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Stressing about flu makes you, yep, more apt to get it

Although the swine flu crisis seems to have leveled off, no one knows how this will go long term, and where there's uncertainty, there's anxiety. But you can do more than worry. Here's what we YOU Docs are doing and what you should, too:

1. Accept the control you have (and don't). You cannot control who gets this flu, how severe it is and where it will spread. Acceptance lowers stress, and that's key: Stress weakens your immune system, making you more susceptible to any bug . . . including the flu.

2. Wash your hands! Wash your hands if you shake someone else's. Wash your hands before and after touching anything. Wash your hands before and after eating. Use soap!

3. Avoid coughers. And if you cough, cover your mouth.

4. Be smart about crowds and planes. Avoid 'em if you can. And avoid where Sanjay Gupta is reporting from — it is probably an area with high flu rates.

5. Keep your immunity up. Get seven and a half to eight hours of sleep a night. Avoid more than one drink of alcohol a day. Take a multivitamin with 1,000 IU of vitamin D-3 every day. Have chicken soup every day, unless you can't have too much salt.

6. Carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. And use it! Your hands aren't the only things that pick up germs. Ladies, do you know where the bottom of your handbag has been? Keep your environment clean, too.

7. Wash your hands. Did we say that already? That's because you need to do it — now, and when flu season comes back in the fall, too.

CURB CHOCOLATE CRAVINGS

If you love chocolate, then we can assume the news hasn't escaped you that the occasional piece of true cocoa makes your RealAge — our term for the actual age of your body — younger (giving you more time to eat chocolate!). But if you've been too absorbed in the contents of that five-pound box to pay attention to anything else, allow us to get you up to speed: It's an indulgence that is healthy for you in a number of ways. Dark chocolate (cocoa only — no milk or vegetable fats in there) may help keep your arteries elastic, your blood pressure low and your cholesterol numbers where they should be.

But all bets are off if you find yourself going for it more often than you sneak in a game of online Sudoku or sign on to Facebook. If chocolate is your constant companion when you're ecstatic, dejected, bored and anything in between, you may need a serious strategy for crushing cravings, since weight and waist gain cancel chocolate's benefits.

The newest, smartest way to wave off cravings is to use your feet. Literally. After 15 minutes of walking, a group of chocoholics had a major drop in chocolate cravings; those in a couch-potato group didn't. It makes sense: Exercise is known to reduce cravings for alcohol and cigarettes by stimulating feel-good brain chemicals, and it's likely that the same mechanism squelches your desire for the sweet stuff. The best pace: moderately brisk walking. This may stifle cravings for up to 10 minutes after you've stopped. By then, your cravings could be history.

GET HAPPY WITHOUT PILLS

You know that guy who is always up? He could have just been just fired, but he sees the positive in it? Well, hang with him. Doesn't matter whether you meet people like that for a walk in the morning or a glass of wine at night, or just pick up the phone and reach out. Happy friends benefit your mental health: Your chances of being happy increase by at least 15 percent if someone in your immediate social circle is happy.

Happiness seems to be contagious: If a friend who lives within a mile of you becomes happy, the probability that you'll feel it, too, goes up by 25 percent. And man, does that guy have a long arm: The happiness of a friend of a friend may push your mood up, too. Even a neighbor's happiness may lift yours (and it's not just because you both live in a nice neighborhood — the researchers controlled for that). It's possible that better moods depend more on frequent contact than on deep connections (though deep connections are important for your health, too). Workaholics, beware: Happiness isn't contagious at work, unless your best buddy works there.

Positive emotions can affect your health by changing the way your brain functions to reduce stress. So happiness — and the friends who help bring it on — helps cancel the risk of stress-related health problems, including heart disease and cancer. Of course, you're not going to be happy 24/7, but there's an upside to that. A little unhappiness helps give you wisdom and perspective . . . which ultimately gives you more happiness.

WHAT YOUR BODY WANTS

How many fruits and vegetables did you eat today? Yesterday? Thought so. Most people don't get enough produce, even though getting more is an easy way to make yourself look, feel and be sexier. Not worried about being sexier? Then choose it because it makes your immune system and arteries younger: Produce keeps your blood pressure, lousy cholesterol and risk of heart disease and cancer low. Yes, fruits and veggies increase your libido and are just cool for your body.

To add them to your life, take notes from people who get the goodies. People who plan meals, make a shopping list, determine what they'll have for dinner long before the day ends and who like trying new recipes are likely to eat at least two servings of vegetables more than people who don't do those things.

Produce avoiders, on the other hand, tend to not only be late meal deciders, but they're also more likely to TV munch, eat takeout or fast food and eat on the run.

But here's the thing: Being too busy to plan doesn't make you too busy to eat well. We'd rather you plan your meals and sit down to eat (at a table, not in the car). But we know that's not always realistic. Fortunately, nature has already thought of — and packaged — some good-for-you produce that's portable, flavorful and not messy. Think raisins. Sugar snap peas. Edamame. Broccoli, cauliflower, apples, bananas and kiwifruit. Just buy it, wash it, pack it and down it. Eating healthfully and growing younger (and sexier) is that simple.

The YOU Docs are authors of "YOU: Being Beautiful — The Owner's
Manual to Inner and Outer Beauty."

breakfast that takes PRESSURE OFF

Want more from your first meal of the day than a way to keep your stomach from growling through your 8 a.m. meeting? Adding certain foods to your plate, bowl or Baggie can lower your blood pressure (and jump-start your metabolism and get you out the door so quickly that it looks like you got up on time). Here's how:

• Sprinkle flaxseed on your cereal. Your whole-grain cereal (only 100 percent whole grains should be on the label — sorry, Cap'n Crunch) lowers blood pressure, and ground flaxseeds give pressure an extra kick. They contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a nutrient that relaxes blood vessels.

• Stir chopped walnuts into oatmeal. These are loaded with ALA, and their protein and healthy fat profile pushes blood sugar, blood pressure and lousy (LDL) cholesterol down. Plus, the fiber in this combo stops raid-the-vending-machine hunger later in the day.

• Whip berries into your smoothie. One study recorded a seven-point dip in systolic (the top number) pressure from a daily dose of berries. And no study needs to be done to prove they make smoothies taste great.

• Toss a tomato onto your egg-white omelet. The lycopene in cooked tomatoes has a talent for tamping down blood pressure. No time to cook? Watermelon and pink grapefruit are richer in this nutrient than Bill Gates is in dollars (maybe not quite; just making sure you were still reading).

• Grab a yogurt. Making nonfat, no-sugar-added dairy products such as yogurt (look for ones containing probiotics) a regular part of your diet can reduce hypertension risk by 30 percent.

Stressing about flu makes you, yep, more apt to get it 05/06/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 6, 2009 5:16pm]
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