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Optimize your exercise routine

Whether you're an exercise novice or a gym regular, these tips can help you get the most out of your workout.

When it comes to exercise, timing is everything — but not in the way we normally think about timing. What matters most is making the time to exercise regularly, not when it happens. That said, your personal experience and specific goals may influence what workout schedule works best for you.

"If you're just starting a physical activity routine, any time that you feel motivated and energized enough to exercise is the best time for you," says Dr. Beth Frates, clinical assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School. For some people, that's in the morning; for others, the afternoon works better. But if you can work out with a friend, choose a time that works best for both of you, she suggests. Teaming up with an exercise buddy is more enjoyable, and you can hold each other accountable.

Do post-lunch naps pump up memory and thinking skills?

News briefs

A little afternoon snooze can help you feel more rested — and it might do you good in other ways, too. A small study from China published online Jan. 25, 2021, by General Psychiatry suggests that afternoon naps (between five minutes and two hours long) may be good for your memory and thinking skills. Researchers put more than 2,200 older adults through a series of health screenings that included blood tests and cognitive assessments, and also asked participants whether and how often they napped. About 1,500 of the participants were nappers. Compared with people who didn't nap, the nappers performed better on cognitive tests, scoring better on location awareness, verbal fluency, and memory. The study was observational, so it can't prove that napping caused the better cognitive test results. Previous studies have shown that afternoon nap benefits decline as age and nap duration increase. Short, frequent naps (less than 30 minutes, four times per week) have been associated with reduced risks for developing Alzheimer's disease. In contrast, people who take long naps (two hours or longer) appear to have worse cognitive function, although it is unclear what is cause and what is effect.

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Fight chronic inflammation and cholesterol to protect your heart

It takes a one-two punch to lower these risks for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

High cholesterol has long been known as a bad actor in heart health. Too much LDL (bad) cholesterol in your blood can lead to fatty deposits in your arteries and the formation of artery-narrowing plaque (atherosclerosis), heart attacks, and strokes.

But LDL doesn't act alone. Chronic inflammation — a persistent activation of the immune system — also fuels heart attack and stroke risks. That means you must address both high LDL levels and chronic inflammation to protect your health.

Dental appliances for sleep apnea: Do they work?

Obstructive sleep apnea leaves people tired, but also puts them at risk for other health problems. Not everyone with sleep apnea can use an airway pressure machine, and some may simply prefer not to. There are oral appliances available, but are they effective?

Sleep, stress, or hormones? Brain fog during perimenopause

During perimenopause, some women notice that they are having trouble focusing or are more forgetful. Are sleep disturbances, stress, or hormones behind this brain fog –– and what can you do to feel less foggy?

Is it dementia or something else?

Many cases of memory loss aren't related to dementia, but stem from other, treatable conditions.

You've been forgetting things lately — your keys, or maybe names. Sometimes you struggle to find the right word in conversations or repeat yourself to others. You may worry: are these signs of dementia?

If this sounds like you, you're not alone. Many people find their way into Dr. Tammy Hshieh's office wondering the same thing. But most of the time, it's not dementia causing their problems, says Dr. Hshieh, a geriatrician at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Could what we eat improve our sleep?

Diet, exercise, and sleep work together, and all three can have an effect on our daily well-being and longevity. Sleep impacts our eating patterns, and our eating patterns affect our sleep: lack of quality sleep may make people eat more, and make less healthy food choices, but certain foods contain substances that may enhance sleep.

The highs and lows of medical cannabis

It's more accessible than ever before, but is it the right medicine for you?

Medical marijuana — also referred to as medical cannabis — has enjoyed a boom in recent years. More states have legalized it, more products are available, and more people have turned to it for help, especially older adults.

A study in the April 2020 JAMA Internal Medicine found that the number of adults ages 65 and older using medical cannabis increased from 2.4% to 4.2% between 2015 and 2018.

Sleeping too much or not enough may raise the risk of cognitive decline

Research we're watching

People who sleep too much or too little may be at higher risk for cognitive decline, according to a study published Sept. 21, 2020, by JAMA Network Open. Researchers looked at self-reported sleep duration from 20,065 people in two large studies, one in the United Kingdom and one in China. The participants from the United Kingdom were ages 50 and older and those living in China were 45 and older and were followed by researchers for up to 15 years. Researchers asked participants questions about their sleep patterns and performed a cognitive assessment. The process was repeated at two year intervals during the various study periods. Researchers found that people who slept too little (four or fewer hours a night) or too much (10 or more hours a night) were more likely than more typical sleepers to experience cognitive decline.

Image: SelectStock/Getty Images

Music to your health

The soothing and motivational sounds of music have far-reaching health benefits.

A favorite musical tune can stir up positive memories, boost your mood, and create a soothing, relaxing setting. But used in specific ways, music also is a valuable tool for supporting your health.

"Whether you need to relax, increase your energy, improve your thinking, or just get motivated for the day, music can provide extra support when you need it the most," says Marisabelle Diaz-Falcon, a music therapist with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

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