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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Surprisingly simple ways to break bad habits and live healthy all year

From: The Doctors

So what made your list of resolutions this year? If you're like most Americans, "weigh less and exercise more" is probably somewhere near the top. Setting goals is a good first step; figuring out how to meet them, though, is another story — one that often ends in frustration and procrastination.  Here are eight of the most common resolutions and tips to help you get started:

Lose weight


Try this: Go to bed.
Yes, you have to eat right and exercise too, but research shows that unless you get a good night's rest, those extra pounds will stay put. A small study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that overweight adults lost 55% less fat when they got 5 1/2 hours of sleep a night compared with adults who slept 8 1/2 hours. (The sleep-restricted group lost more muscle mass, as well, which slows metabolism.) Too little sleep also messes with your body's appetite controls: It lowers levels of a hormone that makes you feel full and boosts levels of a hunger hormone, which can lead to overeating and obesity. So what's a "good night's rest"? Seven to nine hours a night, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Exercise more


Try this: Walk 10 minutes in the morning and 10 at night.
That's all you need to live longer, according to a new study from the Cooper Institute. Researchers there found that 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week can improve women's fitness levels and lower rates of premature death, regardless of body mass index.
Eventually, add strength training twice a week to your routine — the combination can help you lose weight, sleep better, boost your mood and reduce your risk of chronic disease.

Reduce stress


Try this: Have sex and eat walnuts.
Not necessarily in that order, but two new studies show that both strategies will help. Researchers at the University of Cincinnati conducted a study on rats and found that sex (and tasty food) inhibited the brain's response to anxiety, which reduced stress for up to seven days. And including a daily serving of walnuts in your diet lowers blood pressure during a stressful time by 2 to 3 points, according to a team of scientists at Penn State. They believe the omega-3 fatty acids in the nuts help with reducing blood pressure.


Quit smoking


Try this: Combine strategies instead of going cold turkey.
For some people, the kamikaze approach works: They pick a day and toss their packs — no nicotine gum, lozenges or patch, no medicines, no counseling. But research shows you double your chances of success if your quitting plan includes a combination of methods, such as nicotine-replacement therapy, counseling, self-help materials and setting up a support system. For help getting started, call 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669), or visit smokefree.gov.

Drink less


Try this: Pace and space.
You don't necessarily have to give up alcohol altogether — having one drink a day for women, and two for men, may help protect against heart disease, the American Heart Association says. But drinking too much can hurt your heart, as well as raise your risk of cancer, liver and brain disease. And according to an analysis of the drinking habits of more than 85,000 people, alcohol consumption is on the rise in the United States. One way to cut back: Pace yourself to no more than one alcoholic beverage an hour, and space out your cocktails by alternating them with a non-alcoholic drink, such as water, soda or juice. For more tips, and to assess your own drinking habits, visit rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov.

Boost brain power


Try this: Take a walk.
Did you know your brain actually shrinks as you age? That's part of the reason memory fades the older you get. But if you walk 6 miles every week, you can help hold on to that gray matter — the part of the brain associated with cognitive function, according to a study in the journal Neurology. Researchers tested participants over the course of 13 years and found that those who walked the most cut their risk of developing memory problems in half.

Fight wrinkles


Try this: Eat a cup of strawberries.
That cup contains 85 milligrams of vitamin C — more than your recommended daily value. Vitamin C is a highly effective antioxidant that your body needs to produce collagen, which helps keep the skin smooth and firm. Plus, studies in South Korea have found that ellagic acid, another antioxidant found in strawberries, also may help prevent wrinkles. A bonus: Strawberries also can help reduce your risk of developing cancer. Mix them into your morning oatmeal, make a midafternoon shake or toss them over a salad.

Have better sex


Try this: Think about having better sex.
That's it? Pretty much, according to research published in Journal of Sexual Medicine. Scientists looked at an old clinical trial, in which some women were given an erectile-dysfunction drug to try to boost their libido, and others a placebo, or sugar pill. The drug didn't work, but more than one-third of the placebo group said their sex lives significantly improved after taking what they thought was medication. Participants were highly motivated in wanting to improve their sex lives, and as part of the study, they were asked to have sex at least three times a month and then fill out questionnaires. Researchers suspect that simply thinking about sex, wanting to make it better and paying attention to what works can make all the difference.

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