also enhance your overall health, follow these basic personal hygiene habits:

  • Bathe regularly. Wash your body and your hair often. “I’m not saying that you need to shower or bathe every day,” remarks Dr. Novey. “But you should clean your body and shampoo your hair at regular intervals that work for you.” Your body is constantly shedding skin. Novey explains, “That skin needs to come off. Otherwise, it will cake up and can cause illnesses.”
  • Trim your nails. Keeping your finger and toenails trimmed and in good shape will prevent problems such as hang nails and infected nail beds. Feet that are clean and dry are less likely to contract athlete’s foot, Novey says.
  • Brush and floss. Ideally, you should brush your teeth after every meal. At the very least, brush your teeth twice a day and floss daily. Brushing minimizes the accumulation of bacteria in your mouth, which can cause tooth decay and gum disease, Novey says. Flossing, too, helps maintain strong, healthy gums. “The bacteria that builds up and causes gum diseasecan go straight to the heart and cause very serious valve problems,” Novey explains. Unhealthy gums also can cause your teeth to loosen, which makes it difficult to chew and to eat properly, he adds. To maintain a healthy smile, visit the dentist at six-month intervals for checkups and cleanings.
  • Wash your hands. Washing your hands before preparing or eating food, after going to the bathroom, after coughing or sneezing, and after handling garbage, goes a long way toward preventing the spread of bacteria and viruses. Keep a hygiene product, like an alcohol-based sanitizing gel, handy for when soap and water isn’t available.
  • Sleep tight. Get plenty of rest — 8 to 10 hours a night — so that you are refreshed and are ready to take on the day every morning. Lack of sleepcan leave you feeling run down and can compromise your body’s natural defenses, your immune system, Novey says.

Personal Hygiene: Poor Hygiene Hints at Other Issues

If someone you know hasn’t bathed or appears unkempt, it could be a sign that he or she is depressed. “When people are sad or depressed, they neglect themselves,” Novey says. Talking about the importance of proper personal hygiene for preventing illnesses and providing personal hygiene items may help some people. Be candid but sensitive and understanding in your discussions, Novey says. Despite your best efforts, your friend or loved one may need professional help. You should encourage them to see a counselor or doctor if their personal hygiene doesn’t improve.

Personal Hygiene: Good Habits Help Keep You Healthy

For most people, good hygiene is so much a part of their daily routines that they think little about it. They bathe, they brush their teeth, visit the dentist and doctor for regular checkups, and wash their hands when preparing or eating food and handling unsanitary items. To keep those you care about healthy and safe, help them learn, and be sure that they are practicing, good personal hygiene.

7 Ways to Fit In Exercise

 The benefits of regular exercise are unrivaled: Physical activity can help you lose weight and prevent a host of ailments, including heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Being fit also can help you stay mentally sharp.

While most people know they should exercise, you may not know where to start or how to fit it into a busy schedule. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Heart Association (AHA) recommend that healthy adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity spread out over five days a week, or 20 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity on each of three days a week.

“This is something we recommend to all Americans,” says Gerald Fletcher, MD, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., and a spokesman for the AHA.

An ideal fitness routine also includes resistance or weight training to improve muscle strength and endurance. The ACSM and the AHA recommend that most adults engage in resistance training at least twice a week.

Finding Fitness: 10 Ways to Get in Exercise

Sometimes the problem isn’t motivation — it’s simply finding the time. But scheduling exercise isn’t as difficult as you might think. Here are 10 ways to get you moving more often:

  1. Be less efficient. People typically try to think of ways to make daily tasks easier. But if we make them harder, we can get more exercise, says Sabrena Merrill, MS, of Lawrence, Kan., a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise (ACE). “Bring in the groceries from your car one bag at a time so you have to make several trips,” Merrill says. “Put the laundry away a few items at a time, rather than carrying it up in a basket.”
  2. Shun labor-saving devices. Wash the car by hand rather than taking it to the car wash. “It takes about an hour and a half to do a good job, and in the meantime you’ve gotten great exercise,” Merrill says. Use a push mower rather than a riding mower to groom your lawn.
  3. Going somewhere? Take the long way. Walking up or down a few flights of stairs each day can be good for your heart. Avoid elevators and escalators whenever possible. If you ride the bus or subway to work, get off a stop before your office and walk the extra distance. When you go to the mall or the grocery store, park furthest from the entrance, not as close to it as you can, and you’ll get a few extra minutes of walking — one of the best exercises there is, Dr. Fletcher says. “Walking is great because anyone can do it and you don’t need any special equipment other than a properly fitting pair of sneakers.”
  4. Be a morning person. Studies show that people who exercise in the morning are more likely to stick with it. As Merrill explains, “Are you going to feel like exercising at the end of a hard day? Probably not. If you do your workout in the morning, you’re not only more likely to do it, but you’ll also set a positive tone for the day.”
  5. Ink the deal. Whether morning, afternoon, or evening, pick the time that is most convenient for you to exercise and write it down in your daily planner. Keep your exercise routine as you would keep any appointment.
  6. Watch your step. Investing in a good pedometer can help you stay motivated. “If you have a pedometer attached to your waist and you can see how many steps you’ve taken, you’ll see it doesn’t take long to walk 5,000 steps and you will be inspired,” Merrill says. And building up to 10,000 steps a day won’t seem like such a daunting a task.
  7. Hire the right help. While weight training is important, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you run the risk of injuring yourself or not being effective, Merrill says. It’s best to get instructions from a personal trainer at the gym. You also can buy a weight-training DVD and follow along in your living room.

The Benefit of Water

 Did you know that your body weight is approximately 60 percent water? Your body uses water in all its cells, organs, and tissues to help regulate its temperature and maintain other bodily functions. Because your body loses water through breathing, sweating, and digestion, it’s important to rehydrate by drinking fluids and eating foods that contain water. The amount of water you need depends on a variety of factors, including the climate you live in, how physically active you are, and whether you’re experiencing an illness or have any other health problems.

Water Protects Your Tissues, Spinal Cord, and Joints

Water does more than just quench your thirst and regulate your body’s temperature; it also keeps the tissues in your body moist. You know how it feels when your eyes, nose, or mouth gets dry? Keeping your body hydrated helps it retain optimum levels of moisture in these sensitive areas, as well as in the blood, bones, and the brain. In addition, water helps protect the spinal cord, and it acts as a lubricant and cushion for your joints.

Water Helps Your Body Remove Waste

Adequate water intake enables your body to excrete waste through perspiration, urination, and defecation. The kidneys and liver use it to help flush out waste, as do your intestines. Water can also keep you from getting constipated by softening your stools and helping move the food you’ve eaten through your intestinal tract. However, it should be noted that there is no evidence to prove that increasing your fluid intake will cure constipation.

Water Aids in Digestion

Digestion starts with saliva, the basis of which is water. Digestion relies on enzymes that are found in saliva to help break down food and liquid and to dissolve minerals and other nutrients. Proper digestion makes minerals and nutrients more accessible to the body. Water is also necessary to help you digest soluble fiber. With the help of water, this fiber dissolves easily and benefits your bowel health by making well-formed, soft stools that are easy to pass.

Water Prevents You From Becoming Dehydrated

Your body loses fluids when you engage in vigorous exercise, sweat in high heat, or come down with a fever or contract an illness that causes vomiting or diarrhea. If you’re losing fluids for any of these reasons, it’s important to increase your fluid intake so that you can restore your body’s natural hydration levels. Your doctor may also recommend that you drink more fluids to help treat other health conditions, like bladder infections and urinary tract stones. If you’re pregnant or nursing, you may want to consult with your physician about your fluid intake because your body will be using more fluids than usual, especially if you’re breastfeeding.

How Much Water Do You Need?

There’s no hard and fast rule, and many individuals meet their daily hydration needs by simply drinking water when they’re thirsty, according to a report on nutrient recommendations from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. In fact, most people who are in good physical health get enough fluids by drinking water and other beverages when they’re thirsty, and also by drinking a beverage with each of their meals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you’re not sure about your hydration level, look at your urine. If it’s clear, you’re in good shape. If it’s dark, you’re probably dehydrated.