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The YOU Docs: Scribble your way to success

There's a good reason to take a paper notepad instead of your laptop next time you're headed to a potentially boring meeting. The doodles you make on paper may help you remember more.

That's what happened when 40 people listened to a long and boring taped message about who was and wasn't going to attend a party. Half were told to doodle while they listened, the other half didn't. Doodlers not only took the information down more accurately, but they also remembered more later. The lead researcher, from the University of Plymouth in the U.K., suspects that doodling may keep your mind occupied enough during boring tasks to make you efficient and prevent you from slipping off the mental focus path and all the way into daydreaming (which doesn't improve performance).

Of course, the ultimate way for you to remember more is to have more interesting meetings. But until Mercury freezes over, you'll have to stack the deck. Try this in addition to doodling: Bring a cup of tea. The amino acid called theanine in this brew — doesn't matter if it's green, black or oolong — is believed to help activate a part of the brain's circuitry that's tied to attention span.

Coffee works for at least one of us, too. Or, bring peppermints for everyone: The scent helps people work more thoroughly and accurately, so you can get back to your desk and find out who's posted what on Facebook while you were gone. Or best yet, remove the chairs from the meeting room. Standing meetings go faster, so you won't have time to be bored.

Too hot to handle

Next time you pour your tea, wait a minute. Actually, wait four. People who drink their scalding-hot tea within two minutes of pouring get more than a mouth that feels hotter than if a jalapeno pepper were in there. Hot tea increases the risk of esophageal cancer to five times greater than that of people who wait four minutes before taking a sip.

This study was done in people in a section of Iran where tea is the main beverage, and where people drink it hot — as in 140 degrees to nearly 160 degrees hot. Whoa, baby: That is ultra-hot. Researchers noticed high rates of this cancer in these people, even though they didn't use either of the usual things — alcohol and tobacco — that bring it on.

While tea has anticancer benefits, researchers figured there was something else about it that wasn't so great, and hot temperature appears to be the link; it literally burns your esophagus. That burning is what causes esophageal cancer that's related to heartburn (which is why you need to take care of heartburn). The idea that temperature could affect cancer risk is an important finding, no matter how you like your tea.

Pour on the vinegar

You use it to make windows and mirrors sparkle, to restore shine to your hair, to add extra zing to your endive and watercress salad and whatever else you can think of.

But apple cider vinegar — the Swiss Army Knife of household products — has another important use: keeping blood sugar stable.

Having two tablespoons of vinegar at or near the start of a meal may clamp down on blood sugar spikes from eating starchy carbs like potatoes and pasta. Just two tablespoons of the stuff can do the trick. The vinegar slows absorption of the sugar from these foods by delaying stomach emptying, and it also makes insulin more effective.

Essentially, insulin is like a mailman taking the glucose mail from your bloodstream and putting it into your cellular mailbox. Both effects — slower absorption into your bloodstream, and faster removal of sugar from your blood into cells — keep blood sugar levels lower and more stable in diabetics.

Keeping blood sugar from surging can even cut your diabetes risk in the long run. There are quick-return benefits, too, including stymieing hunger pangs. That keeps pounds off, which makes your insulin mailman even more effective at getting sugar out of blood and into cells. That, in turn, keeps your energy level up, making it more likely you'll stay physically active (which cuts diabetes risk, too).

So try splashing new potatoes and vegetables with red wine vinegar instead of mayo. Or start a meal with a mix of fresh greens and vegetables dressed in oil and vinegar.

Good news for couch sitters

Even if you've been on the couch longer than the Scotchgard, getting moving right now (well, after you finish this column) can change your life. Just get up and walk. Doesn't matter where, just go for 30 minutes. Or go three times for 10 minutes each time.

Starting now may let you walk away from metabolic syndrome, a nasty tangle of health problems (three or more of these: belly fat, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, low healthy (HDL) cholesterol, insulin resistance) that can lead to heart disease, stroke and diabetes. One quarter of adults have it, and the number jumps to a whopping 40 percent after age 60.

Start walking today, and you could slash your risk of the syndrome by as much as 24 percent within three years. Do planks or another abdominal exercise during every TV commercial, and we bet you might trim that closer to 40 percent (though we do not have good data on that yet).

There's more: Extra weight around the middle is especially inviting to metabolic syndrome, and so is getting more than 60 percent of the day's calories from carbs. Cigarette smoking also raises your risk. Take it one step at a time — literally — and you'll get there. Healthfully.

Fend off headaches

A pill bottle isn't the only remedy. Next time your head is pounding, apply pressure to these points to release muscular stress (don't do this if you're pregnant):

Between the eyes: Pinch the tissue just above your nose with your middle finger near one eye and the thumb near the other and slowly push upward so you feel pressure near your eyebrows.

Behind the ears: Locate the points on the base of your skull, just behind the bones in the back of your ears (right behind where earrings would be). Use your thumbs to press in a circular motion for two minutes.

Belly of your temporalis muscle. Place your fingers across your temples and clench down on your molars a few times. You'll feel the belly of your temporalis bulge. Use your first and middle fingers together to press the tension out of that spot.

To prevent it next time: Pull the trigger. Some foods are known to trigger migraines, including coffee (or caffeine), wines, cheese, smoked meats, sugar, chocolate and anything with the chemical MSG. Most of them aren't all that good for the rest of your body, either, so it shouldn't be a surprise that they can wreak havoc on your head, too. If you're prone to headaches and regularly indulge in ache-inducing foods, eliminate them one by one to see if you can find the link between what you put in your mouth and what you feel in your head.

The YOU Docs: Scribble your way to success 04/24/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 24, 2009 4:30am]
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