Health

 

A man lies on the gym floor after a  long workout

Dehydration and dizziness are common ways your body tells you that you're working out too much, but there are other, less obvious signals to watch for.

 
Photo: istolethetv/Flickr
Make no mistake about it, regular exercise is probably the biggest factor in living a long and healthy life, (not discounting healthy eating). But with boot camp-style workouts, triathlons, marathons and even ultra-marathons becoming increasingly popular, more athletes — both professionals and weekend warriors — are at risk for overtraining.
 
Here are several ways to tell that you’re working out too hard. The first five are acute, short-term symptoms, while the second group comprises more uncommon long-term consequences of overtraining.
 
Here are the obvious ones:
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble breathing or maintaining a conversation
  • Disorientation, foggy mental processing
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Dehydration
 
Dr. Guy Hornsby, director of the human performance lab at West Virginia University, adds another obvious sign that you’re working out too hard: injury.
 
“Many of us have gone out to the track and tried to sprint without properly training and have developed an acute musculoskeletal injury,” says Hornsby, who adds that when people work out in competitive, high-endurance environments like Crossfit and beach boot camps, many people may not pay attention to signs that they are overtraining or improperly executing movements.
 
“Take an Olympic lift like snatches,” he says. “The form may be fine for the first two or three repetitions, but when performed for an extended period of time, the nervous system begins to shut down, and if you keep going beyond your threshold, you’re setting yourself up for an injury like a long-term stress fracture.”
 
Here are some other not-so-obvious signs that you’re training too hard:
 
Disrupted or skipped menstrual cycles: An article in Journal of Family Practice suggests that excessive exercise could be one cause of secondary amenorrhea, which occurs when a woman who has been having normal menstrual cycles stops getting her periods for six months or longer.
 
Myocardial fibrosis: A thickening of the heart valves may occur with excessive training. A study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings says “long-term excessive endurance exercise may induce pathologic structural remodeling of the heart and large arteries.” If you don’t have a medical degree, it may seem innocuous — or even beneficial — if your heart and arteries go through some restructuring. Could it be that this restructuring improves blood flow? According to the study, “chronic training for and competing in extreme endurance events such as marathons, ultra-marathons, ironman distance triathlons, and very long-distance bicycle races, can cause … after months and years, patchy myocardial fibrosis. … Additionally, long-term excessive sustained exercise may be associated with coronary artery calcification, diastolic dysfunction and large-artery wall stiffening.” Even without a medical degree, you know this sounds bad. But endurance athletes can find solace in this: the study’s authors admit that endurance athletes generally have low mortality rates and excellent functional capacity.
 
Withdrawal symptoms: Excessive exercise can be addictive, and according to astudy in Behavioral Neuroscience, lab rats that were given a drug that produces withdrawal in heroin addicts — naloxone — went into withdrawal after running excessively in exercise wheels. Rats that ran the hardest had the most severe withdrawal symptoms. The study’s authors argue that excessive running causes physiological responses in the brain’s reward system, similar to those associated with drug-taking behavior.
 
Hormonal imbalances: In addition to disrupting the female sex hormones and adversely affecting menstruation, training too hard can produce excess levels of cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone.” One study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, concluded, “Significant increases in salivary cortisol concentration occur in response only to long-duration, high-intensity exercise.” Excessive cortisol levels may lead to a decrease in testosterone and a weakened immune system, to name a couple of adverse reactions.
 
Immune function: Speaking of a weakened immune system, a study in the Journal of Applied Physiology concluded, “Post[-]exercise immune function depression is most pronounced when the exercise is continuous, prolonged [greater than an hour and a half], of moderate to high intensity (55–75 percent maximum oxygen uptake), and performed without food intake. Periods of intensified training (overreaching) lasting one [week] or more can result in longer-lasting immune dysfunction.”  
 
Not seeing any of the signs above? If you’re experiencing any of the following remaining five symptoms, you may also be exercising too hard:
  • Moody, easily agitated or depressed
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Apathetic, lethargic and averse to competition
  • Decreased appetite accompanied by weight loss, particularly muscle mass
  • Frequent sickness or flu-like symptoms
 
Last but not least, the #1 sign you’re overtraining
“Overtraining is marked by cumulative exhaustion that persists even after recovery periods,” says Dr. Mark Jenkins, associate team physician for Rice University and a contributor to Runner Triathlete News. If you’re too beat to function at work or finish those chores around the house, you may have overdone it.
 
How much is too much?
Everybody is different, but the American Heart Association currently recommends that adults stick with 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes a week of vigorous activity. Stay within that zone and you’ll likely avoid any symptoms of overtraining.
 
Can you think of any other signs of overtraining?
 
Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, Calif.

 

Two seniors biking in Copenhagen

Want to live a healthy life and reach 100 years of age or beyond? If so, you may want to follow some of these anti-aging tips.

 
Photo: mikkelwilliam/iStockphoto
The most recent life expectancy data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (from 2009, the last year which statistics are fully available) say that if you’re an average American, you’ll live 78.5 years.
 
If you want to live another 20 years beyond that, you’ll need to address the more obvious lifestyle factors first: don’t smoke, do exercise regularly and eat a diet rich in whole foods, especially vegetables. Also avoid fried foods, trans-fats and hydrogenated oils and foods loaded with added sugar.
 
After that, consider these not-so-obvious anti-aging behaviors:
 
1. Floss: Periodontal disease might be directly related to systemic inflammation and cardiovascular risk, according to an article in The Lancet. The strength of association between tooth-brushing, flossing and heart disease has not been 100 percent clinically proven, but according to the American Academy of Periodontology, people with gum disease are twice as likely to have heart disease. What’s the connection? There are a few theories, including that inflammation of the gums can cause the arteries to accumulate plaque.
 
2. Eat Indian food: Curcuminoids are the active ingredient compounds in the yellow spice called turmeric, which is found in Indian curry. For more than a few thousand years, curcumin has been used as a healing agent in Eastern medicine. Western medicine has recently caught on, with a plethora of scientific studies backing curcumin’s anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and liver-cleansing properties. Dr. Johnny Bowden, author of the anti-aging book, “The Most Effective Ways to Live Longer,” and a speaker at the first annual anti-aging conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 2010, advises, “Put turmeric on as much food as you can, but because it’s not super-absorbable in food, you should buy a curcumin supplement as well.”
 
study in Clinical Cancer Research advocated for curcumin being evaluated for the prevention or treatment of cancers. Another study in Phytotherapy Research magazine presented the first evidence for the “safety and superiority of curcumin treatment in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis (RA).”
 
3. Take an aspirin: If you’ve previously had a heart attack or stroke, popping an aspirin a day may extend your life. Though daily aspirin consumption remains controversial — some doctors recommend it across the board, while others prescribe aspirin only for those with a heart condition — one study published in The Lancet concluded that taking an aspirin a day could significantly reduce the risk of dying prematurely from cancer. After five years, the group taking aspirin had developed almost a 40 percent lower chance of developing cancer than the control group, which did not take any aspirin. Take caution with aspirin, though, as it may promote gastro-intestinal bleeding, and always speak with your doctor before starting a new regimen.
 
4. Eat omega-9 fatty acids: Almost everybody has heard about the heart-healthy and other myriad benefits derived from eating essential omega-3 fatty acids. Lesser known are the omega-9’s. Though they are not essential because our bodies make them naturally, eating foods, specifically monounsaturated oils like olive oil may extend your life. A study in Neurology suggests that high olive oil consumption plays a protective role by reducing the risk of stroke in older subjects. “Inflammation is the root cause of every degenerative disease and omega-9 oils are extremely anti-inflammatory. They do a great job penetrating the cells and getting cells and neurotransmitters to communicate with the brain faster,” says Bowden.
 
5. Eat dark chocolate: According to a study of more than 2,000 people published in the British Medical Journal, the blood-pressure lowering effects of dark chocolate consumption are beneficial in the prevention of cardiovascular problems in a population with metabolic syndrome. Another study in Nutrition concluded that flavonoid-rich cocoa consumption significantly improves blood pressure, insulin resistance and lipid profiles. Flavonoids are the antioxidants found in chocolate.
 
6. Check your hormone levels: Dr. Gary London, who practices the relatively new Western medicine concept of anti-aging in Hollywood, Calif., suggests that those over 40 who want to live out the second half of their lives with vigor should consider getting their hormone levels tested. “If your energy levels and sex-drive are low, if your muscle tone is deteriorating, bio-identical hormones may help,” says London. “Hormones are chemical messengers that are critical for making healthy cells. Our peak hormone level occurs at ages 25-30; afterwards, our hormone levels drop,” adds London.
 
7. Don’t have low cholesterol: A study published in the Journal of Korean Medical Science concludes that low cholesterol is associated with mortality from cardiovascular diseases. UCLA researchers concluded in a study published in 2009 in the American Heart Journal, that more than 75 percent of 136,905 heart attack patients had healthy cholesterol levels, suggesting that cholesterol levels do not have a direct correlation with developing heart disease; don’t worry yourself sick about cholesterol.
 
Have any other anti-aging tips? Let us know in the comments section below.
 
Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, Calif.

 

A pregnant woman in a pose from the Mysore style of Ashtanga yoga

If you're new to yoga, there are many different styles to consider. Understanding which one matches your fitness style is a good place to start.

 
STRETCH AND HOLD: A pregnant woman holds a pose from the Mysore style of Ashtanga yoga. (Photo: gbSk/Flickr)
Unlike Jazzercise, Tae-Bo, sauna suits, and shake weights, yoga doesn’t seem like an exercise fad that’s going away anytime soon. About 16 million U.S. adults regularly practice yoga, according to a poll conducted for the Yoga Journal.
 
There are many styles of yoga to choose from, so if you’re new to yoga, it might be confusing to know what style you should try.
 
There are dozens of styles and contemporary interpretations (some would say “bastardizations” — think hip-hop yoga, laughter yoga, Yogalates, etc.), but we’ll stick with the most common styles available at yoga studios.
 
Keep in mind that all physical forms of yoga fall under the “Hatha” tradition. Yoga was developed in India several thousand years ago, but back then, the various teachings strengthened mind and spirit. Physical yoga that emphasizes union with breath and alignment in certain poses, or asanas, was first developed around 1,000 years ago. Here’s a breakdown of some specific types of yoga and the types of people they might appeal to:
 
Ashtanga: Try this style of yoga if you are very physically fit and want a fast-paced challenge. If you’re stiff, inflexible and out of shape, don’t try Ashtanga until you have lots of experience with gentler forms of yoga. Created by Pattabhi Jois about 60 years ago, Ashtanga integrates asanas into a rapid flow. If you’re trying Ashtanga for the first time, bring a couple towels and lots of water with you to class. “Ashtanga and other ‘power’ or ‘flow’ styles of yoga are more for the young and restless crowd,” says Larry Payne, Ph.D., co-author of “Yoga for Dummies” and creator of a new style of yoga for people age 40 and older called Prime of Life Yoga.
 
Iyengar: If you want a slower style of yoga that holds each pose and focuses on proper alignment, Iyengar could be the right style for you. Rachel Krentzman, a physical therapist and owner of Embody Physical Therapy & Yoga in San Diego, recommends talking to the teacher before class, especially if you have a current or past injury that affects your flexibility. “Learn proper alignment in the  poses correctly before you try a quick-flow class; if you don’t, that may lead to an injury,” says Krentzman, who adds, “Iyengar is best for many newcomers to yoga because it focuses on alignment and the teachers are trained to instruct all ages and injuries. If you’re tight and inflexible, I’d especially recommend Iyengar, because it implements blocks and other props.”
 
Hot yoga: Any style of physical yoga (or meditative yoga) in a heated room can fall under the “hot yoga” umbrella (or sauna, to be more accurate). The temperature can vary from 80 degrees to in excess of 100 degrees. If you are in excellent physical health and like to sweat profusely, give hot yoga a try. With more than 300 centers around the world, Bikram yoga is one of the most popular types of hot yoga. Founded by Bikram Choudhury — who has been criticized for his unabashedly lavish lifestyle — this yoga style focuses on a series of 26 asanas performed twice during a 90-minute class. Felicia Tomasko, editor of LA Yoga Magazine, says Bikram might be a good fit for Type A personalities who are sedentary during the day and want an invigorating class where they can be on autopilot. Proponents of hot yoga cite detoxification and greater flexibility as two major benefits; detractors argue that sweating doesn’t release toxins, only electrolytes (toxins are eliminated through urine and feces). Also, opponents claim that there is no scientific evidence that proves hot yoga leads to greater flexibility. Avoid hot yoga if you are menopausal or have medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease, advises Payne.
 
Vinyasa: Good for those who require something between entry-level gentle yoga and power classes, vinyasa allows for more spontaneity and variety than fixed disciplines like Ashtanga and Bikram. Popular sequences like sun salutations and cat/cow are staples of Vinyasa. Though the pace can be challenging for a newcomer, it will likely be easier than a heated power flow class.
 
Restorative: If you have injuries, limited mobility, or are significantly overweight, restorative yoga may be a good style for you. It utilizes lots of props like pillows, straps and blankets to help hold a gentle, passive stretch for longer periods. This type of yoga might be good for triathletes and other extreme athletes because it may help the body heal. Don’t expect to burn many calories in a restorative class.
 
Know any other styles of yoga that are good for newcomers? Let us know in the comments below.
 
Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, Calif.

 

A man purchases dietary supplements from a vitamin store.

Sure you know the obvious ones, like eating vegetables and not smoking, but there are other expert-suggested ways to reduce your risk.

 
SMALL HABITS MATTER: A man purchases dietary supplements from a vitamin store. Supplements consisting of selenium and calicum can help your body guard against cancer. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), nearly 12 million people in the U.S. were living with cancer in 2008, the last year for which statistics are available. This year, the ACS estimates that there will be more than 1.6 million new cancer cases diagnosed.
 
Here are eight lifestyle behaviors to help you avoid cancer, and keep in mind that these more obvious lifestyle factors are not included on the list:
 
  • Don’t smoke
  • Exercise regularly, but not too intensely
  • Eat natural foods, particularly lots of vegetables
 
1. Don’t panic about getting cancer: Dr. Robert Weinberg, professor of biology at MIT and a pioneer in cancer research most widely known for his discoveries of the first human oncogene — a gene that causes normal cells to form tumors — tells Mother Nature Network, “Aside from the big elephant in the living room, ‘lung cancer,’ cancer rates have been constant over the last half-century with other cancers. There’s a diagnostic bias that makes it seem like we’re experiencing a surge in cancer as new diagnostic techniques have screened cancers that would have been previously undetected.” Weinberg concludes, “But we are not in a cancer epidemic.”
 
2. Don’t overeat: Dr. Min Guo, assistant professor of cancer biology at Scripps Research Institute’s Florida campus, studies cancer metabolism. He tells MNN that tumors grow much faster than regular cells. Overeating can encourage tumor growth. “Tumors require a lot more energy to absorb nutrients and grow and divide faster than a normal, healthy cell. One of the best ways to prevent tumors is to control your own diet. Eat sufficiently but not more than you need. Control your calories and protein intake,” recommends Guo, who adds that it’s probably OK to eat a little chicken at lunch, some fish for dinner, but not three cheeseburgers at the next barbeque. Controlling your weight can prevent cancer. After tobacco usage, obesity is the second leading lifestyle factor contributing to cancer rates.
 
3. Don’t eat a lot of red meat: MIT’s Weinberg says that although scientists don’t completely understand why eating red meat can encourage tumor growth, there are a couple of theories: cooking at high temperatures (another reason to curb your barbecue cravings) and red meat’s natural glycoproteins, which induce chronic inflammation in human tissue.
 
4. Don’t eat too many carbohydrates: Although some vegetarians and vegans might feel validation about their diet after hearing red meat’s potential deleterious nature, eating too many carbohydrates can also lead to chronic inflammation, which in turn, could encourage tumor growth. There are numerous studies linking high carbohydrate intake to metabolic risk factors, including this Dutch study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that concluded that a low glycemic load diet, which is high in dairy and fruit but low in potatoes and cereals, is associated with improved insulin sensitivity and lipid metabolism and reduced chronic inflammation.
 
5. Don’t panic about eating organic: Again, MIT’s Weinberg: “There’s no evidence that eating organic food makes you any healthier,” he says. But when asked about conventionally grown produce containing pesticides and harmful fumigation that could potentially encourage tumor growth, Weinberg says, “It’s only a risk for people exposed in large quantities such as agricultural workers … there is no shred of evidence that pesticide-contaminated food has ever given a single person cancer in this country, not a shred of evidence.”
 
Another prominent oncologist, David Hoffman, M.D., partner at Cedars-Sinai’s Tower  Hematology-Oncology Medical Group, echoes Weinberg. “There is absolutely nothing scientific to support the benefit of an organic diet and the risk of developing a malignancy.”
 
6. Take supplements: Selenium, according to Harvard Medical School’s Family Health Guide, may protect against prostate cancer, though further research is needed. And according to research published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, a team from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth University concluded, with some reservations, that calcium supplements may guard against the development of large colon polyps and colorectal cancer. In an editorial on the calcium-colorectal cancer study, doctors from the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., said, “This study does not yet prove that a causal relation between calcium intake and colorectal cancer exists. However, studies are now in place with the potential to provide a compelling — almost proven — case that a nutritional factor (calcium) can alter the occurrence of [colorectal cancer].”
 
7. Avoid toxic environments and practice safe sex: Cedars-Sinai’s Hoffman says, “There are certain exposures that are strongly related to the development of malignancy, such as asbestos (mesothelioma and lung cancer), benzene(leukemia), and viruses (such as human papilloma virus and cancers of the anus, cervix, and throat). 
 
8. Get screened, but not too often: The ACS now recommends that women ages 21-29 get screened for cervical cancer every three years instead of every year as previously advised. If you’ve never smoked, don’t get screened for lung cancer. Invasive lung biopsies could be harmful. Since 2009, women over the age of 50 have been encouraged by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force to get mammograms every other year instead of annually.
 
“There continues to be a vigorous debate about the utility of screening with mammograms and PSA testing and the benefit with respect to overall survival for breast and prostate cancers, respectively,” says Hoffman.  “What is clear is that colon and rectal cancer are frequently preventable with screening colonoscopy that routinely starts at age 50 for those considered to be at average risk,” Hoffman adds.  
 
Can you think of any other ways to avoid cancer? Let us know in the comments below.
 
Judd Handler is a health writer based in Encinitas, Calif.

 

Doctor giving medications and a glass of water to an elderly woman.

This infectious superbug has exploded in growth over the last decade. One expert recommends taking probiotics to help prevent infection.

 
Elderly people in medical facilities are often at-risk for the C. difficile infection. (Photo: Kasco Sandor/Shutterstock)
A potentially deadly, infectious superbug called Clostridium difficile has exploded in growth three-fold over the last decade and now kills 14,000 people a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
 
What is C. difficile? C. difficile infection (CDI) is a harmful bacterium that produces toxins that attack the lining of the intestine. The toxins destroy cells and produce plaques of inflammatory cells and decaying cellular debris inside the colon.
 
Common symptoms of CDI include:
 
  • Diarrhea and dehydration
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Ulcers or abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Bloody stools
 
What causes CDI?
Most likely, a visit to your doctor or local health center. In fact, 94 percent of the potentially fatal infections are in people who recently received care in facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes, physicians' offices, and outpatient surgical centers, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.
 
C. difficile spores are passed through the feces of people who have the toxic bacteria in their gut. Spores can persist in the environment (on hospital beds or railings) and can also be spread through the air or find their way into the food.
 
Spores that get into the human gut develop into mature bacteria.
 
Another major cause of CDI is taking antibiotics, which can kill millions of beneficial micro-organisms in one’s gut. Colitis caused by Clostridium difficile is a major complication of prescribing antibiotics, according to research conducted by Baylor University and published on the National Institutes of Health’s website.
 
Antibiotics cause a reduction in bacteria that normally reside in the colon. If an antibiotic-treated patient ingests C. difficile bacteria, this organism may proliferate in the colon because it is resistant to most antibiotics and because it does not have to compete with the normal bacteria for nutrients, the paper by Baylor researchers concludes.
 
How is CDI treated?
Ironically, in some cases, by administering certain antibiotics that target the C. difficile colony in the gut.
 
A more recent and progressive form of treatment involves taking a stool sample from a healthy individual and transplanting it into the colon of the patient with CDI. CDI can be treated in the vast majority of patients through a fecal transplantation procedure via colonoscopy, according to research published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology.
 
In some extreme cases, surgery is required to remove the infected part of the intestine. This happens only in one or two patients with CDI, according to statistics by the CDC.
 
Who is at risk for contracting CDI?
Usually, elderly people who have taken several courses of antibiotics and have stayed for several stints in the hospital.
 
But it’s not just infected people who carry C. difficile. One British medical online forum claims that three in 100 adults and as many as 70 percent of healthy babies are carriers of C. difficile.
 
Why don’t more people get sick from CDI? Carriers of C. difficile have a healthy micro-organism portfolio in their gut. Good bacteria neutralize harmful bacteria in a healthy individual.
 
Are antibiotics to blame for the rise of CDI?
Alternative medicine practitioners have been cautioning against the wanton use of antibiotics for years. Some in the traditional medical community have also blamed antibiotics for the rise in superbugs like C. difficile.
 
“This micro-organism ecosystem we have in our guts needs to be taken seriously and treated like it’s a delicate rain forest,” says Dr. Steven Lamm, author of the new book, “No Guts, No Glory: Gut Solution — the Core of Your Total Wellness.”
 
“We have 100 trillion bacteria in our body. That’s ten times more than the amount of cells we have in our whole body. The medical establishment needs to be careful in overprescribing antibiotics because the beneficial bacteria are useful in so many ways, such as detoxifying and sending signals to our brain for mood and weight regulation,” adds Dr. Lamm. 
 
How should I prevent contracting CDI?
Don’t be a ‘germaphobe.’ Frequently washing your hands with anti-bacterial soap or sanitizer can reduce the good bacteria in your gut and make you more susceptible to infections. Also, don’t take antibiotics unless you really need them. Get a second opinion from a medical doctor or a naturopathic doctor. Start taking probiotics if you have taken antibiotics recently.
 
“I recommend probiotics to my patients who travel out of the country, or have taken antibiotics. Actually, I recommend them to anybody with a pulse,” advises Dr. Lamm.
 
Have other thoughts on C. difficile? Let us know in the comments below.
 
Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, California.

 

Woman looking at skin in mirror.

To eliminate blemishes, you'll want to drink more water, eat more vegetables, stay away from fried foods and alcohol and opt for foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids.

 
Photo: iStockphoto
Pimples, pustules, blackheads and rosacea … oh my! What to do if you have acne and want your skin to get clearer? Try eating a clear skin diet.
 
Thanks to the book, "The Clear Skin Diet" by Alan C. Logan and Valori Treloar, and other tomes on the subject, there are now some studies that demonstrate how certain foods can help improve your skin.
 
Some of the foods and nutrients that the "Clear Skin Diet" authors suggest to combat problematic skin include:
  • whole grains
  • fiber
  • antioxidants
  • Omega-3 fish oils
  • green tea
  • zinc
  • selenium
Although genetics may play a factor in the appearance of your skin, watching what you eat may improve skin quality tremendously.
 
What’s the most critical nutrient for clear skin?
Acne has a reputation of attacking soda-drinking teenagers’ faces. But adults can suffer from acne, as well. One way to flush out toxins is to make sure you’re drinking enough water. Drinking at least 8-10 cups a day — and eliminating sugary drinks, both soda and juices — may help reduce acne. [Related on MNN.com:Healthy beverages]
 
Boy drinking water.Most teenagers — and adults — do not drink enough water. Dehydration leads to older-looking skin and possibly skin conditions like acne.
 
If you drink milk and suffer from unclear skin, you may need to eliminate milk and dairy from your diet. You might have a food allergy, which could manifest as skin problems.
 
Foods that spike your blood sugar, such as white bread, pastries and soda cause your pancreas to make extra insulin in an attempt to regulate blood sugar levels. But insulin also signals the sebaceous glands to manufacture and secrete an oily substance called sebum, which in elevated amounts causes the bacterium P. acnes to proliferate and clog up the hair follicles. 
 
OK, I’ll drink more water. But what else should I eat?
Eat foods that don’t promote inflammation. Inflammation can manifest in many different ways from heart disease to unhealthy-looking skin. Foods like vegetable oils (especially cooked ones, which are prevalent in fast food) and refined grains are all high in Omega 6 fatty acids.Fish
 
Opt instead for foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. Although it may seem counter-intuitive to some people with bad skin that fatty foods can clear skin, cold-water oily fish like salmon have anti-inflammatory properties. Does fish gross you out? No problem, there are other sources of Omega 3-rich foods including walnuts, beans and flaxseed oil.
 
Squirting a teaspoon’s worth of cold-pressed seed oils like flaxseed in a low-sugar, high-protein smoothie will reduce inflammation.
 
Be honest with yourself: are you eating enough vegetables? You don’t have to eat plain, raw broccoli, but do boost your intake of fresh vegetables as they contain several compounds like antioxidants, which can help clear up skin.
 
Besides the obvious like more water and vegetables, what else can help my skin?
Some people who suffer from acne and other skin disorders have poor digestion, especially with dietary fats, which may cause skin pores to clog. Taking dietary supplements like digestive enzymes and apple cider vinegar may help. Aloe vera juice also helps with digestion as does supplementing with zinc and B vitamins.
 
Also, azealaic acid cream is well-known in alternative medicine circles for being a highly effective antimicrobial.
 
I don’t eat fried foods, which I know are bad for my skin. What else should I avoid?
Alcohol should be severely restricted (and obviously avoided if you’re under age 21). After all, alcohol is a sugar. As mentioned above, sugar can spike insulin levels, possibly leading to an acne-producing domino effect.
 
For overall health and wellness, including skin quality, eat a diet that is overwhelmingly comprised of all-natural and unprocessed foods. Your skin is your largest organ. Eating lots of junk food will ultimately lead to less than optimum health — and unclear skin. 
 
Judd Handler is a health and lifestyle coach in Encinitas, Calif. He can be reached atThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Michael Beresford feels the burn after working out in his garage

Our health expert walks you through how to get a gym-style workout without the gym.

 
HOME WORKOUT: Michael Beresford feels the burn after working out in his garage in Laguna Beach. He has canceled his gym membership and personal trainer to work out at home. (Photo: Michael Goulding, The Orange County Register/ZUMA Press)
Feeling the effects of the economy? Have too little time to hit the gym — or too few bucks to join one? Here, then, is some guidance on how to build muscle without weights, all from the comfort of home.
 
Most people who want serious muscle gain — bodybuilders and powerlifters — pump iron to achieve results. If your goal is to be like Ahnold (the former California Governator), lifting heavy weights would be the way to go.
 
Have more moderate goals? Then, machines and free weight equipment are not necessary to build muscle. Just ask Atlas, Sampson, and Hercules. Think they used a Smith Machine or Ab Roller to crank out some squats and chisel their ripped 6-packs?
 
Figures both mythical and real for millennia have used the following three surrogates for machines, dumbbells and barbells:
  • Bodyweight
  • Elements from the natural world (think: rocks, stones, tree branches, dirt)
  • Heavy, everyday household items (water-filled laundry detergent bottles, water jugs, gallon-milk containers)
There's a good chance you don't have boulders in your apartment. But you can do two out of three on the list.
 
You can use your own bodyweight and use household items to perform variations of the following three exercises:
  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Bench Press
A large contingency of weight lifters refer to these exercises above as the holy trinity of muscle-building exercises.
 
SquatBefore you squat with household item weights, learn how to perform a squat correctly with your own bodyweight. There are over one million Google entries on how to squat correctly, so you won’t have a problem learning how. The gist of the squat:
  • feet about hip-width apart;
  • keep a flat back as you stick your booty out and pretend you are about to sit on a low toilet;
  • knees remain over ankles; chin stays parallel to floor
  • squat down as low as you can maintain a flat back
  • activate (gently squeeze) your quads (front of thighs) and buttocks as you come up, exhaling
Doing 5 sets of 20 will give you 100 squats. Getting enough rest and protein in your diet combined with 100 bodyweight squats will help you gain muscle.
 
Ready to add some weight to your at-home squats?
 
Grab your water-weighted detergent bottles. Go hardcore and hold on to a 5-gallon water jug with each arm.
 
As for deadlifts, try the stiff-legged variety. The regular version often gets too confused with squats. Most people who sit at a chair typing away all day have stiff hamstrings from not stretching enough. The stiff-legged deadlift will not only stretch the hamstrings, they strengthen the back of your thighs as well.
 
The basics for this exercise: Stick the booty out like you did with the squats, only this time, barely bend your knees as you reach your hips back. You should feel a stretch in the back of your legs. Again, activate the thigh and buttocks muscles as you come forward, exhaling.
 
Want to give the regular deadlift a try? Place your jugs and bottles on the floor and stick your hips way back and use your hips — not your back — to drive you back to starting position with items in hand.
 
Both squats and deadlifts recruit just about every major muscle in the body. For those pressed for time, these exercises are perfect.
 
Doing pushupsPushups also involve many different muscle groups. They strengthen your 'pecs' (chest), shoulders, biceps, triceps, deep mid-section core, and back muscles.
 
Beginning exercisers and anybody with shoulder joint issues should get clearance from a medical professional and perform modified pushups on the knees. Keep in mind to gently squeeze your belly button towards your spine to activate the deep transverse abdominis, which acts like a corset around your core.
 
Is 'getting toned' a goal for you? For those who want to focus on specific muscle groups, split your workouts like this:
  • Day 1: Squats, Deadlifts, Pushups
  • Day 2: Core (bodyweight planks, Pilates-style crunches)
  • Day 3: Arms (half-gallon triceps kickbacks; water bottle arm curls and shoulder presses)
  • Day 4: Rest
  • Days 5, 6, 7: Repeat
Other in-home muscle building exercises using every-day items around the house:
  • Lunges
  • Bent-over rows
  • Lateral Shoulder Raises
Got any other ideas for weight-free workouts at home? Leave us a comment below.
 
Judd Handler is a lifestyle coach and fitness trainer in Encinitas, CA.
Photos: Jupiterimages; jessica mullen/Flickr

 

Woman drinking from a mug of coffee

We've got ideas for how you can wean yourself off the daily caffeine fix.

 
Photo: vmiramontes/Flickr
The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) earlier this month released anew definition of addiction. This applies to cup o’ Joe addicts as well. Got caffeine addiction? Here’s how to break the habit…
 
The ASAM now defines addiction as a chronic brain disorder. Whether it’s caffeine or illicit drugs or gambling or sex, addiction’s roots are not a behavioral, psychological or emotional problem; it’s a problem with your noggin’s wiring.
 
If you’re addicted to several cups of coffee per day or other caffeinated drinks, in non-scientific terms, what you’re doing is feeding the brain’s reward circuitry. Constantly feeding your caffeine addiction is like giving your brain reward circuitry, or so-called neuronal ‘pleasure centers,’ a constant workout.
 
But the reality is, when you’re drinking, say, 10 cups of coffee per day, you’re not providing your pleasure centers of the brain with actual pleasure; you’re merely feeding your brain’s “wanting or motivation to obtain the stimulation,” according to a study by psychologists at the University of Michigan.
 
Why should you try to break the caffeine addiction? Excessive caffeine intake can lead to several health problems, including:
 
  • Severe adrenal stress
  • Anxiety
  • Cardiovascular disorders
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability or mood disorders
 
The first step in breaking the caffeine habit is to respect the ritual
Do you habitually fork over $5 for that venti caramel frappuccino with whipped cream on top? Would you feel off your rocker if you didn’t pop in the local coffee shop today? If you want to break the caffeine habit, you should continue to visit your favorite coffee house. You can simultaneously feed your brain’s motivation to obtain the stimulation and slowly wean yourself off of coffee.
 
If your caffeine addiction has you dropping in to the Starbucks more than once a day, opt for herbal tea in the afternoon, or, to wean yourself off coffee more carefully, opt for green tea instead, as green tea has less caffeine than regular coffee.
 
If part of your caffeine ritual involves sipping out of your favorite coffee mug, by all means, continue your nightly ritual, but do try to replace your coffee with a relaxing tea like chamomile. If you have problems shutting your mind off at night and falling asleep, switching to an herbal beverage may help you relax and enjoy a more restful night sleep.
 
Should I quit cold turkey?
You may not want to quit your caffeine consumption cold turkey. This could lead to nasty withdrawal symptoms, including strong headaches. If you experience strong headaches, try weaning yourself off of caffeine over a week or two-week period by diluting your caffeinated beverage with water. Many people, though, can quit cold turkey without experiencing any side effects.
 
Acupuncture can help with withdrawal symptoms. But in the end, do try to limit yourself to one to two cups of coffee maximum per day.
 
Too much caffeine is poisonous for the body. Here’s how to detox.
If you haven’t exercised lately, consider getting back into it. Even a 30-minute brisk walk can reward the brain’s pleasure center in other ways, possibly suppressing its desire to be rewarded with caffeine. Exercise and drinking plenty of water can help flush out toxins from the body.
 
Excessive caffeine can acidify blood pH balance. You’ll want to alkalize by eating lots of vegetables, especially green, leafy ones.
 
Supplements, especially Vitamin C, can restore depleted nutrients and may help with withdrawal symptoms.
 
Trace mineral supplementation is also highly encouraged and will help to naturally restore your cells’ energy supply.
 
Eat at least three meals and one snack every day, containing all-natural foods with all three macronutrients (protein; low-starch carbs and vegetables; natural fat), spaced at four-hour intervals (8 a.m.; noon; 4 p.m.; 8 p.m.) to keep energy levels rock-steady throughout the day.
 
Got other solutions to break caffeine addiction? Write a comment below.
 
Judd Handler is a health writer and lifestyle coach in Encintias, California.

 

Woman on exerciseball

Save money and get fit with these exercises you can do at home.

 
With some personal fitness trainers charging $75-$100 per hour and gym memberships costing at least a few hundred bucks a year, it’s no wonder people are working out more at home.
 

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With winter in full swing, finding the best home workout is a necessity if you don’t want to lose the battle of the bulge.
 
The beauty of working out from home is that you don’t need much space or equipment. Are you a busy beaver? Home workouts also don’t require a lot of time if your goal is to get lean and super fit.
 
Twenty-minute bursts of exercise can be just as effective as much longer cardio sessions; new researchhas proven that shorter bursts are actually more effective.
 
If you want to use some equipment at home, consider using the following:
 
•  Exercise ball (65 cm if you’re an average-size male; 55 cm for females.)
•  Jump rope (Unless you have "popcorn" ceiling and don’t know how to skip rope like Rocky.)
•  Yoga mat (If you have hardwood floors.)
•  Push-up bars (Don’t have bars but do have dumbbells? They can double as push up bars.)
•  Foam roller (For core strengthening and massage.)
 
 
If you’re going to do a short home workout, you should pick exercises that challenge your whole body. Don’t waste your time just doing dumbbell biceps curls. If you absolutely must do them, at least combine it with a full-weight body squat.
 
You’ll also want to pick exercises that get your heart pumping. Those arm curls don’t tax your cardiovascular system nearly enough if you want to get in better shape in less time at home.
 
Because you lack the time to do a standard complete gym workout — warm-up, cardio, weights, cool-down, abs, stretch — your home workout exercises should also incorporate flexibility.
 
Ideally, you’ll want to find exercises that combine at least two of the following three benefits:
 
  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Cardio endurance
 
Which exercise combines all three?
One of the best exercises that combines all three benefits is the downward dog/upward dog combo. Matt Furey, a former martial arts champion and collegiate wrestling champ at Iowa, is a guru on weights-free workouts. His program "Combat Conditioning" features the downward dog into upward dog.
 
Furey’s version of this exercise is called Hindu Pushups and Furey would no doubt be willing to admit that he didn’t invent this exercise; ancient strongmen of India did.
 
Many people are familiar with a downward dog. If you widen your stance by about a foot in the downward dog and then swoop forward into the upward dog and repeat 20 times (7-10 if you’re a yoga novice), you’ll strengthen your arms and core, stretch your hamstrings and core as well as your lower back and calves.
 
And oh yeah, your heart will be pumping as well.
 
 
For those who enjoy pushups — one of the best exercises to develop strength and get the heart rate up — you can perform a regular pushup and as you reach the peak of the pushup, push yourself into a downward dog.
 
Take a 30-second breather after doing several reps if necessary. Then dobodyweight squats, followed by core exercises like slow-motion/minimal movement (a couple inches at most) crunches either on the exercise ball or on the foam roller.
 
Don’t have either? Hook your feet under your couch and perform a set of 5-7 crunches that take 10 seconds on the return phase (the "lowering" or "negative" phase). You won’t be able to do 100 crunches, nor should you ever try to; abs are physiologically designed for short bursts.
 
Repeat 3-5 circuits of the Hindu pushups or regular pushups to downward-facing dog; bodyweight squats and core and you’ll get a highly effective, short home workout.
 
Do you have 5-gallon water bottles delivered to your home? Use them to do one arm deadlifts.
 
Use your imagination to come up with a home workout that suits your needs and interests.
 
Got any other ideas for your best home workout? Let us know below.
 
Judd Handler is a health writer and coach. He welcomes feedback atThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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