Staying Healthy

Maintaining good health doesn't happen by accident. It requires work, smart lifestyle choices, and the occasional checkup and test.

A healthy diet is rich in fiber, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, "good" or unsaturated fats, and omega-3 fatty acids. These dietary components turn down inflammation, which can damage tissue, joints, artery walls, and organs. Going easy on processed foods is another element of healthy eating. Sweets, foods made with highly refined grains, and sugar-sweetened beverages can cause spikes in blood sugar that can lead to early hunger. High blood sugar is linked to the development of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and even dementia.

The Mediterranean diet meets all of the criteria for good health, and there is convincing evidence that it is effective at warding off heart attack, stroke, and premature death. The diet is rich in olive oil, fruits, vegetables, nuts and fish; low in red meats or processed meats; and includes a moderate amount of cheese and wine.

Physical activity is also necessary for good health. It can greatly reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, breast and colon cancer, depression, and falls. Physical activity improves sleep, endurance, and even sex. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week, such as brisk walking. Strength training, important for balance, bone health, controlling blood sugar, and mobility, is recommended 2-3 times per week.

Finding ways to reduce stress is another strategy that can help you stay healthy, given the connection between stress and a variety of disorders. There are many ways to bust stress. Try, meditation, mindfulness, yoga, playing on weekends, and taking vacations.

Finally, establish a good relationship with a primary care physician. If something happens to your health, a physician you know —and who knows you — is in the best position to help. He or she will also recommend tests to check for hidden cancer or other conditions.

Staying Healthy Articles

Abdominal obesity and your health

Excess body fat has serious consequences for health. It' associated with high levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol and triglycerides and low levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol. It impairs the body's responsiveness to insulin, raising blood sugar and insulin levels. Excess body fat contributes to major causes of death and disability, including heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, osteoarthritis, fatty liver, and depression. Faced with these risks, it's no wonder that you want to know how much you should weigh. But this common and important question is actually the wrong question. For health, the issue is not how much you weigh, but how much abdominal fat you have. Methods have changed over the years. But when scientists recognized that what matters is not body weight but body fat, standards began to change. The body mass index (BMI), remains enshrined as the standard way to diagnose overweight and obesity. More »

Air travel health tips

With summer's approach come plans for travel, including flying long distances. But the prospect of a long flight often raises health concerns. Especially in passengers who are older or have certain conditions, air travel and the related stress can have an impact on health. Here are a few trouble areas and some precautions you can take. Deep-vein thrombosis (DVT). Not all experts agree on an association between DVT (blood clots in the legs) and air travel. Symptoms may not occur for several days, so it's difficult to establish a cause-and-effect relationship. If there is one, it's likely due to prolonged inactivity. Limited airline space can discourage moving about. Dry cabin air may also increase the risk of DVT. Prolonged inactivity slows circulation, allowing small clots to form in the legs and feet. The body's own clot busters kick in for most people, but in people with certain risk factors, the clots can get big enough to block a vein. These include cancer, heart disease, infection, pregnancy, and obesity, as well as recent injury or surgery. Smoking also raises the risk, as do birth control pills, selective estrogen receptor modulators, and postmenopausal hormones. More »

Atrophic vaginitis can cause itching, burning, and sexual discomfort but treatments are available

Inflamed vaginal tissue may not be something most women want to talk about, but it can be painful and life altering for those who have it. Atrophic vaginitis, the medical term for this condition, occurs as a result of deterioration of the vaginal tissue. It's a common condition in postmenopausal women because as estrogen levels drop, the tissue that lines the vagina becomes thinner and more easily damaged. The top layer of cells is often lost entirely, exposing the layer below, which is more vulnerable to inflammation or infection. Vaginal secretions also decline, which can make intercourse painful. Women with atrophic vaginitis may also experience vaginal itching, burning, frequent urination, or vaginal discharge. Women can treat this condition topically with estrogen creams, tablets (Vagifem), or an estrogen-releasing ring placed in the vagina (Estring). Oral estrogen, available with a doctor's prescription, will also restore vaginal tissue. Vaginal lubricants offer an alternative for women wary of using estrogen. Moisturizers such as Replens, Astroglide, and Lubrin can reduce symptoms and make sexual intercourse more comfortable. They are available over the counter. Sexual activity may also help preserve the vaginal epithelium, presumably by increasing blood flow to the area. A study of 52 postmenopausal women found significantly less vaginal atrophy among those who had intercourse more than 3 times a week than among those who had intercourse less than 10 times per year. Sexual activity also helps maintain an acidic vaginal climate, which offers some protection against infection. More »

Emergencies and First Aid - Childbirth

Birth of the Placenta If you are called on to help deliver a baby, remember that childbirth is a natural process and that your role is to assist the woman and offer encouragement. If a woman's contractions are very strong and 2 to 3 minutes apart or the water bag (amniotic sac) has broken, birth is very near. If the woman tells you that the birth will happen very soon, believe her. You will see quite a bit of blood, which is normal. You may see bloody fluid coming from the vagina before and during the birth; this is also normal. More »

Specialists

As medical knowledge has become greater, doctors have formed various specialties. In addition, other health professional fields have been created. Here is some information about physician specialists, and other specialists, and what they do. Physicians that choose to train for a specialty complete additional training. After (typically) 4 years of medical school, they go on to internship and residency, which can take anywhere from 1-5 years (depending on the kind of residency training). Then, they go on for still more training in a specialty, which adds several more years. After completing training in a specialty, physicians take examinations to become "board-certified" in their specialty. Many of these subspecialties have formal certification requirements. Those who have certificates in subspecialties (such as cardiology) were first certified in a specialty (such as internal medicine).  More »

What to do about excessive sweating?

Sweating that exceeds the needs of the body—medically termed hyperhidrosis—is fairly common, affecting 1%–3% of the population. Hyperhidrosis may be generalized but most often it involves the palms, underarms, feet, and groin; it can take a social toll, making handshaking unpleasant and some handwork impossible. We need sweating to control body temperature; water evaporating from the skin cools the body. Sweating is under the control of the sympathetic nervous system, which orchestrates the body's reaction to stressful situations and emergencies. The sympathetic nervous system activates the sweat glands through the chemical messenger acetylcholine. People with hyperhidrosis produce several times more sweat than normal because they are particularly sensitive to this signal. Hyperhidrosis seems to run in families, but we don't know much more about what causes it. Generalized sweating could be a sign of a hormonal condition, infection, cancer, or anxiety disorder that requires treatment. To be sure, you should see your clinician. Most of the time, though, excessive sweating is not dangerous but simply embarrassing and inconvenient. More »

Going Safety of over-the-counter sleeping pills

Many people wonder about over-the-counter (OTC) medications like Tylenol PM that combine a pain reliever and a sleep aid. These pills help many get to sleep, but is it a good idea to keep on taking them? The sleep-inducing ingredient in Tylenol PM is diphenhydramine, an antihistamine. People take antihistamines for hay fever or cold symptoms, but doctors have known for a long time that they also make people drowsy. Other nighttime pain relievers (Alka-Seltzer PM, Excedrin PM) contain diphenhydramine, and it's the only active ingredient in OTC sleeping pills like Sominex and Simply Sleep. Sominex and the allergy-relief version of Benadryl have exactly the same active ingredient: 25 milligrams of diphenhydramine. Dr. David White, director of the Sleep Disorders Program at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital, is not a fan of the antihistamines. He says they leave many people feeling groggy and tired rather than rested. And true to their anti–hay fever effects, they dry out the nose and mouth. More »

Canker sores — TheFamily Health Guide

Most people have been bothered at one time or another by canker sores. Doctors call them aphthous ulcers, but the name doesn't explain the problem. In fact, physicians and dentists don't know what causes cankers, though many have tried to find out. Scientists have learned that they are not caused by herpes or any other known virus and that they are not contagious. And with rare exceptions, cankers are isolated problems that crop up in healthy people without indicating a serious medical condition. Cankers are shallow ulcers that can develop on the inside of the cheek or lips or under the tongue. Most are pink or reddish, but some have a white coating. They are painful, so they make eating a chore, but they almost always clear up in about a week. If you are one of the very few people who develop fever, swollen glands, weakness, eye or joint inflammation, abdominal cramps and diarrhea, or genital ulcers along with your cankers, you should see your physician. In the vast majority of cases, however, medical attention is not needed. You can simply wait it out: Avoid foods that trigger pain, and use a mild over-the-counter pain reliever if necessary. You can also make a soothing mouthwash by mixing equal parts of Milk of Magnesia and Benadryl Allergy liquid. Swish a teaspoon of the mixture in your mouth for 30–60 seconds, then spit it out. If it seems to help, you can repeat the rinse every four hours. For stronger relief, your physician or dentist can prescribe a local anesthetic such as benzocaine (Orabase-B) or lidocaine (Xylocaine Viscous). Use a Q-tip to paint the anesthetic on the sore 30 minutes before meals and as otherwise needed. More »