Category: Healthy

Screen Time Tied to Health Issues

Do you feel panicked if you leave home without mobile phone in hand? Do you find it difficult to sit in the house without browsing the internet on your devices? Are your children spending much of their classroom hours on tablets? Screen time has taken over most people’s daily lives, but at what cost? A 2014 report from Nielsen found that adults log a total of 11 hours of screen time per day.

Delaney Ruston, a physician and creator of the documentary “Screenagers,” which explores young people’s use of digital devices, discovered kids spend an average of 6.5 to eight hours per day looking at screens. All of this time glued to digital devices has profound effects on physical and mental health, and many experts are advising people to cut back on the time they spend on their devices.

Brain Damage

Multiple studies indicate that spending considerable time on screens can produce atrophy (shrinkage or loss of tissue volume) in gray matter areas of the brain, according to reports in Psychology Today. These are regions of the brain where processing occurs. One of the most affected areas includes the frontal lobe, which governs executive functions like planning, prioritizing, organizing, and impulse control. Another vulnerable area is the insula, which is tied to a person’s capacity to develop empathy and compassion for others. Research also shows that white matter can be compromised, which translates into loss of communication between cognitive and emotional centers within the brain.

Vision Problems

Staring into screens for extended periods of time can damage areas of the eyes and result in computer vision syndrome, which is characterized by trained eyes, blurred vision and headaches. The Multi-Ethnic Pediatric Eye Disease Study, conducted by researchers and clinicians from the USC Eye Institute at Keck Medicine in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, has found that exaggerated screen time and insufficient sunlight exposure has more than doubled incidences of myopia (nearsightedness) among American children in recent years.

Sleep Disturbances

University of Gothenburg psychologist Sara Thomée, a lead researcher into the effects of screen time on the body, says the blue light from digital devices suppresses the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, keeping people from having restful sleeps.

Overstimulation

Screen time can cause hyperarousal, which may be more notable in children than adults, according to research published in Psychology Today. Regular amounts of screen time can cause the brain to be in a state of chronic stress, which can short circuit the frontal lobe. This may lead to addictive behaviors, rage, inability to recover from minor frustrations, and hyperactivity.

Screen time is profound and may be hurting minds and bodies. Many people have set goals to reduce the time they spend on electronics to improve their personal health.

How to Make Your Favorite Foods Healthier

After the whirlwind of the holiday season, the season of resolutions takes over. Many people to resolve to live healthier, and they may not have to give up their favorite foods to do so. Research from the National Institutes of Health suggests American adults between the ages of 18 and 49 gain an average of one to two pounds every year. Grazing and overeating tends to increase when the weather cools down. A 2005 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that, in the fall, people tend to consume more calories, total fat and saturated fat. In the spring, people seem to prefer more carbohydrates. In addition, less powerful sunshine in winter coupled with people bundling up translates into less vitamin D being absorbed by the body. Some researchers believe there is a link between vitamin D deficiency and weight gain as well. To ensure that certain foods do not sabotage healthy eating plans, people can employ some easy modifications and make healthier versions of the foods they like to eat.

• Choose crunchy foods. Those who are prone to snacking can reach for noisy foods. These include crunchy items like apples, carrots and pretzels. Scientists say that when people listen to what they are chewing — called the “crunch effect” — they eat less of that item.

• Tone down the cream. Delicious dishes like fettuccine alfredo typically are made with lots of butter and cream. Replace cream sauces with a healthier base made of low-fat milk thickened with flour. Increase the flavor with favorite spices.

• Fry with care. Use healthy oils like olive or coconut sparingly. Many foods that are traditionally fried also can be lightly coated with cooking spray and baked for a crunchy texture.

• Choose sodium-free seasonings. The USCA recommends limiting sodium to less than 1 teaspoon of salt per day. Try options like fresh herbs or lemon juice to add some sodium-free flavor.

• Increase fiber content. Fiber helps one feel fuller longer and can also be helpful for digestion and heart health. Choose the “brown” varieties of rice, pasta and breads.

• Replace meat with leaner forms of protein. Lean chicken, turkey and pork can replace red meats in many recipes. Some traditional meat dishes, such as burgers, also can be modified using vegetables or seafood. Lean meats dry out quickly, so keep foods moist by watching cooking times.

• Stock up on yogurt. Greek and other varieties of yogurt can replace sour cream and mayonnaise in many dishes.

Resolving to eat healthier can be easy by making some simple swaps when preparing your favorite foods.

How Aging Adults Can Maintain Their Mental Acuity

Aging is associated with or linked to a host of mental and physical side effects. For example, many adults expect their vision to deteriorate as they grow older. Such a side effect can be combatted with routine eye examinations that may indicate a need for a stronger eyeglass prescription, a relatively simple solution that won’t impact adults’ daily lives much at all. While physical side effects like diminished vision might not strike much fear in the hearts of aging men and women, those same people may be concerned and/or frightened by the notion of age-related cognitive decline. Some immediately associate such decline with Alzheimer’s disease, an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that gradually destroys memory and cognitive skills, ultimately compromising a person’s ability to perform even the simplest of tasks. But age-related cognitive decline is not always symptomatic of Alzheimer’s disease. Learning about Alzheimer’s and how to maintain mental acuity can help aging men and women better understand the changes their brains might be undergoing as they near or pass retirement age.

Is Alzheimer’s disease hereditary?

The National Institute on Aging notes that only a very rare form of Alzheimer’s disease is inherited. Early-onset familial Alzheimer’s disease, or FAD, is caused by mutations in certain genes. If these genes are passed down from parent to child, then the child is likely, but not certain, to get FAD. So while many adults may be concerned about Alzheimer’s because one of their parents had the disease, the NIA notes that the majority of Alzheimer’s cases are late-onset, which has no obvious family pattern.

Can Alzheimer’s disease be prevented?

Studies of Alzheimer’s disease are ongoing, but to date there is no definitive way to prevent the onset of the disease.

How can I maintain mental acuity as I age?

Researchers have not yet determined a way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, but adults can take certain steps to maintain their mental acuity into retirement.

• Exercise regularly. Routine exercise may be most associated with physical benefits, but the NIA notes that such activity has been linked to benefits for the brain as well. For example, a 2011 study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America found that aerobic exercise training increases the size of the hippocampus, leading to improvements in spatial memory. The NIA also notes that one study indicated exercise stimulated the brain’s ability to maintain old network connections and make new ones vital to cognitive health.

• Read more. Avid readers may be happy to learn that one of their favorite pastimes can improve the efficiency of their cognitive systems while delaying such systems’ decline. A 2013 study published in the journal Neurology by researchers at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center found that mentally active lifestyles may not prevent the formations of plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer’s disease, but such lifestyles decreases the likelihood that the presence of plaques or tangles will impair cognitive function.

• Stay socially connected. Maintaining social connections with family, friends and community members also can help women prevent cognitive decline. Epidemiologist Bryan James of the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center studied how social activity affected cognitive decline, ultimately noting that the rate of cognitive decline was considerably lower among men and women who maintained social contact than it was among those with low levels of social activity.

The idea of age-related cognitive decline strikes fear in the hearts of many men and women, but there are ways for adults to maintain their mental acuity well into their golden years.

The Health Benefits of Grandparent-Grandchild Relationships

In the not-so-distant past, extended families were the norm, with multiple generations residing on the same street if not in the same house. Today the family unit is largely an amalgam of different situations. The rise of two-income families has pressured parents into finding childcare situations. Quite often grandparents once again step in to offer guidance and support for youngsters. This can be a good thing for both the grandparents and the grandchildren. Although a bevy of psychological research focuses on parent-child relationships, new evidence points to the benefits of the grandchild-grandparent relationship as well. Close relationships between these different demographics is often a sign of strong familial ties.

A study from researchers at Boston College discovered that emotionally close ties between grandparents and adult grandchildren reduced depressive symptoms in both groups. Research at the University of Oxford among English children between the ages 11 and 16 found that close grandparent-grandchild relationships were associated with benefits including fewer emotional and behavioral problems and fewer difficulties with peers. Adult and grandchildren alike benefit from relationships with their elders. Grandparents can provide a connection and exposure to different ideas while providing a link to family history and knowledge regarding traditions and customs not readily available elsewhere. Nurturing grandparent-grandchild experiences may be easy for families where grandparents live in the same house or close by. For others, it may take some effort. The following are some ways to facilitate time spent together.

• Schedule regular family reunions or get-togethers. Host or plan multi-generation events that bring the family together and expose children to various members of their family.

• Promote one-on-one time. Have grandchildren spend time with grandparents in intimate settings. Alone time can be good for both and offers each undivided attention. A meal at a restaurant or time spent doing a puzzle or craft can be interesting to both generations involved.

• Video chat when possible. If distance makes frequent visits challenging, use technology to bridge that gap. Send photos, letters and electronic communications. Tech-savvy grandparents can use Skype or Facetime to stay in touch and speak one-on-one with their grandchildren.

• Share skills with each other. Either generation can play teacher to the other. Grandparents may have certain skills, such as baking, sewing or wood crafts, they can impart that may not be readily taught today. Children can help grandparents navigate computers, video games or sports activities.

Grandchildren can help grandparents feel younger, and grandchildren can learn new experiences from their grandparents

Finding Balance With Extracurricular Activities

Many high schools, colleges and universities emphasize their goals of producing well-rounded students. Extracurricular activities teach students important life lessons, provide them opportunities to socialize and often stimulate their minds and bodies in ways that differ from the stimulation provided in the classroom.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau states that, in 2014, 57 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 17 participate in at least one after-school extracurricular activity. Children are more likely to participate in sports than clubs or lessons, such as music, dance and language, but each of these activities can be beneficial to students’ development.

Students who participate in extracurricular activities may want to limit their participation to 20 hours per week. This is according to a group of professors from Stanford University and Villanova University who have been collecting data on the issue since 2007.

In their report “Extracurricular Activity in High-Performing School Contexts: Stress Buster, Booster or Buffer?”, Jerusha Conner and Sarah Miles found that 87 percent of kids who would be considered to have packed schedules were perfectly happy unless they were doing more than four hours a day.

The “over-scheduling hypothesis” may be overhyped. This is the concern that too much organized activity participation leads to poor developmental outcomes. This hypothesis also suggests that hectic schedules also undermine family functioning, detract from schoolwork and possibly increase the risk of copycat behaviors and excessive competitiveness.

However, in the study “The Over-Scheduling Hypothesis Revisited: Intensity of Organized Activity Participation During Adolescence and Young Adult Outcomes,” researchers J.L. Mahoney and Andrea Vest determined that, controlling for demographic factors and baseline adjustment, extracurricular intensity was a significant predictor of positive outcomes and unrelated to indicators of problematic adjustment (e.g., psychological distress, substance use, antisocial behavior) at young adulthood.

Even though extracurricular activities are largely positive — even when schedules are packed — parents need to be aware of the diminishing returns of too many activities. This is something called the “threshold effect.” Benefits from extracurriculars can level off when too many activities are being juggled.

If a child is experiencing anxiety, sleeplessness or depression, or seems overly stressed, it could be time to reduce students’ time spent doing structured activities. It’s essential that families use the cues given by kids to assess what students can handle. And children should be encouraged to be honest with their parents about their extracurricular activities as well.

The Benefits of Shopping Farmers Markets

Farmers markets have grown in popularity in recent years. Nowadays, consumers interested in farmers markets can likely find one near their homes whether those homes are in rural communities, the suburbs or bustling cities.

People who have never before shopped farmers markets may be curious as to why many people find them so appealing. The following are a handful of benefits of shopping farmers markets that might turn market novices into full-fledged devotees.

• Freshness:

Many people visit farmers markets because the fruits and vegetables sold at such markets seem to taste more fresh than those sold at chain grocery stores. People are not mistaken, as the produce available at farmers markets often comes from local farms, meaning there’s no long-distance shipping necessary. Locally sourced foods need not be frozen en route to the market, meaning foods purchased there tend to taste especially fresh.

• In-season foods:

Some grocery stores may sell fruits and vegetables even when those foods are out of season. Farmers markets only sell in-season fruits and vegetables. To grow fruits and vegetables out-of-season, farmers may need to rely on chemicals or other unnatural methods. No such means are necessary when farmers stick to growing foods in-season.

Environmental benefits:

According to the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, food in the United States travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to consumers’ plates. Such journeys burn natural resources, pollute the air and produce sizable amounts of trash that ultimately ends up in landfills and/or the world’s oceans. Because food sold at farmers markets is locally sourced, considerably fewer natural resources are necessary to transport the food from farm to table, and the relatively short distances the food travels translates to less air pollution.

• Biodiversity:

Many farmers market shoppers find unique foods not readily available at their local grocery stores. This is not only a great way to discover new and delicious foods, but also a way to promote biodiversity.

• Hormone-free animal products:

Farmers markets do not exclusively sell fruits and vegetables. Many farmers markets also are great places to find meats, cheeses and eggs. Animal products sold at farmers markets are typically antibiotic- and hormone-free, which is both more humane to the animals and healthier than animal products produced with hormones or antibiotics.

Farmers markets are more accessible than ever, and the benefits to shopping such markets are endless.

Tips for a Healthy School Year

Students are most likely to get sick when school starts because being at school put children’s immune systems to the test, offers The Mayo Clinic. Young children who are in close proximity to others in large groups tend to spread organisms like bacteria and viruses that cause illness. Breaking the cycle can take some work, but it’s possible to make this a healthy school year.

Encourage handwashing

Frequent handwashing is a great way to prevent illness. Handwashing habits are essential for school-aged children and should be taught as soon as possible. Children should wash their hands after they use the bathroom and before they eat. If they’ve been playing outside or have interacted with children who are sick, handwashing can help remove some of the germs lingering on their hands. Antibacterial wipes are another option, but they may not be as effective as washing hands with warm, soapy water.

Stop (some) sharing

Sharing develops good manners and can foster new friendships. But children should be discouraged from sharing food, drinks and other personal items. Once the item has been placed in a child’s mouth, it should not be shared.

Take a sick day

Rare is the student who will never come down with an illness. When kids get sick, keep them at home. Schools may have guidelines indicating when it is acceptable for children to return to school, and it’s important that parents adhere to those guidelines so illnesses cannot spread around the school.

Promote adequate sleep and nutrition

While adults may need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night, children often require more. The National Sleep Foundation recommends eight to 13 hours of sleep a night for school-aged children. Begin adjusting sleep schedules during the latter part of summer vacation so that children can readjust to their regular sleep schedules. Parents also should feed kids nutritious diets consisting of a variety of foods. Avoid high-calorie junk foods, reserving such items only as special treats every so often.

Donate cleaning supplies

Some schools may be underfunded and may not have enough supplies to keep all of the classrooms and surfaces clean. Parents can help by donating cleaning wipes and sprays so that students and teachers can thrive in clean, healthy environments.

Heart-Healthy Lifestyles Begin in the Kitchen

Weight-loss initiatives and dieting often go hand-in-hand, but healthy diets can do more than help women shed pounds. Heart disease is the primary killer of females, but embracing heart-healthy diets can help women reduce their risk of develop cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association reports that heart disease causes one in three female deaths each year in the United States. The AHA also notes that 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease. Heart valve problems, congestive heart failure, abnormal rhythm of the heart, and plaque buildup in the walls of the arteries can contribute to heart disease.

Fortunately, healthy choices, including the right diet, can help reduce women’s risk for heart disease risk. Here are a few easy ways to modify eating habits to be more heart-healthy.

• Avoid consuming too many calories. The Mayo Clinic says to control portion sizes so that you are not overloading on extra calories. Eat larger portions of nutrient-rich foods and go sparingly on high-calorie, high-sodium and/or refined foods. Being overweight can contribute to heart problems.

• Increase produce consumption. A variety of low-calorie fruits and vegetables can provide ample nutrition and plenty of healthy antioxidants. Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables so that you get as many vitamins and minerals as possible. Make fruits and vegetables your largest portions when eating.

• Reduce sodium intake. Harvard Health points out that too much sodium consumption can increase blood pressure and cause the body to hold onto fluid. Hypertension is a major risk factor for heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular problems.

• Add more whole grains to your diet. Dietary fiber from whole grains may improve blood cholesterol levels, thereby lowering your risk for heart disease. Dietary fiber also can lower risk of stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

• Choose healthy fats. Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, olive oil and flax seed reduce a person’s risk of developing arrhythmia and atherosclerosis. The American Heart Association recommends eating fatty fish at least twice a week as a way to boost omega-3 fatty acid levels.

• Load up on berries. When choosing fruits, go heavy on berries. Health magazine reports that according to a 2013 study by the Harvard School of Public Health in the United States and the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom, women between the ages of 25 and 42 who ate more than three servings of blueberries and strawberries a week had a 32 percent lower risk of heart attack compared with those who ate less. The authors of the study attributed the benefit to compounds known as anthocyanins and flavonoids,which are antioxidants, that may decrease blood pressure and dilate blood vessels.

• Indulge in smart ways. When eating sweets, choose dark chocolate. Dark chocolate contains flavonoids called polyphenols, which may help lower blood pressure and reduce clotting and inflammation. Select varieties that contain at least 60 to 70 percent cocoa.

In addition to a cardiac-friendly diet, women concerned about heart health should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. Also, pay attention to food labels to make smarter choices.

Eco-Friendly Outdoor Activities

Months spent indoors avoiding the harsh weather outside makes winter a difficult season for people who love the great outdoors. While skiing, snowboarding and other winter sports make it possible to get some fresh air even when that air is frigid, many people find it difficult to consistently get outside when temperatures drop.

That difficulty no doubt contributes to the popularity of spring, a season widely seen as a time of rebirth and rejuvenation. Time spent in the great outdoors is often its own reward. But taking measures to be eco-friendly while spending time outside can make such leisure time even more rewarding. People who want to get out and be eco-friendly at the same time can try the following activities.

Cycling

Cycling is a fun activity that’s also great exercise and incredibly eco-friendly. While it’s certainly an enjoyable leisure activity, cycling also can provide a great alternative to more popular modes of transportation like driving. According to Bay Area Bike to Work Day, a movement dedicated to promoting cycling as a means of commuting to and from work, drivers of small vehicles (those that get 35 miles per gallon of gas) who commute 10 miles per day, five days a week can expect to consume 68 gallons of gas in a typical year during their commutes. During those commutes, their vehicles will produce 0.7 tons of CO2. SUV drivers will consume nearly double that amount of fuel while their vehicles produce nearly three times as much CO2 emissions. Cycling to work won’t consume any fuel or produce any emissions, and cyclists won’t be forced to sit idly in rush hour traffic.

Hiking

Hiking is another eco-friendly outdoor activity that can pay dividends for both the planet and the people who call it home. Lawmakers in towns and cities with thriving hiking communities may be encouraged to support legislation that preserves hiking trails and parks and prevent potentially harmful construction from taking place. And individuals can reap a number of benefits from hiking through the great outdoors. A study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found that outdoor exercise such as hiking can decrease feelings of tension, confusion, anger, and depression. In addition, hiking provides a great full-body workout that might appeal to people who have grown tired of more traditional gym-based fitness regimens.

Fishing

Fishing devotees tend to be wildly devoted to their craft, but one need not be an expert angler to enjoy fishing and help the planet. According to the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries, fishing supports wildlife and fisheries management. The DGIF notes that anglers help to set seasons and creel limits, ensuring that wildlife populations remain stable and even flourish. Many anglers also find fishing is a great form of stress relief that provides a peaceful escape from the daily grind.

Running/walking

In lieu of running or walking on a treadmill indoors, men and women can get outside and do their jogging or walking in the great outdoors. While treadmills are not necessarily big energy consumers, running or walking outdoors consumes no energy and provides a great opportunity to spend time outside, especially for professionals who spend most of their days in office buildings.

The great outdoors comes calling for many people when temperatures begin to climb. Answering that call can be a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and improve your mood.

Flu-Fighting Tips to Keep You Healthy

Sniffles, sore throat, fever, and aches and pains may accompany a number of illnesses, but during the wintertime such symptoms are typically indicative of influenza. Throughout much of North America, flu season peaks between December and February. But flu season can occur anywhere from October to March, advises the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The flu is contagious and can sideline people for extended periods of time. The CDC says that each year one in five Americans gets the flu. Taking steps to fend off the flu can help men and women and the people they routinely come in contact with.

Foods

Food can be used to fend of the flu. Common foods that many people already have in their pantries can be powerful flu-fighters. Garlic, for example, contains compounds that have direct antiviral effects and may help destroy the flu before it affects the body. Raw garlic is best. In addition to garlic, citrus fruits, ginger, yogurt, and dark leafy greens can boost immunity and fight the flu, according to Mother Nature’s Network. The British Journal of Nutrition notes that dark chocolate supports T-helper cells, which increase the immune system’s ability to defend against infection. A study published in the American Journal of Therapeutics showed that carnosine, a compound found in chicken soup, can help strengthen the body’s immune system and help fight off the flu in its early stages.

Flu shot and medications

Annual flu shots administered in advance of flu season can help protect people and their families from getting the flu. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says that, in select situations, antiviral medications — which are usually prescribed to treat the flu and lessen symptoms — can reduce the chance of illness in people exposed to influenza. Many over-the-counter medicines can alleviate symptoms of the flu, but cannot fend it off.

Stop germ proliferation

Germs can be spread easily between persons through direct contact and indirect contact with surfaces sick individuals have touched. Doctors recommend staying home for at least 24 hours after a flu-induced fever has dissipated. Well individuals should avoid contact with sick people. Frequent hand-washing with soap and water can stop germs from spreading. When soap and water is not available, alcohol-based hand sanitizers can help. People also should avoid touching their eyes, noses and mouths after being in public places or around someone who is ill.

Rest and restore

Those who feel symptoms coming on should begin drinking more liquids to keep the respiratory system hydrated and make mucus less viscous. Remember to get adequate sleep, as a tired body cannot effectively fight the flu virus.

People of all ages should take steps to protect themselves from the flu.
 
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