Category Archives: For Your Body

Strong Legs, Strong Mind

December 8, 2015
Health Insider
King’s College London

Leg power may predict how well you think 10 years from now. In a study of 324 healthy identical twins, those with stronger legs did better than their siblings on cognitive tests a decade later. Their brains were bigger, too.

What’s so special about legs? They contain the largest muscles in the body, so strong legs are a good stand-in for overall fitness. (This study didn’t look at men, but others have found that fitness is good for the brains in both genders.)

So get those gams in shape with regular running, swimming, biking—or the most popular exercise, walking. Walk mindfully and you might get happier, too.

Just avoid these seven common walking mistakes.

Source: Study titled “Kicking Back Cognitive Ageing: Leg Power Predicts Cognitive Ageing after Ten Years in Older Female Twins” by researchers at King’s College London published in Gerontology.

Kick Bad Habits In Four Simple Steps

by Charles Duhigg as appeared in Bottom Line Health, Bottom Line Health


Want to kick a bad habit—just about anybad habit? There’s a proven system that has helped millions of people give up damaging habits and establish new, healthful ones in their place. You can simplify that system to help yourself do the same. The secret: Drawing upon four key components of 12-step programs.

The first and most famous 12-step program is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and there are dozens of similar programs based on the same basic principles. These principles can help you, too, whether your goal is to cut back on junk food, quit being a couch potato, give up cigarettes, spend less, stop biting your nails or whatever.

The reason: What makes AA and other 12-step programs so effective for so many people is that they provide a powerful methodology for changing bad habits, according to Charles Duhigg, a Pulitzer prize–winning journalist and author of the best-selling The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.

Members of AA often attest to the necessity of doing all 12 steps to deal with the life-threatening problem of alcoholism and achieve lasting sobriety. However, for the purposes of overcoming less grave bad habits and replacing them with good habits, you can think in terms of the following four key ideas…

Identify your primary commitment. People who come to AA typically have many problems—with family, friends, money, job, health, etc. All of those problems matter, and abstinence will help address them, but none of them are the main focus. Instead, people come to AA for one primary purpose—to get and stay sober.
Try this: In considering what habit of yours you’d like to change, commit to one specific goal (or one at a time, at least). For instance, instead of vowing to “get healthier” by overhauling your lifestyle (how complicated is that?!), focus on the single most important goal—say, no longer being a couch potato. Once you’ve established a routine of regular physical activity—for instance, taking a daily 20-minute walk—and have this new habit firmly embedded into your life, then you can start addressing other bad habits.

Take a self-inventory. AA encourages members to do an inventory, examining their feelings and behaviors and the “rewards” they get from drinking. This helps members to understand why they are drawn to drink and to recognize the specific triggers that spark cravings for alcohol. For example, a person may come to see that she drinks to numb feelings of fear or resentment or to feel more at ease in social situations…and that she is triggered by certain people or places, such as a longtime drinking buddy or a favorite bar.
Try this: Examine your own rewards and triggers. For instance, if you continually break your own promise to stop snacking on chips or sweets, what’s the reason? It’s probably not real hunger—instead, you may habitually reach for junk food when stressed or bored. To break his own afternoon cookie habit, Duhigg had to realize that it wasn’t the actual cookies he was so attached to, but rather the enjoyable routine of taking a break—getting up from his desk, walking to the cafeteria, chatting with coworkers. Once he understood this, he was able to come up with alternatives that provided the same rewards, such as walking around the block with a colleague or buying an apple instead of a cookie from the cafeteria.

Replace a bad habit with a good one—and practice the new habit every day. In AA, new members often are advised to “pick up the phone instead of a drink”…in other words, to take some positive new action (phoning a fellow alcoholic) whenever the urge strikes to indulge in the old habitual action (drinking). New members also are urged to attend 90 meetings in 90 days so that not a single day goes by without reinforcing the new habit of staying sober. Even if you are battling something far less serious than alcoholism, it takes at least several weeks for a healthful new habit to replace the old one—and consistency is key, Duhigg noted.
Try this: Suppose your goal is to get more sleep, so you’ve committed to going to bed by 11 pm every evening instead of habitually staying up past midnight. Do not undermine yourself by staying up late “only on Tuesdays” to watch a favorite TV show or by abandoning your new sleep routine on the weekends—at least for now. Once your new sleep habits are well formed, you may be able to make occasional exceptions without reverting to old bad habits (except in cases where complete abstinence is key to success, such as with an addiction).

Make use of a support network. In AA, selection of a “sponsor” (an AA mentor) plus contacts made at meetings provide a ready-made support system for each participant.
Try this: No matter what behavior you want to change, ask your friends and family members to support your efforts to establish your healthier new habit. It’s well proven, Duhigg said, that change is easier when you have someone who holds you accountable and applauds your progress. If you can find a buddy who has the same goal and the two of you can work together—or if you can find a mentor who has already achieved what you’re striving for (such as giving up smoking)—so much the better. Having the encouragement, advice and support of someone who truly understands what you’re going through will make it far easier to break old bad habits and create a healthier lifestyle for yourself.
These four steps could add up to one huge step for you!

Source: Charles Duhigg, Pulitzer prize–winning staff writer at The New York Times, and author of the best-seller The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. (Random House).

The Healthiest Chocolates of All

by Carole Jackson>, Bottom Line Health


It seemed too good to be true when studies began to tell us, seven or so years ago, that dark chocolate actually is healthy… but since then additional research has made the claims sweeter yet. Cacao beans, the base of chocolate, contain flavonoids (antioxidant-containing plant pigments) that make the antioxidants in dark chocolate nearly eight times as abundant as those in strawberries, which are themselves considered an excellent source. And then we learned that cacao beans help lower blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol and that they can increase levels of serotonin, a natural antidepressant, as well.

With all that going for chocolate, it’s not surprising that there’s now a wide array of “healthy” chocolates for sale pretty much everywhere, from bustling national supermarkets to tiny, Zen-like health-food stores. Soon you will even be able to buy camel-milk chocolate, said (of course) to have health benefits unique to its unusual source. But what makes the difference between a healthful piece of chocolate and just a fattening indulgence? I called über nutritionist and weight-loss expert Joy Bauer, MS, RD, CDN, regular contributor to the “Today” show and author of several books, including her newest, Your Inner Skinny, to ask the question.

Healthy Chocolate

Bauer says the only way to be sure you are getting a reasonable amount of flavonoids in chocolate is to select those containing at least 70% cacao, noting that the health value escalates the higher that percentage climbs. She said that milk chocolate — including the camel-milk variety — can’t compete in the healthy sweepstakes, since the added milk reduces the body’s ability to absorb the antioxidants in cacao. Bauer gave a thumbs down to the heart-shaped boxes of Valentine’s chocolates that have those creamy or caramel centers — these are very heavy on sugar and should definitely be left in the box, she says. On the other hand, “mix-ins” made of nuts and berries are good. As for white chocolate — it isn’t a true chocolate and, not surprisingly, contains almost no flavonoids.

If you are looking for a healthy dark chocolate, Bauer says you don’t have to pay up for a premium brand. While upscale brands use very high-quality cacao beans and are “incredibly delicious,” she says that the health benefit is about the same no matter the price, noting this is true of mass-produced brands, such as Hershey’s and Dove (which is owned by M&M/Mars), and mid-priced brands, such as Lindt or Ghirardelli. And it must be said… all chocolate contains lots of calories along with the flavonoids — averaging 150 calories per ounce, says Bauer — so it is important to enjoy it in moderation.

Source: Joy Bauer, MS, RD, CDN, Today show contributor, and author of several books, including her newest, Your Inner Skinny (William Morrow Cookbooks).

The 7 Best Energy Boosters

by Carole Jackson>, Bottom Line Health


Are you tired all the time? You have plenty of company. About 10 million doctor visits each year are attributed to fatigue. And all of those bottomless cups of strong coffee won’t help. Too much caffeine actually saps energy and makes fatigue worse.

The only way to beat fatigue is to create the conditions that bring more energy into your days and remove the obstacles that drain it away.

Most people know that exercise is energizing. It increases blood flow and circulates oxygen to the brain and other tissues. It also increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that improves alertness and focus, along with physical energy.

Other energy-boosters that really work…

1. Green drinks. We are always being told to eat more greens, but ­drinking them can be a much better choice when your energy flags during the day.

What to do: Take advantage of the liquid greens in health-food stores. Juices made from wheatgrass, barley and other vegetable extracts are alkalizing. They increase pH and shift the body’s balance to a less acid state. Too much acidity—a consequence of all the meat and grains in the American diet—­impairs energy as well as health.

The grasses used in green drinks contain chlorophyll and related substances that remove energy-­depleting toxins from the body. The drinks typically have little or no added sugar, so they won’t cause the spike and drop in blood sugar that you get from sweetened soft drinks or fruit juices. Green drinks are not delicious. They have a slightly grassy taste that takes some getting used to. My favorite is Barlean’s Greens, which is readily available online and in health-food stores and tastes surprisingly good.

2. Whole eggs. You need plenty of protein to satisfy your appetite, keep your energy humming and prevent the postmeal slump that occurs when you eat too much.

For years, people thought that egg-white omelets were the perfect high-protein meal. Not true. Whole eggs are better because the yolks are high in choline, a B vitamin that reduces inflammation—and the fatigue that accompanies it.

Don’t worry about the saturated fat in egg yolks. It’s not the enemy that people once thought. When researchers from Harvard and other institutions analyzed 21 previous studies that looked at the relationship between saturated fat and heart disease, they found that ­saturated fat did not cause an increase in heart disease or stroke.

What to do: Include a source of protein with every meal. It could be eggs, nuts, fish, grass-fed meat, beans or tofu.

3. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). This is probably the most important ­energy-producing nutrient that most people don’t get enough of.

CoQ10 increases the activity of mitochondria, the energy-producing structures within cells. The body naturally produces CoQ10, but it’s a complicated process that involves at least seven vitamins. Since many people don’t get enough of these nutrients—including vitamin C and a variety of B vitamins—levels of CoQ10 tend to be too low to boost energy.

What to do: Supplement with 100 milligrams (mg) of CoQ10 daily if you’re generally healthy. If you have been ­diagnosed with a heart condition or are taking a cholesterol-lowering statin, increase the daily dose to 200 mg. Statins deplete CoQ10 from the body. It’s particularly important for heart patients to get enough because the heart requires CoQ10 to beat efficiently.

4. High-glycemic foods occasionally. You probably have heard that the best carbohydrates for long-term energy have a low-glycemic load. Fiber-filled foods such as lentils, peanuts, carrots and chickpeas are absorbed slowly into the intestine. They keep blood sugar and insulin at steady levels—not too low or too high.

There’s one possible exception. If you’re trying to lose weight and still keep your energy high, you might want to have occasional servings of high-glycemic foods. There’s some evidence that people who mainly eat low-glycemic carbs but allow themselves a high-glycemic meal every four to seven days help the body to overcome its tendency to burn fewer calories during a weight-loss diet.

My advice: Suppose that you eat mainly low-glycemic carbs but still want to lose a few pounds. Once or twice a week, have one meal that includes ­faster-burning carbohydrates, such as pasta, white potatoes or white rice. Scientists speculate that the jump in insulin overcomes the slowing of your metabolism that comes along with ­dieting.

5. Replenish your bacteria. You might not think that digestion has much to do with energy, but the action inside your intestines greatly affects how you feel.

A study published in Journal of Psychiatric Research found that probiotics (live, beneficial bacteria) may have antidepressant effects. The same organisms improve immunity and make it easier to fight off the fatiguing effects of viruses and bacteria.

My advice: Eat one or more daily servings of live-culture yogurt. Look for the letters LAC (Live and Active Cultures) on the label. It means that the yogurt contains at least 100 million live organisms per gram.

6. Lights out. Nothing saps your energy more than a poor night’s sleep. And what people don’t realize is that even very dim lights—such as the small LED indicators on computers, cell phones and bedside clocks—can make it difficult to get a decent night’s rest. Sleep scientists have found that even trace amounts of ambient light inhibit the production of melatonin, a sleep-promoting hormone.

My advice: Minimize the amount of light. Turn your digital clock so that it faces away from the bed, for example, or drape something over the computer to cover up the “on” light.

If you don’t get enough sleep, take a nap. Napping improves memory, lowers stress and improves all-day ­energy. Studies done by NASA have found that a short 26-minute nap can increase performance by 34% and alertness by 54%. Limit your naps to 26 minutes or less, preferably late in the morning or early in the afternoon.

7. Breathe deeply and well. You would think that nothing is more natural than breathing, but many people don’t breathe the way that nature ­intended.

Reason: We live in a very fast-paced world…and we spend a lot of time hunched over desks, staring at computer screens. Both stress and poor posture tighten muscles in the upper body and make it harder for the lungs to expand. We have become shallow breathers, which decreases oxygen and causes mental and physical fatigue.

My advice: Every few hours, take a breathing break. While sitting or ­lying down, place one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your chest. Slowly breathe in through your nose, then exhale just as deeply through your mouth. Make sure that the hand on your belly rises and falls while the hand on your chest barely moves.

During the day, if you notice that you’re breathing shallowly or more quickly than usual, remind yourself to relax and breathe in more fully.

Source: Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, a nutritionist and weight-loss expert based in Los Angeles. He is board-certified by the American College of Nutrition and is a member of the American Society for Nutrition. He is author of The Most Effective Ways on Earth to Boost Your Energy and coauthor with Stephen Sinatra, MD, of The Great Cholesterol Myth (both by Fair Winds).

“Sell By” Dates and Other Misleading Labels Cause Terrible Food Waste

by Carole Jackson>, Bottom Line Health


Open your refrigerator or pantry, and pick up a few random jars, bottles, cans or cartons of food—peanut butter, orange juice, cereal, soup or whatever. Most of them probably are stamped with a date that says something like “sell by” or “enjoy by.” And if you’re like many people, you throw out the food once that date has passed—because you assume that it’s no longer safe to consume.

But are those assumptions correct? Typically not. In fact, in many cases those dates are arbitrary and meaningless! This makes it all the more aggravating that “date label confusion” is a significant contributor to the staggering amount of food waste that occurs in this country.

Food waste is bad for our wallets, costing the average American family of four $1,365 to $2,275 per year. What’s more, we’re suffering a lot of needless anxiety, worrying that what we eat is going to make us sick. A new report from the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic explains the problem and offers some solutions…


In the US, we waste an appalling 160 billion pounds of food per year. If only one-third of what’s thrown away somehow could be distributed to the 15% of Americans who don’t have enough food, no one would go hungry.

Much of that waste occurs when food is tossed unnecessarily by consumers who are confused by the food date labeling system. Yet it’s no wonder they’re confused—because terms such as “sell by” and “best before” have no official, standardized definitions. Is the food no longer fit to eat…or do manufacturers just want you to throw out stuff that’s been in your pantry for a while so that you’ll buy more of their products? Though people often assume that the food cannot be safely consumed after the stamped date, most food label dates indicate only peak freshness and optimal flavor,not an end to any safe window of opportunity for consumption.

The inconsistency problem: Although the FDA and the USDA have the authority to regulate various types of food labeling, they generally do not regulate date-labeling practices, instead leaving this to food manufacturers, states or even local governments. The result is wild inconsistency. For instance, a carton of eggs sold in South Carolina can be stamped with a date that’s up to 45 days after the carton is packed, while a carton of eggs sold in Alaska is marked with a date that’s not more than 24 days after packing.

The authors of the new Harvard report point out that it is impossible to provide actual definitions for all the date label terms currently in use because meanings are not legally defined. They vary by state, and there is no consensus about how to apply them to different categories of food products. However, the terms generally can loosely be interpreted as…

• “Production” or “pack” date—the date on which the food product was manufactured or placed in its final packaging.

• “Sell by” date or “expiration date”—information to retailers for stock control, leaving a reasonable amount of shelf life for the consumer after purchase.

• “Best if used by” date—typically an estimate of a date after which food will no longer be at its highest quality.

• “Use by” date—also typically a manufacturer’s indication of the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality.

• “Freeze by” date—a reminder that quality can be maintained much longer by freezing a product.

• “Enjoy by” date—essentially useless to consumers.

Is there any term being used that indicates when a product is no longer safe to consume? No! And that’s the whole point of the report.

The authors had several recommendations for the food industry that could help cut back on needless waste, including standardizing the labeling system and improving the use of safe-handling instructions so consumers know which foods should be refrigerated or frozen and how long foods last in different conditions.

But until such industry changes are made, consumers can use common sense to waste not, want not. Obviously, you shouldn’t eat or drink anything that looks, smells or tastes like it has gone bad. For instance, toss anything with visible mold or discoloration, an “off” odor, changes in texture or flavor or marred packaging (such as a broken seal on a bottle or a misshapen or corroded lid on a can). Other than that, though…

• Remember that the “sell by” date is purely for grocers’ inventory-management systems. If you’re in the store and want to compare dates to select the freshest items for your cart, that’s fine, as is opting not to buy foods that are past the “sell by” date. But once a food is in your home, don’t misinterpret the “sell by” date as an “eat or throw away by” date.

• With nonperishable items (canned goods, spices, honey) and packaged foods (cereals, crackers), safety isn’t really an issue, the researchers said. However, these foods may taste less flavorful after a long time in storage.

• Perishable foods—such as unfrozen shellfish, fish, meat or poultry, and eggs and dairy products—can spoil and make you ill. However, there’s so much variability from food to food that it’s impossible to give a blanket number of days after the “use by” date within which all products should be consumed. For more information on particular types of foods, check a reputable resource such as

• Be sure to store each food as the label directs—for instance, by refrigerating after opening, if so instructed. That’s the best way to avoid food waste.

Source: Emily Broad Leib, JD, director, Food Law and Policy Division, Harvard Law School, Boston. She is coauthor of a report titled “The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America,” copublished with The Natural Resources Defense Council, an international nonprofit environmental group.

More on Food-Labeling Problems