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“How to Break Your 7 Worst Health Habits” plus 5 more Health – TIME

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“How to Break Your 7 Worst Health Habits” plus 5 more Health – TIME


How to Break Your 7 Worst Health Habits

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 09:00 AM PST

We all have at least one not-so-great behavior we’ve tried (and tried and tried) to kick: Sucking down super-sweet coffee drinks every morning. Cuddling up to Netflix until “yikes!” o’clock every night. Even if you’re not smoking a pack a day, these moves still take a toll on your health. This year, it’s time to make a change. You told Health your top seven most obstinate bad habits, and we tapped leading experts to find out how you can finally transform your ways. Here’s to a healthier, happier, stronger year ahead. Cheers! (With a refreshing glass of H2O, of course.)

The habit: Unwinding with a drink every night

Why you can’t shake it: It’s called happy hour for a reason. “Alcohol releases pleasure chemicals, like endorphins and dopamine. When you get that feeling, you want a little more, and more—and that’s why you might ask for another round,” says psychologist Michael Levy, PhD, director of substance use services at North Shore Medical Center in Salem, Mass.

The goal: While enjoying two or three drinks with friends is okay on occasion, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says women should generally aim to have one drink a day at most (seven per week). Regularly going above that can increase your risk of health problems, such as certain cancers and high blood pressure. (If you’re experiencing negative consequences because of your drinking, no matter how much you consume, it may be a problem. Reach out to your doctor as the first step toward getting help.)

How to change a wine habit

Take days off: It’s a good idea to order a mocktail a couple of days a week. “This helps reduce your tolerance, so on days you do drink, one feels like enough,” says Levy.

Savor every sip: Make your gin and tonic or glass of bubbly last 45 minutes to an hour. How? Put your glass down between sips.

Measure: Pour out exactly 5 ounces of wine (or 1 1/2 ounces of hard alcohol) to see what “one drink” really looks like. Research shows it’s easy to overpour, depending on the size and shape of the glass; restaurants may serve you 7 ounces or more. Mixed drinks, too, contain more alcohol than you might think—the average gin and tonic counts as 1.6 drinks, while a margarita counts as 1.7.

Gab, not glug: Instead of rushing the bar immediately, start by ordering something nonalcoholic and catching up with friends. (That is the point, after all!) Then get a drink. One off-the-wall option: a beer—especially if you don’t really love it. “It’s 12 ounces, so it takes longer to drink, and you’ll sip it more slowly than you would your favorite drink,” says Levy.

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The habit: Drinking flavored coffee

Why you can’t shake it: “You’re taking the first hit of your drug,” says Brooke Alpert, RD, author of The Sugar Detox. Even a simple drink like a small vanilla latte can contain 14 grams, or almost 4 teaspoons, of added sugar—more than half of what you should consume all day. (The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 24 grams of added sugar daily.) “Coffee drinks are basically milkshakes,” says Alpert. Since liquid sugar (in drinks) gets absorbed into your bloodstream quickly—particularly when you sip it first thing in the a.m.—the corresponding blood sugar spike and crash makes you crave even more sugar later. “That sets you up to make poor food choices the rest of the day,” says Alpert.

The goal: Stop adding any sugar to your coffee.

How to fix a flavored coffee habit

DIY: If you typically order a presweetened beverage, get it unsweetened, then add real sugar yourself. “It’s like having salad dressing on the side. It’ll give you awareness of how much sugar you were really having,” says Alpert. Try this for one or two days.

Cold-turkey it: Alpert has found that cutting sugar out of the drink completely (rather than weaning off it) is the most effective tactic for her clients. It may be super hard at first, but you’ll adjust faster. Order unsweetened coffee with regular milk, half-and-half, or cream (yep, fat can be good—it’s tasty and satiating) and sprinkle in cinnamon and nutmeg yourself. Or ask the barista to blend coffee, milk, and ice for a healthy frappe; Alpert says many people find unsweetened iced coffee more palatable than hot. Still too bitter? Swap the joe for a flavored tea, which you can find in a lot of fun fruity, spicy, and naturally sweet flavors, like vanilla rooibos and passion fruit green tea.

The habit: Staying up late to watch TV

Why you can’t shake it: You’re so swamped during the day that when you finally do get a chance to sit down, it’s already bedtime. “People steal time from sleep just to have time for themselves to relax,” says James Findley, PhD, clinical director of the behavioral sleep medicine program at the University of Pennsylvania.

The goals: Start winding down an hour before bed and set limits on how much you watch.

How to stop watching so much TV before bed

Move the TV out: Television in your bedroom? Get it outta there. “If the bed means it’s time to watch TV, it stops being a cue that it’s sleep time,” explains Findley.

Delegate: If you’re running around trying to check off everything on your to-do list—and then have no time left for yourself at the end of the night—step back and think about which tasks can be done tomorrow (sleeping > sparkly kitchen) and which you can delegate (can your partner or kids fold the laundry?). Taking some things off your plate—and learning to ignore what’s not a priority—will create space in your schedule for relaxation so it doesn’t cut into valuable snooze hours.

Wind down: Designate the hour before bed as your time for bliss and self-care. If TV truly does help you relax, you’ve got the green light from Findley to catch your fave show, as long as it’s not scary or overstimulating. Know you’re a sucker for that Fixer Upper marathon? Set restrictions (TV goes off at 10 p.m.—no excuses!). “You have to consider whether you’re willing to take two hours to enjoy TV now and pay for it for the 16 hours after you wake up,” says Findley. You can also find an activity that helps you simmer down and feels like self-care to boot, like reading that book you’ve had on your list forever, listening to quiet music, turning on a podcast, knitting, or applying a face mask.

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The habit: Stress eating

Why you can’t shake it: “Turning to food is an easy way to soothe, comfort, or distract yourself,” says Minh-Hai Alex, RD, a mindful-eating expert in Seattle. And it’s never a plate of steamed veggies you reach for (imagine that!). High-carb, high-fat fare can trigger the reward circuits in the brain, giving you the feel-good boost you’re seeking in the moment.

The goal: Figure out what it is that you actually need (it’s usually not food).

How to stop stress eating

Practice self-care: Stress is one thing, but when paired with sleep deprivation, fatigue or ravenous hunger, it can make resisting that pint of ice cream even harder. Be sure you’re prioritizing sleep, relaxing in some way every day, and staying well-nourished.

Power pause: When the chips are calling your name, hold off a second and get curious. “Are you actually physically hungry?” asks Alex. If not, then think, “What am I asking the food to do for me?” Possible answers: procrastinate, alleviate loneliness, fix a bad mood.

Now decide: If you conclude, “Yes, I’m stressed and no one’s keeping me from those Oreos,” then tell yourself you’ll put a few on a plate and mindfully enjoy them rather than mindlessly polish off half a sleeve, says Alex. “This is progress because you’re not acting on autopilot. It’s not a crime to give yourself permission to eat something.”

Fulfill your need: Whether you opted to eat the treat or not, identify what your body and mind are really itching for: a walk break to clear your head from a tough task, connection in the form of a quick text to a friend or a few minutes journaling your worries at the end of the day. That can head off future dives into the chip bag.

This Is the Best Diet in America

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 08:13 AM PST

For the seventh year in a row, the DASH diet has been named the United States’ best diet overall by U.S. News & World Report in its annual rankings. The Mediterranean diet came in second (up from last year’s fourth place) and the MIND Diet—a plan that’s similar to the top two but focuses on preventing cognitive decline—took third place, down from second last year.

DASH, which stands for dietary approaches to stopping hypertension, was originally developed to help people lower their blood pressure, but its focus on low-fat, low-sodium, and plant-based meals has also been linked to a whole host of other health benefits.

There are no new surprises in this top group of diets—and in a way, that’s a surprise in itself, says David Katz, MD, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center and one of the panelists tasked with evaluating the entries.

“With all of the competing headlines about sugar and saturated fat and this study and that study, the reality is that if you pull together a multidisciplinary group of nutrition experts, their conclusions are remarkably stable over time,” Dr. Katz told Health. “What makes diets fundamentally good, for weight control or for health, is pretty much the same as it ever was.”

Specifically, Dr. Katz stresses that a focus on wholesome foods, and a method you can stick with over time, are strong indicators that a diet is worth trying. “The ‘best’ diet, like the best exercise, is the one you actually manage to practice and maintain,” he says.

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The Flexitarian diet, Mayo Clinic Diet, TLC Diet, and Weight Watchers all fared well in the best overall category, forming a four-way tie for fourth place. The rankings also includes winners for Best Weight-Loss Diet (Weight Watchers), Best Fast Weight-Loss Diet (HMR Program), Easiest Diet to Follow (Fertility Diet), Best Diet for Healthy Eating (DASH Diet), Best Plant-Based Diet (Mediterranean Diet), the best diet marketed to consumers (Mayo Clinic Diet), and the best diet for diabetes and heart disease (DASH diet).

“On the one hand, a diet that’s good for your heart is going to be good for weight loss and is also going to be good for cancer and pretty much everything else,” says Dr. Katz. “That’s the really fortunate thing. But that being said, you can still customize your diet choice based on a particular priority you have and the style you think will work best for you.”

At the other end of the spectrum, the Whole30 was the lowest ranked overall diet for the second year in a row. The trendy Dukan and Paleo diets also ranked toward the bottom of the list. These plans are too restrictive and unnecessarily wipe out entire food groups, said the expert panel, and are too difficult to follow for a long time.

The entire list of Best Diets—including a detailed profile of each diet, along with sample food diaries and recipes—was published this morning on the U.S. News website.

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An estimated 45 million Americans go on diets every year, either for weight-loss or health purposes. This year, 38 different diets were considered by the U.S. News panel of nutritionists, dietary consultants, and physicians specializing in diabetes, weight loss, and heart health.

“Our Best Diet rankings provide the millions of people around the world looking to make a lifestyle change a place to jumpstart their health and fitness goals,” said Angela Haupt, Assistant Managing Editor of Health at U.S. News, in a press release. “Best Diets provides each person a chance to evaluate what diet will work best for them and their particular needs.”

This article originally appeared on Health.com

The 5 Dirtiest Things You Touch Every Day

Posted: 04 Jan 2017 07:24 AM PST

It’s had to find a germ researcher who doesn’t recommend eating off a toilet seat. “Everyone’s afraid of butt-borne diseases, but toilet seats tend to be the cleanest thing in the bathroom because we clean them so often,” says Charles Gerba, a professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona.

Of course, Gerba and others who study the filthiest parts of your kitchen, bathroom, workspace, car and body don’t actually think you should serve your next meal on the throne. But if you’re wondering which everyday items are the germiest, he says it helps to think about those objects or places you ignore when you break out your mop and disinfectant.

One example: The hand-towel hanging next to your bathroom sink. “Bacteria like to grow in wet, moist conditions,” Gerba explains. Towels are made to absorb water, which is great for drying your skin, but not so great when it comes to discouraging bacterial incubation. “Most people don’t wash their hands properly,” he says. So when you grab that towel, you’re rubbing bacteria into an ideal growing environment—and one few people bother to wash more than once every week or two. You should be washing all towels—including the one you grab after showering—after two days of use, he says.

Another bathroom reservoir of germs is your toothbrush holder. “People never clean them,” Gerba says. A 2011 report from the public health organization NSF International found 27% of toothbrush holders were home to Coliform bacteria—a sickness-causing family of microorganism that includes Salmonella and E. coli.

In the kitchen, your trusty sink sponge is health enemy number one. In fact, that sponge is likely the dirtiest item in your home, Gerba says. “It’s probably home to hundreds of millions of bacteria,” he says. NSF agrees. Its researchers found that 75% of home dish sponges and rags contained Coliform.

You want a kitchen cleaning tool you can throw into the dishwasher to disinfect—like a brush, Gerba says. The same goes for cutting boards. “Most people just rinse or wipe them off,” he says. But only a run through the dishwasher—or a good scrub with dish soap—will get it clean.

When it comes to the items you touch most, Gerba says your cell phone is a big bacteria haven. Studies have found that one in six phones is contaminated with fecal matter, even though a simple swab with a disinfectant wipe is enough to clear away that icky residue.

Finally, when you’re out of your home, watch out for supermarket carts. “Almost 100% of them are home to E. coli because people are constantly touching the handles after holding raw food products,” Gerba explains. He says reusable grocery bags are also pretty nasty—again, because people rarely wash them.

While dozens of other everyday items could make this list—shoelaces, purses, car keys, keyboards, etc.—don’t run out and buy a lot of chemical-ridden cleaners. For one thing, many of them don’t work. For another, many contain substances that are linked to cancer and other health concerns.

Instead, worry about disinfecting your hands when you leave a public space. Gerba says most people pick up dangerous germs when they’re away from home. By simply rubbing on a hand sanitizer or washing your hands the moment you walk into the house, you’d probably cut your odds of catching something in half, he says.

Doctors Perform Groundbreaking Surgery for Stroke

Posted: 03 Jan 2017 09:01 PM PST

Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic recently performed the first deep brain stimulation for stroke surgery in a patient. The experimental procedure could help people regain function that is typically lost to stroke.

About half of the 800,000 Americans who have a stroke every year end up disabled. Dr. Andre Machado, chairman of the Cleveland Clinic Neurological Institute, is hoping to change that through deep brain stimulation (DBS): By implanting electrodes into the brain that provide small electric pulses, people can regain control over movements lost to stroke.

“We are frustrated with the state of post-stroke care as it is today,” says Machado. “The goal is to give people better recovery to gain independence.”

People who are disabled by stroke can regain some motor function from physical therapy, but many will not recover all their movement.

Judy Slater, 58, of Pulaski, Pennsylvania, is the first person to be surgically implanted with an electrode to treat her stroke symptoms with DBS. In May 2015, Slater suffered a stroke while trying to get out of bed. She fell down and couldn’t get up, and was paralyzed on her left side. For some time, she couldn’t move her left arm or leg. Today she can walk, but has to wear a brace, and her left arm is still paralyzed.

“I was nervous,” she says about the surgery, which she underwent on Dec. 19. “You don’t want anyone messing around in your brain, but I am curious to see if it’s really going to work.”

Today Slater is recovering from the brain surgery, and in March doctors will turn on the stimulation. Slater will continue to undergo standard physical therapy to see if the DBS will improve upon any gains from standard rehabilitation. After about three months, doctors will turn off the stimulation to see if the effects remain.

Slater says she is already experiencing improvements, and can move her arm to about shoulder height.

Machado is also testing DBS to treat tremors in people with Parkinson’s disease. Neither procedure is yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). After doctors observe Slater’s progress, they will enroll more people in the clinical trial. The team ultimately hopes to test DBS in 12 people with stroke-related disabilities.

“I am excited,” says Slater. “I want to get back to everything working.”

The Case for Eating Cheese is Stronger Than Ever

Posted: 03 Jan 2017 01:11 PM PST

The last thing cheese-lovers need is a health expert to justify their obsession. In their eyes, a stiff, smelly block of fromage needs no defense. Yet for the waistline conscious, more cajoling may be needed to convince them they can be eating cheese for good health.

That cheese can be a dieter’s friend will come as a surprise to many. It has a reputation as a fatty, sodium-filled indulgence, and there’s no denying that it’s rich in both; just an ounce (about a slice) of cheddar cheese will run you 9 grams of fat and 180 mg of sodium. It’s also high in saturated fat and cholesterol.

For a long time, these stats made cheese an automatic nutritional no-no. “We used to assess whether a food is good or bad for your health simply by looking at a label and reading some of the basic information,” says Arne Astrup, head of the department of nutrition, exercise and sports at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. (Astrup has received accepted grants from dairy foundations and companies, yet says the research he conducts is “not biased due to industry influence.”) Recent research, from Astrup and others, is showing that the thousands of molecules that make up cheese are working in ways that make the food beneficial to health.

Some of these attributes are obvious but others less so. Here’s what new research pinpoints as some of the nutritional perks of cheese.

  1. It’s high in protein, calcium and hard-to-get B12. Cheese contains almost as much protein as it does fat, which the body uses to build cell structures and stay full. It also contains plenty of bone-building calcium—200 mg per ounce in cheddar cheese, or about 20% of a person’s recommended daily amount—and is one of the few foods to naturally contain vitamin D. Cheese, too, has vitamin B12, which helps red blood cells form properly and neurological function.
  2. It may help your heart. One such study (funded in part by a dairy group, which is typical with cheese research) finds that not only is cheese not bad for the heart, it may even be beneficial. A 2016 paper published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that eating a little more than an ounce of cheese daily was linked to about a 3% lower risk of stroke. A daily serving of cheese has also been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and eating cheese moderately has been found to predict a longer life. Cheese has even been shown to lower levels of bad LDL cholesterol compared to butter.
  3. It doesn’t increase high blood pressure risk. What’s more, its high sodium content may not be so bad after all. Salty as it is, cheese wasn’t linked to hypertension in another analysis of studies. Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how this can be. “There’s a lot of magic in the food matrix of cheese, and the other components and ingredients in cheese are far more important than the saturated fat and sodium,” says Astrup. Calcium seems to play a protective role by binding some of the fatty acids in cheese so that they can’t be digested, he says.
  4. It’s full of good bacteria. The bacteria in cheese—which is a fermented food—might also be beneficial. Some evidence suggests that eating cheese favorably changes the microbiota, the concentration of bugs in the gut, which in turn may be improving metabolism.
  5. It contains a particularly great fatty acid. Gökhan Hotamisligil, professor of genetics and metabolism at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, believes that the reason cheese can be so high in nutritional baddies without having detrimental health effects is that nutrition categories are too broad. “The general view about fat is very crude,” he says. “We say fatty acids, but there are thousands of fatty acids, and they cannot all be conducting the same biology.” In 2008, Hotamisligil and his team were searching for the most unique lipids they could find when they stumbled upon palmitoleate. “It turns out that this is really a wonderful fatty acid,” he says. It’s generated by the body in small amounts, but it’s found most abundantly in full-fat dairy products—especially cheese. Palmitoleate neutralizes the damage caused by saturated fatty acids, acts like insulin by getting excess sugar out of the blood and is anti-inflammatory, Hotamisligil says. Together, these properties can help protect against excessive lipids and type-2 diabetes, he says.

This may help explain why full-fat dairy products, like cheese, haven’t been shown to be nutritional bogeymen. “From an evolutionary perspective, the survival of mammalians depended on drinking milk,” says Hotamisligil. The lipid palmitoleate might exist in order to counter the fattiness of milk so that it doesn’t cause harmful effects, he says.

A study in September found that when palmitoleate was fed to mice with extremely high cholesterol and a good chance of developing cardiovascular disease, it reduced inflammation and helped prevent heart disease.

More research is needed to unwrap the mysteries of cheese. But the good news for cheese-philes today is that eating it moderately seems to be just fine for most people. “Now I eat my cheese without feeling guilty,” says Hotamisligil—and so can you.

France’s ‘Right to Disconnect’ and 4 Other Countries Trying to Improve Work-Life Balance

Posted: 03 Jan 2017 10:27 AM PST

French companies with more than 50 workers have been required to guarantee employees a “right to disconnect” from their emails outside office hours, to reduce stress and improve their work-life balance in a new law that came into effect on Jan. 1.

Discussing the need for the law last year, Myriam El Khomri, the country’s minister of labor, noted “the boundary between professional and personal life has become tenuous.” Few workers today will disagree. But France isn’t the only country where local or national authorities are attempting to do something about it:

Japan

Tokyo’s governor has ordered municipal employees to finish work by 8pm and anyone still at their desks will be subjected to “strict monitoring” by overtime prevention teams. The move follows the suicide in Dec. 2015 of a 25-year-old woman who worked 105 overtime hours over the course of a month. The employee was working at Dentsu, Japan’s biggest advertising agency, which has since barred workers from logging more than 65 hours of overtime a month (down from 70). Dentsu’s President and Chief Executive Officer, Tadashi Ishii, has stepped down, taking responsibility for the tragic incident.

Germany
Managers are forbidden by law from contacting staff while they are on vacation and several major companies, including Volkswagen and BMW, have restricted out-of-hours emailing as a result.
In 2014, car and truck maker Daimler introduced software which allows employees to set their email software to automatically delete incoming emails while they are on vacation, a move that has affected around 100,000 employees. When an email is sent, the program, which is called ‘Mail on Holiday’, issues a reply to the sender that the person is out of the office and that the email will be deleted, while also offering the contact information of another employee for pressing matters.

Spain
The government is considering moving the country’s clocks back by one hour to bring Spain’s working day, which can typically run from 9am until 8pm, into line with the rest of Europe. Few Spaniards now enjoy a siesta – which once punctuated the long working day – as many live too far away from where they work to go home in the afternoon. Last month, Spain’s employment minister Fátima Báñez announced a push to let Spaniards knock off at 6pm, rather than 8pm. “We want our workdays to finish at six o’clock and to achieve this we will work towards striking a deal with representatives from both companies and trade unions,” she told parliament, The Guardian reports.

South Korea
South Koreans work some of the most gruelling hours in the developed world, but now the government is fighting to help staff switch off.
A work-life balance campaign launched last year aims to encourage employers to stop asking their staff why they want to take annual leave and requesting it in writing, as well as stopping them from calling or emailing their workers after office hours have ended, the BBC reports. Back in 2010, officials at the Ministry of Health introduced a monthly Family Day, where the office lights were switched off at 7pm to encourage staff to either spend more time with their families or procreate, in a bid to tackle the country’s low birth rate.

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