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Worried about your health? Focus on what matters most

I've always thought worrying gets a bad rap. After all, there really is a lot in the world that's worthy of concern.

The real issue, it seems to me, is what exactly you're worrying about. Are you focusing your attention on problems that you can do something about? Or fretting about something entirely out of your reach?

This is especially true when it comes to health. How many of us fear getting cancer from cell phones, colds from riding in airplanes, and who-knows-what from public toilets?

The experts say we'd all do better to devote our efforts to eating wisely, taking walks, using sunscreen and quitting smoking. Because they know for sure that obesity, inactivity, UV rays and cigarette smoke all are proven killers on a major scale. (For more on the relative risks of various substances in the news, see the story on Page 16).

Could it be that Mom's health advice was right all along? Yes — and no, as I realized, flipping through a new book whose title took me straight back to childhood. Don't Cross Your Eyes . . . They'll Get Stuck That Way! ($13.99, St. Martin's Griffin) is the latest compendium of wacky health myths from the two Indiana University physicians who brought us Don't Swallow Your Gum! a few years ago.

Drs. Aaron E. Carroll and Rachel C. Vreeman tracked down actual scientific studies on all kinds of things our mothers warned us about, and write that a lot of the angst is just not necessary.

Consider public bathrooms: Turns out toilet seats and door handles aren't as bad as you might think, since they get cleaned a lot, and at least some of us wash our hands when we use the restroom. What's really dirty is the floor. Think about that the next time you put your purse on the floor after wrapping the seat in toilet paper and opening the door with your elbow.

More of the book's 75 gems:

• Eggs give you high cholesterol. Nope. Eggs do contain cholesterol, but moderate consumption (maybe seven or so a week) is not linked with heart disease.

• When you stop exercising your muscles turn to fat. Muscle cells may get smaller and fat cells may get bigger if you don't cut back on your calories, but there's no miraculous conversion.

• Hot peppers cause ulcers. Actually, capsaicin, the stuff that makes peppers hot, inhibits acid secretion in the stomach, and does a few other things that could prevent ulcers.

• Sit-ups will flatten your stomach. Sorry, they may strengthen muscles, but they won't remove fat. Gotta cut the calories.

• About those crossed eyes. . . . Absolutely no truth to it. They won't get stuck. Cross 'em all you like, kids! Just don't let Mom see.

Worried about your health? Focus on what matters most

07/01/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 1, 2011 5:30am]

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