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The YOU Docs: Don't just do something; stand there!

What's the better choice: rushing through your to-do list or leaving a few things undone?

Well, you've heard us talk about the hazards of NUTs — those are Nagging, Unfinished Tasks, like getting the wobble out of your chair. These things gnaw at you every time you see them, and they put you in a state of persistent stress that messes with your health and makes your body older.

But going full-speed ahead so you can finish everything? Your body doesn't like that, either. Compelling evidence: Death rates from heart disease are higher in cultures where people tend to walk fast, talk fast, work fast and live by the clock compared to death rates in more laid-back locales. So what are you supposed to do?

• Prioritize. There's nothing wrong with working hard, especially if you feel invigorated by it. And there's nothing wrong with having a party to end all parties for your kids, either. But when too much stuff obscures your true purpose in life and makes you feel like you're not doing anything well, you need to take a good look at what's important.

• Stop! Don't just put "redefine priorities" on that list! Take 10 minutes now to write down what you need to, want to and can do comfortably. Do what meets all three criteria and scrap the others from your to-do list. Either do them instead of watching TV this week, delegate them or just abandon any hope for ever doing them. It isn't worth it for your health. Rushing through too many tasks now doesn't save you time if it lands you in the intensive care unit. Do what's important and love it. Your body will, too.

MOTHER'S LITTLE HELPER

You don't have to be a celebrity with three chefs, two nannies and a big-name personal trainer to emerge from pregnancy even more svelte and glamorous than you started. A little pill that boosts your health may help prevent pregnancy weight gain.

The little pill is a probiotic supplement. Technically, probiotics are bacteria, but they're a good type of microbe that we recommend taking daily to keep your digestive system running smoothly, beef up your immune system and reduce damaging inflammation. You have 10 trillion bacteria in and on you, so you might as well choose to have the good bacteria that help you keep bad microbes in check.

A new study from Finland found that pregnant women who started taking probiotic supplements during their first trimester — and kept up the regimen throughout the term — had a lower percentage of body fat after delivery than women who ate the same diet but didn't take the supplements. Probiotic takers also were less likely to have dangerous fat around their waists than the pill-free women. (And researchers saw no harm to the supplement takers' babies; in fact, other studies show that women on these pills had infants with less diarrheal and other early-childhood diseases.)

What's the magic? It's possible that good bacteria control inflammation in you, and that also somehow helps control obesity, or that there's something about balancing the bacteria that keeps fat in control (though it's not clear how).

Either way, the probiotics that kept new moms svelte were the easy-to-find ones called Lactobacillus CG and bifidobacterium. Of course, you can still hire the nanny and the trainer, but we'd try these little bacteria first, since they can cost less than $10 a month and might slim your waist without liposuctioning your wallet.

BEST BREADS AND SPREADS

Not much is faster than sweeping some spread on your toast as you zip out the door in the morning (and it's not too messy if you have to dashboard dine). Here's what to choose to supercharge your energy, your plumbing, your waist-narrowing efforts and even your body's defenses against heart disease and cancer:

• Chewy, grainy, 100 percent whole-wheat bread. Or any other bread made from 100 percent whole grains (including some rye breads). One slice of bread gets you one-sixth of the way to your daily whole-grain goals. Grains that aren't 100 percent whole — refined ones — have the natural fiber and nutrients milled out of them. Just beware: "Multigrain" doesn't necessarily mean a product is good for you. Even if there are seven or 16 or more grains, none of them may be whole.

• Nut butters. Peanut butter from ground peanuts only is fine, but you can pack important omega-3 fats into your day with other spreads. Our favorite: walnut butter. And even cashew, almond and pecan butters are way better for your energy level than margarines or butter.

• Avocado butter. This creamy veggie makes a perfect spread, rich in healthy fats that do your body favors. Just mash the flesh with whatever flavors you like — lemon juice, capers, pepper, salsa — and spread onto your bread.

BERRY GOOD FOR YOU

A sliced sweet, succulent strawberry is more than a perfect cereal topper, meal-ender, afternoon snack or treat to smother in dark chocolate. Here's what a few berries can do for you:

• Fill you up without pudging you out. Check it out: Just 50 little calories in a whole cup (if you skip the chocolate).

• Help you keep the beat. Strawberries help your heart by shaving down levels of C-reactive protein, an indicator of heart-hampering inflammation. These berries also might smack down the effects of lousy LDL cholesterol to give heart disease an extra boot. And they get a "best supporting actor" award for making oatmeal even healthier. Somehow, the vitamin C in the strawberries has a Chia-Pet-like effect on compounds called phenols in the oats, causing their heart-helping powers to grow.

• Stop cancer in its tracks. Certain compounds in strawberries, especially one called ellagic acid, may be able to block cancer at its starting point as well as keep tumors from progressing and spreading.

• Maintain your processing speed. Strawberries — like most other foods whose name ends in "berries" — are high in flavonoids, plant compounds that help shield cells from molecular damage, reducing the risk of needless brain aging.

• With 3 grams of fiber in every cup, they help keep your digestive system running smooth.

THE BEST SUNSCREEN

When it comes to sunscreen, spending a fortune actually could harm your skin. For decent full-body protection, an average-size person needs to apply an ounce of sunscreen. That's the amount that fits in a shot glass . . . and probably a whole lot more than you're using. Which brings us back to the trouble with the pricey stuff: Even fewer people will use a full ounce every day when that amount costs $20.

Even though you've narrowed your choices to the cheaper stuff, there are still important decisions to be made. The best ingredient to reach for, especially if you're the impatient type, is an inexpensive product made with zinc oxide. These work immediately, unlike other blocks (called "chemical" blocks) that need at least 15 to 30 minutes to soak into your skin to be effective. Another plus for zinc oxide: It's now made in nanoparticle form, so it doesn't look like you've spread cream cheese on your face. One more plus: Zinc oxide protects against both types of damaging UV rays (UVA and UVB), so you're shielded from skin cancer and wrinkling.

Another okay option if you don't sweat: Sunscreens containing titanium dioxide. These also reflect the sun's harmful rays so that you avoid sun damage, but the downside is that these titanium blends often turn white, making you look ghostlike when you sweat.

Not going to be outdoors much today? Wear sunscreen anyway. You get an amazing amount of UV rays when you don't expect to, so treat sunscreen like 30 minutes of walking — never miss a day (no excuses!).

The YOU Docs: Don't just do something; stand there! 05/29/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 29, 2009 2:59pm]
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