Category Archives: Health and Wellness

The Importance of Routines in Times of Uncertainty

Beginning with the nationwide lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic, more people have found themselves working from home and will likely be doing so for the foreseeable future. And with many schools around the country announcing plans to begin the school year with online learning, more families will find themselves still stuck at home this fall.

All of the disruptions the pandemic has caused have drastically changed many people’s daily routines, which can make it even more difficult to deal with the extreme stress and anxiety this crisis has created. Hours and days start to blend together, and before you know it, all you’ve accomplished is binging a full season of your favorite show on Netflix or scrolling through social media on your phone.

While binge-watching is a great stress reliever, you don’t want to fill all of your days being a couch potato. Maintaining a regular daily routine can help you feel more in control during this time when all other aspects of our world feel so uncertain.

Benefits of structure and routine
Sticking to a daily routine can have great benefits for mental health. Not only can routines help you better manage stress and anxiety, but they can also lower stress levels and have a calming effect, help you maintain good daily habits, encourage you to take care of your health, and help you feel more focused and productive. Having a daily routine allows you to complete necessary tasks, such as work or home duties so that you can then find time for exercise and other leisure activities. A routine can help to make your situation feel more predictable and controllable.

Creating a routine
Your daily routine may look very different right now if you’re working from home or temporarily unemployed, or if you have children at home. Create a routine that adds structure and a sense of predictability to your day. Your routine might vary on different days, but sticking to a basic schedule of when you sleep, wake up, eat, work, exercise, and do other activities will help you manage stress and feel that you have accomplished more day to day.

An easy way to create a schedule is to make a list of all the things you must get done during the day. Write down everything from work to household chores to childcare. Once you have identified all of the basic tasks that you need to get done, you can make an outline of a schedule that would work for you.

In addition to all of the tasks and chores, you must accomplish daily, remember to include time for activities that you enjoy so you have something to look forward to every day. Things such as reading, watching TV, taking a hot bath, calling a friend, or playing with your kids can help you stay positive while you’re completing the essential tasks of your day.

A routine that works for you
It’s important to be flexible and find a routine that works for you and your family. Some people may thrive with a structured routine that is basically the same every day, while others may do better making a daily to-do list and prioritizing that list each day. If you have young or school-age children at home, it’s very important for them to have structure to their day, especially if they are participating in online schooling.

Routines are even more important during times of stress and chaos, such as what the U.S. is experiencing right now. Daily rituals can offer you some control and some certainty in a situation that has neither.

 

 

Taking Vacation Time Is More Important Now Than Ever

Americans work more than any other nation, take fewer vacation days, work longer hours, and retire at a later age. Many people feel that they cannot take time off and get their jobs done, or they have fears about job security. However, studies have shown that taking a vacation has much-needed physical and mental health benefits and that taking time off from work has never been more important than right now during the global coronavirus pandemic that has added even more stress to already over-taxed employees.

Business closures due to the pandemic have resulted in wage cuts and job losses for many workers. Many people are still working from home or furloughed. As a result, taking a week off or even a day off may seem like a huge burden to employees when the pressure to perform already feels greater, and vacation doesn’t seem like a priority. But taking care of your mental health during such stressful and uncertain times matters now more than ever.

Preventing burnout
Vacation time, and even time off on weekends, is crucial for employees to maintain productivity, creativity, and prevent burnout, according to Simmy Grover, an organizational psychology instructor at University College London.

Burnout is inevitable if you never take a break from work, and that means not only taking vacation days but also mentally detaching from work on the weekend and during evenings at home. Taking time off should be viewed as a time to recharge and de-stress in order to be a better employee, make better decisions, and be more productive at work. Time off will allow you to manage your stress and maintain a sense of well-being.

Vacation during the pandemic
Like most everything else, your vacation plans may have been canceled due to the pandemic. Even if you can’t take that European trip or visit Disney World, time away from work is so important right now, even if you just stay at home. Experts say the benefits of being away from work are basically the same whether you leave town or not.

You may not be able to go to many places right now, or you may not feel safe about going anywhere, but research into “staycations” shows that they have the same mental health benefits that destination vacations have.

Safe vacation ideas
If you do crave time away from home, there are some safe ways to take a vacation during the ongoing pandemic. Many people are staying closer to home and avoiding air travel, so consider exploring areas in your state that are within driving distance. A beach, lake, or mountain getaway can provide a much-needed change of scenery, and if you forgo staying at a hotel and opt for a private home rental, you can get away safely and engage in activities that still maintain social distance.

Being outdoors (while still socially distanced from others) is one of the safest places to be right now, so look into ways you can get away and participate in outdoor activities such as hiking, kayaking, cycling, or even just lying on an uncrowded beach. Camping is another great option that is naturally socially distanced; just be sure to check with campgrounds on what facilities are open and whether they have any restrictions.

Pack your own food, and plan to cook and eat at your rental or get takeout from local restaurants instead of dining out. Minimize your family’s risk of infection by following all of the recommended guidelines including washing your hands frequently, cleaning surfaces often, maintaining social distance from others, and wearing a mask when in public. If you follow all of these recommendations, you and your family can still have a memorable vacation, and you’ll feel refreshed and ready to get back to work when you return.

If getting away is not an option for you, taking a day off or even a week off to just stay at home and recharge will only help your mental health in dealing with work stress and the strain of the pandemic.

 

Your Sunscreen Questions Answered

Summertime has arrived and with more time spent outdoors, you’ll want to make sure to use a good sunscreen to protect your skin. Unlike the 1970s and 1980s when tanning oils and the bronzed look were all the rage, we now know that using sunscreen is essential to preventing not only sunburn but long-term damage from the sun—including skin cancer.

While most people adhere to this advice and aren’t breaking out the baby oil to get a deep, dark tan, they still have misconceptions when it comes to sun protection. What SPF is best? How much sunscreen do I need? How often should I reapply? If I tan well, do I really need sunscreen?

Below are answers to some of the most common questions about sunscreen:

Are higher SPFs better?
Sunscreens are available with SPFs (sun protection factors) ranging from SPF 4 to SPF 100+. Most people mistakenly think that the higher the SPF, the more sun protection the product offers, but that is not necessarily true.

Dermatologists recommend that everyone use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. SPF 30 blocks approximately 97 percent of UVB rays, which are the ones that cause skin cancer. For products with anything higher than a SPF 30, the difference in sun protection is minimal. No sunscreen can can offer 100 percent protection from UVB rays, and products with higher SPFs often contain more chemical ingredients that can irritate the skin. And sunscreens with higher SPFs are often more expensive.

Which sunscreen is best?
There are so many different brands and different types of sunscreens available, it would be hard to choose the best one. A lot depends on your personal preferences—whether you prefer a lotion, spray, or cream, or whether you want a chemical versus a physical sunscreen, and your preference for a specific fragrance or no fragrance at all, etc.

Whatever sunscreen you choose, always make sure it is at least SPF 30 and is labeled “broad spectrum.” Broad spectrum sunscreens protect the skin against both UVA and UVB rays; that is, they protect against both the UVA rays that can cause premature skin aging, wrinkles, and age spots and the UVB rays that cause sunburn, which over time, can lead to skin cancer.

How often do I need to reapply sunscreen?
How many times have you gotten to the beach or the pool and applied your sunscreen, and then spent the day swimming and playing in the sun—forgetting to reapply and ending up with red, sore sunburned skin later that evening? One of the biggest mistakes that many people make is not reapplying their sunscreen either at all or often enough.

All sunscreens need to be reapplied at least every two hours while outdoors. If you will be spending a lot of time in the water or if you are sweating a lot, such as when exercising outdoors, then you should reapply more often. Even if a product is labeled “water-resistant,” it still needs to be reapplied at least every two hours—no sunscreen is completely water-proof.

How much sunscreen do I need?
If you use too little sunscreen, you may end up with a painful sunburn. Dermatologists recommend using enough sunscreen to fill a shot glass (about two tablespoons) to cover all exposed areas of the body and face. If you prefer to use a spray, always make sure to rub in the sunscreen after spraying it on your skin to get even coverage.

It’s cloudy, do I really need to wear sunscreen?
Yes, you do! Don’t skimp on the sunscreen on overcast days. The sun’s UV rays can easily pass through clouds, and you can still get a sunburn.

My skin tans well, do I still have to use sunscreen?
All dermatologists will tell you that there is no such thing as a healthy or safe tan. A tan is a sign that skin damage has already occurred, and it does not offer any protection against future sun exposure. A so-called “base tan” only provides the equivalent of about a SPF 4, so a tan will not protect against sunburn or skin cancer.

Whether a tan is from an indoor tanning bed or from the sun, tanning causes skin damage over time. This damage may not only lead to premature skin aging and more wrinkles, it can also lead to skin cancer.

Exercising Safely with Asthma

May is Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month. Since spring is the prime season for allergy and asthma sufferers, it is the best time to educate others about these conditions.

In the US, 25 million children and adults have asthma, and approximately 21 million people suffer from seasonal allergies. Additionally, about 31 million people have some type of food allergy. While both allergies and asthma are common conditions, there are several special measures people with these conditions should take as many factors can trigger symptoms that range from bothersome to life-threatening.

When it comes to exercise, people with asthma must take special precautions, as exercise in and of itself can trigger asthma attacks. People with asthma may experience trouble breathing, wheezing, coughing, or tightness in the chest during or following any physical activity. But exercise is actually beneficial for asthma sufferers, and most people with asthma can exercise safely with proper precautions and the right treatments.

Taking precautions
For those with asthma, many factors in the environment can trigger symptoms, so it is important for sufferers to learn their individual triggers. For example, exercising in very cold or very hot temperatures, dry air, air pollution, and allergens such as pollen or ragweed can all set off symptoms or a full-blown asthma attack. Most doctors recommend that people with asthma exercise in warmer temperatures because moist, warm air is better for keeping the airways lubricated and relaxed.

However, if exercising outdoors in colder temperatures, wearing a face mask that covers your mouth and nose can help keep symptoms at bay. If allergens like pollen trigger symptoms, check your area’s pollen counts before heading outdoors to exercise, and switch to indoor activity on days when pollen counts are particularly high. For those with asthma, many factors in the environment can trigger symptoms, so it is important for sufferers to learn about their individual triggers.

In general, people with asthma should be careful not to overexert themselves during physical activities. If you experience asthma symptoms, you should stop exercising.

Best types of exercise
Some types of exercise and sports are more likely to cause asthma symptoms than others. Activities that require constant exertion such as soccer, hockey, or basketball are more of a problem than sports like tennis or baseball which require short bursts of physical exertion.

Good choices for exercise or sports for people with asthma include swimming, walking, hiking, yoga, golf, weightlifting, and using indoor equipment such as elliptical machines or stationary bikes. Swimming can be particularly beneficial for asthma sufferers because a swimmer’s position horizontally in the water can help loosen mucus in the lungs, and breathing in warm, moist air is also good for reducing symptoms. Yoga is also a great choice as it focuses on breathing and can help increase lung capacity by strengthening muscles.

Whatever activity you choose, it’s important to build up your endurance over time and do it regularly.  It’s also important to use your inhaler or any other medications your doctor has prescribed to help control your asthma before or during exercise. Always make sure to have your inhaler with you or close by when exercising should you begin experiencing an asthma attack.

Exercise-induced asthma
Another special consideration is a condition known as exercise-induced asthma or exercise-induced bronchospasm (EIB). People without diagnosed chronic asthma can experience asthma symptoms that are triggered by exercise. With this condition, airways in the lungs can narrow with strenuous exercise and cause shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, fatigue, and poor athletic performance during or after exercise.

Usually in EIB, symptoms begin soon after beginning exercise and can last 60 minutes or longer if not treated. It’s important to see a doctor if you experience any of these symptoms during or after exercising, as EIB can start at any age. Just as with chronic asthma, many different environmental factors can trigger EIB symptoms including dry air, cold temperatures, allergens, or air pollution. EIB is more common with activities that require long periods of deep breathing such as running or soccer.

EIB can usually be managed effectively, and sufferers can continue participating in sports or exercise by taking medication before exercise to prevent or reduce symptoms. Most people are prescribed an inhaler containing medications that can be used approximately 15 minutes before exercise to control symptoms. These medications can also be used during exercise if symptoms arise.

 

Sleep Quantity and Quality Is Important to Your Health

Sleep is essential to overall health, but it’s usually one of the first things to suffer when people are under stress or pressed for time. Sleep often falls low on people’s list of priorities behind work, family obligations, chores, socializing, and entertainment. But skimping on sleep can have a big impact on long-term health and can negatively affect your mental clarity and emotional health in the short run.

 

How Diet Affects Menopause

If you’re a woman of a certain age, you may already be feeling some of the symptoms of hormonal changes, even if you haven’t officially gone through menopause yet. The time leading up to menopause is a transition known as perimenopause and can start anywhere from a woman’s late 30s to mid-40s. This stage can last from five to ten years until you go through actual menopause. Menopause is defined as the absence of a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months.

As a woman goes through the hormonal changes of perimenopause and menopause, she may experience some unpleasant and uncomfortable symptoms including hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes, insomnia, and irregular periods. Women may also gain weight or find that they cannot lose weight as easily as when they were younger.

Menopause also occurs at a time in a woman’s life when her metabolism is already slowing down as a normal part of aging, so this tendency to gain weight is a bit of a double whammy. As if this were not enough, women are at a higher risk for diseases including osteoporosis, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes after menopause.

But the news is not all bad! There are lifestyle changes you can make to ease the symptoms of menopause, prevent weight gain, and reduce your risk for developing certain diseases. One of the key ways to do all of this is through diet and nutrition.

1. Increase Your Intake of calcium and vitamin D.
The loss of estrogen that comes along with menopause can weaken bones and increase the risk of osteoporosis. Both calcium and vitamin D are essential nutrients that protect your bones, so eating foods rich in these nutrients daily can help lower your risk of osteoporosis. You can get adequate calcium from dairy foods such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, as well as from green, leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and collard greens. There are also lots of calcium-fortified foods such as cereal and juices that can boost your calcium intake as well.

Vitamin D is equally important,  and the best way to get enough is by spending a short time outdoors daily to get natural vitamin D from the sun. If you don’t spend much time outdoors or have had skin cancer or are at a high risk for skin cancer, you can also talk to your doctor about vitamin D supplementation. It’s also found in oily fish, eggs, and foods such as milk or juice that are fortified with vitamin D.

2. Maintain a healthy weight.
Weight gain is common during both perimenopause and menopause, and women tend to gain excess body fat around their waists, which increases the risks for developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Women who are heavier also tend to experience worse menopausal symptoms. One study found that women who lost at least 10 lbs. or 10 percent of their body weight over the course of a year were more likely to eliminate hot flashes and night sweats.

3. Eat your veggies and fruits.
A diet rich in varied fruits and vegetables has been shown to prevent a number of menopausal symptoms. Additionally, fruits and vegetables fill you up and keep you from overeating more unhealthy foods, which can lead to weight gain. They may also help prevent diseases, particularly heart disease (which can be a higher risk after menopause), and help maintain bone health.

4. Avoid trigger foods.
There are certain foods that can trigger hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings, especially if eaten at night. Caffeine, alcohol, sugary foods, and spicy foods seem to be the biggest trigger foods for worsening menopausal symptoms.

5. Eat enough protein.
Getting enough protein in your diet can help prevent the loss of lean muscle mass that occurs with age. Focus on lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts, and low-fat dairy foods.

In addition to eating a healthy diet, regular exercise can help ease menopausal symptoms and help maintain a healthy weight.

How to Protect Your Health During the COVID-19 Crisis

Taking Care of Your Mental Health During the COVID-19 Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic is something most of us have not experienced in our lifetimes. The disruptions to our daily lives that have happened over the past week, and which will likely continue to happen for weeks to come, are difficult and challenging for everyone. These changes impact every aspect of our lives from our financial stability to our health, our children, our aging parents, and more.

While this shutdown of life-as-we-know-it is going to be challenging, it is necessary to do our part in helping to control the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. Closures of schools, colleges, restaurants, and other establishments may seem extreme, but experts are telling us they are crucial right now to try and “flatten the curve” of this viral outbreak. “Flattening the curve” is the idea of slowing a virus’ spread so that fewer people need to seek treatment at the same time.

This is why the U.S. and many other countries are implementing “social distancing” guidelines that limit the number of people going out in public and large group gatherings. The “curve” researchers are talking about refers to the projected number of people who will contract COVID-19 over a period of time. The goal with social distancing is to prevent a sharp rise in the number of people with the virus so the nation’s healthcare systems do not become overloaded beyond their capacity to treat people, as is currently happening with devastating results in Italy.

More than likely, you are already experiencing the effects of closures and social distancing. That may mean your children’s schools are closed or your company is having employees work from home for a few weeks, or both. Most of us are accepting staying at home for the time being as the new norm. This means not going out to eat, not visiting movie theatres, the gym, or other public places, and no playdates or other gatherings.

Protect your mental health
Just as important as protecting your physical health during this pandemic is protecting your mental health. Uncertain times such those we are experiencing right now can have a significant impact on your mental health. You are likely to feel stress surrounding what these shutdowns will mean financially for you and your family, what it will mean for your children’s education, and for your parents and other elderly family members’ health. All of this uncertainty can increase anxiety, and if you already suffer from anxiety and depression, it can make it much worse.

Some tips to ease stress and anxiety during this national crisis and help protect your mental health include the following:

Limit reading or watching repetitive coverage of the virus on various media. It will only make you more anxious. Stay informed by designating just one hour a day to read updates from trusted news sources—social media is notorious for spreading false information. An overload of information and the 24/7 news cycle will only increase your anxiety during these uncertain times.

Focus on the things you enjoy at home.  Replace social media and news with reading books, watching movies or shows, or listening to podcasts that entertain you and uplift you.

Maintain relationships, but do so virtually.
Since you can’t visit with elderly family members right now or with other friends, make time to engage in video chats, phone calls, emails, and texts. You and your kids can plan weekly video chats to stay connected with friends and to check in on elderly relatives. 

Add structure to your day.
Having a schedule will give you a feeling of control, which is important right now. Kids will benefit from having a daily schedule since it will help them to focus on things they need to do and will help to divert them from thinking about the virus. This is especially important if you will be working from home, and/or if your children will be participating in online learning during this time.

Create a plan for yourself and your family. Keep a list and use it; include needed supplies like food and medications, as well as contacts for your doctors and other important numbers. Using a list will give you a feeling of control in this unpredictable situation.

Practice self-care. Get back to the basics—get enough sleep, eat well, practice good hygiene, and get some exercise. You can work out at home, or better yet, get some fresh air by going for a walk, a run, or a bike ride in your neighborhood while still maintaining social distance. Experts agree that the best thing we can do during this health crisis is to take care of ourselves.

Remember to breathe. If you feel yourself starting to tense up and become anxious about this pandemic, take a time-out and practice deep-breathing exercises.

“Maintaining balance in daily life and not letting your day be consumed by the ‘next headline’ is important to maintaining perspective in the uncertainty of daily life,” said Nathaniel Van Kirk, PhD., coordinator of inpatient group therapy at McLean Harvard Medical School and the coordinator of clinical assessment at McLean’s OCD Institute.

 

Which Diet Is Best for You?

Types of Diets

When it comes to diet and nutrition, there are a wide variety of options available, but often, deciding which type of diet would be best for you can be overwhelming. From vegan to paleo to low-carb and everything in between, all of these different styles of eating claim to be the best for nutrition, weight loss, and overall health.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Following a particular diet is a very personal choice and one that should be based on personal preferences, lifestyle, your state of health, any medical conditions you may have, and for some, on moral or religious beliefs. There is not one perfect diet plan—each has its benefits and pitfalls.

To help you decipher the differences in some of the most popular diet plans, here is a brief breakdown of each type.

Vegetarian
Following a vegetarian diet involves omitting meat, fish, and poultry from your diet. There are variations of vegetarianism, such as choosing not to eat any red meat, but eating seafood and poultry. Pescatarians (those who eat no meat but do eat fish) will only eat seafood but no meat or poultry. Some vegetarians choose to consume dairy products and eggs, while others do not.

Many people often adopt a vegetarian diet for religious or personal reasons, as well as ethical issues, such as animal rights. Some people may decide to become a vegetarian for environmental reasons.

In addition to the ethical and environmental reasons for not eating meat, a vegetarian diet may lower your risk for chronic diseases and some cancers, improve heart health, help with weight loss, and provide your body with important nutrients. In fact, studies show that vegetarians tend to have better quality diets than meat-eaters and a higher intake of key nutrients like fiber, vitamins C and E, and magnesium.

However, a vegetarian diet may also increase the risk of certain nutritional deficiencies. Cutting meat and other animal products from your diet could potentially create deficiencies in iron, protein, omega-3s, calcium, and vitamins D and B. Being low in these nutrients can cause fatigue, anemia, bone loss, and thyroid issues. To minimize that risk, it’s important to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as other protein sources such as beans, nuts, and soy.

Vegan
Veganism has become more popular recently and is a form of vegetarian diet that eliminates all meat and animal products, including dairy products, eggs, fish, poultry, and animal-derived products such as honey. A vegan diet offers all of the same benefits as a vegetarian diet as well as reducing one’s intake of cholesterol and saturated fat. Much like vegetarians, vegans must have a well-planned diet and find ways to ensure that they get enough protein and vitamin B12 in their diets.

Paleo
A Paleo diet is a dietary plan based on foods similar to what might have been eaten during the Paleolithic era, which dates from approximately 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. The diet includes foods that could be obtained through hunting or gathering, including lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. A paleo diet limits foods that became common when farming emerged about 10,000 years ago, which includes dairy products, grains, and legumes.

The concept of the paleo diet is to return to a style of eating that is closer to what early humans ate. It relies on the belief that our bodies are genetically mismatched to the modern diet that emerged with farming practices. To follow a Paleo diet, you would chose to eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and fish, and oils from fruits and nuts, such as olive oils and walnut oil. The diet eliminates grains, legumes, dairy products, refined sugar, salt, potatoes, and highly-processed foods.

The benefit of following a Paleo diet is that it’s rich in vegetables, fruits, and nuts, which are all part of a healthy diet. Paleo diets promote weight loss, improve glucose control, reduce blood pressure, and lower cholesterol. The chief difference in the Paleo diet compared to other healthy diets is the absence of whole grains and legumes, which are considered good sources of fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients. Also missing from the diet are dairy products, which are good sources of protein and calcium.

While the Paleo diet does offer some health benefits, there are no long-term clinical studies about the potential risks of the paleo diet.

Keto
The Keto diet has become very popular. It is essentially just a variation of a low-carbohydrate diet, such as Atkins (which has been popular for many years). The keto (short for ketogenic) diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet. It requires you to drastically lower your carbohydrate intake and replace it with fat. This reduction in carbs puts your body into a metabolic state called ketosis, a state where your body becomes very efficient at burning fat for energy instead of carbs. Keto diets are very popular because they can promote rapid and significant weight loss, as well as help regulate blood sugar levels.

The keto diet completely omits fruits, grains, legumes, and sugar. Instead, followers eat fish, low-carb vegetables, cheese, meat, poultry, eggs, and fats. The disadvantages of this diet include something known as “keto flu,” where people feel symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, dizziness, nausea, and emotional changes when beginning the diet. Additionally, because there is a lack of long-term research on the keto diet, doctors caution that it could cause kidney damage, nutritional deficiencies, and other side effects.

Mediterranean
The Mediterranean diet is based on the fact that people living in countries that border the Mediterranean Sea tend to live longer and suffer fewer health problems than Americans. The diet is low in red meat, sugar, and saturated fat and high in fruits and vegetables, nuts, and “good” fats, which is believed to be one of the reason’s these people are healthier and live longer.

The Mediterranean diet is really more of an eating pattern than a structured diet. It emphasizes eating fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, olive oil, and flavorful herbs and spices. It emphasizes eating fish and seafood at least a few times a week and poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt in moderation, while saving sweets and red meat for special occasions. It also involves having a glass of red wine most days. The Mediterranean diet offers many health benefits and is a very healthful way of eating. The only downside to this diet is that it may be too expensive for some people to maintain.

 

 

Does Exercise Help Fight Off Colds and Flu?

Help Prevent Colds and Flu with Regular Exercise
Regular exercise is good for our bodies and well-being, but research also shows that regular, moderate exercise can also help our bodies fight off germs during cold and flu season. The key, though, is the word moderate—in contrast, more intense exercise and endurance training have been shown to have the opposite effect on the immune system.

Moderate Exercise Boosts Immunity
A research study found that staying active decreased the odds of catching a cold by nearly half, and even for those who exercised regularly and still caught a cold, the infection and symptoms were less severe. Lead researcher Dr. David Nieman, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Appalachian State University in North Carolina and a former president of the International Society of Exercise Immunology says, “Bouts of exercise spark a temporary rise in immune system cells circulating around the body that can attack foreign invaders.”

Research shows moderate amounts of aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging, or cycling during peak cold and flu months help boost the body’s defenses against viruses and bacteria. Moderate exercise is considered to be 30 minutes, four to five times per week.

But in people who engage in prolonged exercise, such as marathon running, research has shown it can suppress certain parts of the immune system. Those who engage in fitness exercise seem to have better resistance to colds and viruses than those who participate in more intense endurance training. For example, athletes running 60 miles a week have double the odds of sickness, compared to those who run less. Research shows that more than 90 minutes of high-intensity endurance exercise can make athletes susceptible to illness for up to 72 hours after the exercise session.

Should You Exercise When You’re Sick?
If you’re feeling under the weather, you may not feel like exercising at all, but if you are a regular exerciser or are training for a 5K, for example, you may feel like missing your workout will put you behind.

Deciding whether or not to exercise when you are sick depends on certain factors. According to David Pyne, a sports scientist, and researcher with the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise at the University of Canberra, athletes do what’s known as the “neck check” when determining if they should continue with regular training or rest for a few days when sick.

The “neck check” means that if your symptoms are from the neck up and not too severe—such as a runny nose or sore throat, and you don’t have a fever—then moderate exercise won’t make you worse and actually might be beneficial.

However, if your symptoms are more severe and are below the neck, like chest congestion or muscle or joint aches, or you’re running a fever, you should avoid exercise until your symptoms subside. Exercising with more severe cold or flu symptoms can prolong your illness and make you feel worse.

After a bout with the common cold, once symptoms have resolved, you can safely resume your regular exercise routine. But if you’ve had more severe illness or the flu, it’s important that you return to exercising gradually. Ease back into your routine with light exercise on the first day or two after an illness, and gradually work back up to your normal routine.

Keep the Germs Away
In addition to regular moderate exercise, there are other lifestyle changes you can make to help prevent colds and flu:

  • Eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Get a flu vaccine annually.
  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water frequently.
  • Wipe down counters and other surfaces (phones, remotes, doorknobs, light switches, etc.) with a strong cleaner.
  • Keep your hands out of your mouth, ears, nose, and eyes.
  • Stay home if you’re sick!

The Sweet Truth: 6 Myths About Diabetes Debunked

Diabetes is one of the most misunderstood chronic diseases. With November being Diabetes Awareness Month, it’s time to debunk some of the many myths that surround diabetes. Not only is it important to understand the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, as was discussed in last week’s blog, but there are numerous misconceptions and untruths about this chronic condition that not only affect how people with diabetes are viewed but also how people with diabetes take care of their health.

Myth: Diabetes is caused by eating too much sugar.
Fact: Sugar does not cause diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that is caused by a complex variety of factors including genetics, family history, viruses, and environment. While Type 2 diabetes is more common in individuals who are overweight, it is not caused directly by sugar alone;  a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle can make one more susceptible for developing diabetes if they are predisposed through genetics and a family history.

Myth: People with diabetes cannot eat sugar.
Fact:
Every person with diabetes has been asked, “Can you eat that?” And the answer is YES! Dessert and sweet treats are not off limits to people with diabetes. While foods with a high sugar content can raise blood sugar levels, so can any food containing carbohydrates. The key is moderation and a balancing act with medications. The amount of sugar a person with diabetes can eat depends on the individual and the medications he or she takes.

Many years ago, people with diabetes were told not to eat any sugar at all, but with new research and better diabetes treatments, people with diabetes can now consume sugar safely. This has remained the biggest myth about diabetes that many people still believe today.

Myth: Insulin cures diabetes.
Fact:
Insulin is a treatment and a life-saving medication, but it is not a cure. There currently is no cure for diabetes. People with Type 1 diabetes must take insulin for their entire lives.

Myth: Being overweight causes Type 2 diabetes.
Fact:
Another common misconception, but this assertion is also untrue. While being overweight or obese is a risk factor for developing Type 2 diabetes, there’s a lot more to diabetes than weight alone. To develop diabetes, you must be genetically predisposed. If you have this genetic component, maintaining a healthy weight and eating healthfully can delay, but will not entirely prevent diabetes.

Myth: Women with diabetes should not get pregnant.
Fact:
While movies like “Steel Magnolias” would lead one to believe that this is true, women with diabetes can have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. While a woman with diabetes, especially Type 1, is considered a high-risk pregnancy, as long as her diabetes is under good control and she works closely with a team of medical experts, she can safely deliver a healthy baby.

Myth: Diabetes is not that serious.
Fact:
Diabetes causes more deaths than breast cancer and HIV/AIDS combined. When not managed properly, diabetes can cause long-term complications that can lead to heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure. In the short-term, chronically high blood sugar can lead to Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA), which can be fatal, and people who take insulin can suffer from low blood sugar, which if left untreated, can lead to unconsciousness and sometimes even death.