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Corrie Pikul (131 posts)
Every week or so, we'll be asking one of the Best Life experts for advice on diet and exercise, ways to get better rest and strategies to live a little younger.
If you have a question, send it to us!
Q: Ask Bob Greene's Team: I only have 30 minutes to work out. How should I use them?
We asked Michelle Kennedy, MS, Best Life fitness expert, to give us four examples of 30-minute workouts:
*A CrossFit-type workout: This routine on the Best Life blog, modeled after CrossFit, involves doing a series of intense exercises, like mountain climbers and squats, as fast as you can in a fixed amount of time.
*Half-and-half: 15 minutes of steady-state cardio like running or bicycling, and 15 minutes of strength training exercises that include Bob Greene's Basic Eight moves.
*High-intensity intervals: In short cardio workouts like these, you alternate sprints and recovery for short periods of time.
*Long sprints: Warm up for five minutes, then run, bike, swim or Rollerblade at top speed for 20 minutes, and cool down for another five.
Can you guess what Kennedy recommends as the best workout for those who are pressed for time?
1. Sick person coughs on folder.
2. Healthy person handles same folder.
3. Healthy person touches their face and--bam! Turns into dead man walking.
In a post-bird flu, post-swine flu world, we kind of knew that's how the transmission process works, but seeing Gwyneth keel over made us wonder how we might avoid that fate—or the common cold.
Surface-to-person contagion is technically called fomite transmission, says Anna Bowen, MD, MPH, a medical epidemiologist who works for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Generally, germs can live on surfaces for minutes to hours to days, depending on the nature of the germ and the surface." Smooth surfaces transmit viruses better than porous ones.
This is why the CDC is always reminding us to wash our hands. But we wanted to know--is a simple soap-and-water combo better than anti-bacterial gels at protecting us from Voldemort-like viruses?
Those who have spent time in the hospital know that it's nearly impossible to get an uninterrupted night's sleep, due to constant visits by the medical staff. Last week, Theresa Brown, RN, a nurse who admits to waking up patients, wrote an article for The New York Times Well blog explaining why this is so common. For starters, she says that nurses needs to check vital signs, administer antibiotics and have the results of lab tests ready for the doctor's early morning rounds. (In this telling anecdote about a cranky insomniac, an unsteady nighttime urinator and a delusional woman, she shows us how quickly the most organized nurse's plans can go awry.)
Most importantly, Brown acknowledged that a good night's rest is crucial in helping patients recover from whatever it is that landed them in the hospital in the first place. But you don't have to be sick or injured to take advantage of the benefits of sleep. Here are three ways that a dose of zzz's can improve our health:
1. It helps us ward off colds. A 2009 study in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine showed that those who sleep less than seven hours a night have a three times higher risk of getting a cold than if those who sleep more than eight hours. That extra hour or two really matters.
2. It allows our systems to reboot. Sleep replenishes your cells and allows your body to carry out important maintenance duties like strengthening your immune system, balancing your hormones and repairing fatigued muscles.
3. Getting the right amount of sleep may extend your life. A 2008 study in the journal Sleep found that, among elderly women, sleeping between five and nine hours was associated with a lower risk of mortality.
If only we could send sleep as a get-well gift...or at least FedEx ill friends a mug of warm milk.
Over the years, our summers filled up with internships and odd jobs, and our beach holidays involved more sunbathing than swimming. Without regular access to a pool or pond, some of us are now tentative in the water. But with everyone from our physical therapists to our ob/gyns to our fitness trainers reminding us of the high-intensity, low-impact benefits of swimming, we're thinking more about it. That's why we decided to ask two swim coaches for their advice on getting back in the water. One more reason to dive in this weekend: average ocean water temps are still near their highest.
Ready to dip your toes in?
Q: What's the best way to weigh yourself?
A: We brought our FAQ's about BMI, body comp, and pounds to two Best Life nutritionists, Stephanie Clarke, M.S., R.D. and Willow Jarosh, M.S., R.D. Before jumping on that scale, read their list of weight dos and don’ts.
Do understand what your numbers mean.
Weight isn't the only measurement that matters, but it's one of the most widely-used guidelines for assessing personal health (and for determining which countries have the highest obesity rates). Clarke and Jarosh use the Best Life formula to generate what they call "an average healthy weight." For women, start with 100 pounds and add 5 pounds for every inch over 5 feet. Expand this to include a 15% window (plus and minus) to account for different body types. So a healthy weight for a woman who is 5'5" would be within the range of 107 to 144 pounds. The Centers for Disease Control uses body mass index, or BMI, to determine that the healthy weight range for a woman who is 5'5" tall is 111 to 150 pounds. (use the CDC's calculator to see where you fit in).
It almost seems as if some cosmic alarm went off this week that was only audible to exceptionally successful leaders, signaling that it was time for them to reconsider their position at the top. Steve Job's resignation as the CEO of Apple on Wednesday was maybe the biggest announcement, if the least shocking, and earlier this week, Pat Summitt, the "winningest coach" in college basketball history, revealed that her position as the head of the University of Tennessee women's team would be complicated by a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's. Then yesterday, the pioneering blogger Jim Romenesko, whose intelligent writing about news and media captivated even those who didn't carry a press pass, said that he was retiring from the Poynter Institute blog that bears his name.
These mid-life changes-of-plans got us thinking about how to recognize when it's time to make a change.
Once again, we're knocked out by the way science columnist John Tierney introduces us to...ourselves. We've been thinking about his latest all week, especially when pondering our choices of what to make for dinner, when to work out and how to spend the last days of summer. In an article about decision-making fatigue in last weekend's New York Times Magazine, Tierney explained that constantly having to choose between options can have a debilitating effect on our willpower, mood and energy levels. "Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car," Tierney wrote. "No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price." (By the way, can you guess what common ritual is "the decision-fatigue equivalent of Hell Week"?).
Still, sooner or later, we're going to over-stretch our favorite pair of Spanx or shrink our bed sheets, and when that happens, we'll have to hit the mall. As a health precaution, we're taking these bits of advice with us, extrapolated from the research Tierney presented:
1. Go to the gym first, before resisting sales and deciding between colors and prices has a chance to weaken your resolve.
2. Limit options by parking in front of the store with the items you need. The article explains that the multitude of choices available to Americans overwhelms people. By not walking past endless shops, you avoid having to decide whether to go into them.
3. If you're shopping for more than one item, start with the most expensive. The mental depletion that follows multiple decisions makes us more likely to go with the easiest choice, which isn't always the best or most affordable choice. (But changing the order of choices in the process of buying a car ended up costing some study participants $2,000 of their own money.)
4. Bring trail mix to snack on. Recent experiments have shown that the simple sugar glucose (which is found in raisins) can counteract the negative brain changes wrought by decision fatigue, and keep your impulse control in check. (Learn why just the expectation of having to make a decision makes people crave sweets.)
5. Make plans to meet friends or family for dinner so that you won't be tempted by the food court. "When you shop till you drop, your willpower drops, too," he concluded. But people with strong self-control have developed strategies to fend off decision fatigue. Find out the habits of successful deciders.
But then, years later, came that epic night that started with flirtatious banter with the hotel bartender and ended with us playing "We Are the World" from memory on the Steinway grand while the entire lobby sang along. Then there was the "LOST" viewing party where we impressed fellow fans by plinking out the show's "sad theme" on the host's keyboard.
Now science is providing yet another reason for us to appreciate our early education in the musical arts: it may help us fend off age-related hearing loss. An interesting NPR story yesterday explained that hearing difficulty as we get older is usually due to our inability to tune out background noise (listen to the story for more info about the physiological reasons behind this). Musicians, studies have found, are not only better at deciphering different notes and tones, but also at remembering sentences they heard earlier, making it easier for them to follow a line of conversation.
There's still no conclusive evidence that picking up an instrument for the first time later in life can stop hearing loss. However, it's not a bad idea for us lapsed pianists and marching band alumni to refresh our skills...and thank our parents for helping us to develop--and hopefully maintain--an ear for music and other sounds.
Do you play any musical instruments? What unexpected benefits has that brought to your life?
A new study about personality and weight confirms what anyone who has tried to balance eating well and living well knows: the people who are most likely to get invited to a last-minute luau are the same people who will have the hardest time resisting the pineapple upside-down cake.
Researchers from the National Institute on Aging analyzed data from a study of 1,988 people using the assessment tool of the "Big Five" personality traits, which include openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. [Curious about your personality profile? You can learn more about the Big Five personality test at the Berkeley Personality Lab site, and then take an online version of the test.]
The strongest predictor of who would be overweight was impulsivity, they reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. We could have guessed that, but the numbers are still bracing: Participants who scored in the top 10 percent on this trait weighed an average of 22 pounds more than those in the bottom 10 percent. Compared to participants of normal weight, the overweight and obese participants were more impulsive—and warm, and assertive. They were also more likely to seek out excitement and prefer to be around others. Alternatively, those people who scored high on conscientiousness (aka, the task-focused, efficient, dutiful and organized) tended to be leaner.
Now who would you invite to your party? The study highlights a conundrum familiar to any weight-conscious social butterfly: It's hard to pass up fun events just because Temptation might also be on the guest list. [Find out how to be a spontaneously savvy party-goer, after the jump]