Cancer-Preventing Moves to Make Right Now

Preventing cancer often seems like a long, dreary list of don’ts: don’t smoke, don’t go out without sunscreen, etc. But along with the no-nos are lots of positive dos -- easy steps that could reduce your cancer risks. “The best defense is enjoying a colorful, plant-rich diet and an active lifestyle,” says Elisa Zied, a registered dietician based in New York and author of Younger Next Week, who notes that such smart choices can also benefit your heart and your brain.

Here are a few ways you can boost your odds of living a longer, healthier life.

Take the Weight Off

Obesity and excess weight are “clearly associated” with postmenopausal breast cancer, colorectal and pancreatic cancers, and are implicated in others, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). The ACS also says that excess weight accounts for 14 to 20 percent of all cancer deaths. Trimming down to a healthy weight with a waistline of less than 32 inches (a measurement which is an important indicator of dangerous belly fat) can cut your risk.  

Shake a Leg

The National Cancer Institute notes that there is “strong evidence” that physical activity reduces the risk of colon and breast cancer, while other studies suggest links to lower lung, endometrial and prostate cancer.

How much exercise is enough? The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity at least three times a week for adults and an hour a day for kids -- with at least three of those hours being “vigorous” activity (hiking, running over 6 mph, soccer, etc.). And you don’t have to spend all that time in the gym. Romp on the beach with your kids, go dancing with your spouse or play a fun game of volleyball.

Got young daughters? Vigorous exercise is especially important for pre-pubescent girls, says epidemiologist Ruby Senie, PhD, of Columbia University, because it could postpone the start of menstruation, limiting their lifetime exposure to estrogen and later risk of breast cancer.  

Go Big on GBGG

That stands for Greens/Beans/Grains/Garlic, a cancer-fighting combo that health experts recommend for your daily diet. Many -- though not all -- published studies link cruciferous veggies such as arugula, watercress and broccoli to lower risk of lung, colon, stomach and other cancers. Beans and grains pack plenty of fiber, shown by numerous studies to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. And research cited by the National Cancer Institute suggests that regular garlic consumption can decrease the risk of stomach, colon and pancreatic cancer.

Feast on Fruits, Nom on Nuts

Blackberries and raspberries are not only delicious; they also deliver more fiber than broccoli, not to mention bolstering your defenses against colon and breast cancer. Enjoying a peach a couple of times a week could lower your risk of postmenopausal breast cancer, according to one large study. And while nuts are higher in calories than berries, nibbling an ounce of them twice a week might also protect against pancreatic cancer, according to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Indulge in Moderation

Enjoying a little Chardonnay once in a while is fine -- just don’t overdo it. The ACS emphasizes that drinking alcohol in any form raises the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, liver, colon and breast. Stick to recommended consumption levels to moderate the damage: 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits.

Studies also link high intake of red meats with higher rates of colorectal cancer, so limit your consumption to 6 ounces twice a week, says Zied. And when you’re going to grill your rib-eye, marinate it first: Grilling produces carcinogens called HCAs, but researchers from Kansas State University found that marinating meat for half an hour cuts the HCA level by up to 88 percent.

Keep Cool! Stopping Sweat in Its Tracks

While many of us have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of summer with open arms, we may be less than thrilled about the effect that wonderfully steamy weather has on the underside of those arms … not to mention the scalp, chest and forehead.

Although you can’t stop sweating altogether -- this essential function helps regulate our internal temperature and cools the body year-round -- there are ways to keep those sweat-prone areas dry when the temperature soars. As you embrace your favorite summer activities, from outdoor workouts to backyard cookouts, keep these perspiration-stopping tips in mind:

Skip the Silk

A variety of factors can impact how much you perspire -- including the clothes you wear. Wearing fabrics like silk or polyester can increase your body temperature and bring on the dampness. Wear light, breathable clothing with loosely woven fabrics and natural fibers like cotton or linen to help prevent sweat stains and decrease perspiration. If you’re in an air-conditioned environment, such as an office or movie theater, dress in layers that you can easily take off to avoid overheating.

Go Bland

Spicy foods can up your body temperature as well, so if you’re prone to perspiration, avoid the hot sauce when you barbecue. Switching to iced coffee and tea can also help you keep your cool.

Pick the Right Product

Contrary to popular belief, deodorants and antiperspirants are two different products. Deodorants help cover up the odors associated with perspiration, but to curb the wetness itself, you need an antiperspirant. Most antiperspirants contain aluminum, which soaks into the skin, blocking sweat.

Head for Your Pantry

Antiperspirants can be applied anywhere on the body, but may cause irritation to sensitive areas of your skin. To keep your chest dry and cool, dust some baking soda under and around your breasts. If your scalp tends to sweat, apply dry shampoo or baby powder before you go out.  

Keep Clean

To keep sweat at bay, Dr. Debra Jaliman, a New York dermatologist and author of Skin Rules, stresses frequent showers with antibacterial soap to clear away the perspiration and fight the bacteria that cause body odor.

Change Your Routine

If you typically shower in the morning, try switching to bedtime, and apply your antiperspirant after toweling off. This gives it more time to work because your skin is dry and your body temperature is naturally lower at night. If you apply it in the morning, increased temperature and sweat volume may cause the antiperspirant to wash away too soon.

Get a Checkup

Sometimes, excess perspiration can be a sign that something else is wrong. Certain medical conditions, including diabetes, obesity or an overactive thyroid, can increase sweating, says Jaliman. If you’ve been perspiring more than usual for no apparent reason, consult your doctor.

Call a Professional

If sweating is really affecting your lifestyle, there are additional options to consider. Prescription or clinical strength over-the-counter antiperspirants can reduce excessive sweating by blocking the sweat glands more effectively. And in extreme cases, Botox injections have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to help combat underarm sweat and can decrease perspiration for about seven months, says Jaliman.

To learn more about excessive sweating, visit the International Hyperhidrosis Society’s website.

Your Best 20-Minute Workout

Ready to get in shape but not sure you’ve got the time? Between long workdays, packed weekends and family obligations, it can seem impossible to fit in an hour of exercise several times a week. Fortunately, there are a variety of routines you can add to your schedule that will help you get (or stay!) in shape in just 20 minutes. Bonus: You can do them anywhere.

We’ve asked Lesley Mettler-Auld, a running, triathlon and fitness coach in Seattle, to share a 20-minute workout she does. The exercise routine she gave us can be used as a supplement to your current routine or as a primary workout if you’re crunched for time. “It’s designed to use all the major muscles of the body in a different way [and is] very efficient,” she says. “Start with light weights until you get the motion down, then increase weight as your muscles are ready.”

Repeat each exercise for 50 seconds, taking 10 seconds to move on to the next exercise. Repeat the entire circuit twice.

Get Started:

Equipment needed: one set of dumbbells or a resistance band

  • Burpies: Begin in a plank position, with legs extended and feet hip-width apart. Rest your weight on your hands or forearms. Jump to a squat position. From there, reach your hands over your head and jump as high as you can. Return to a squat, step or jump back into plank pose and repeat.
  • Squat Combination: Holding a dumbbell in each hand, stand with your feet hip-width apart and weight on your heels. Lower into a squat while keeping your knees behind your toes. As you rise, curl the dumbbells into a biceps curl, then extend your arms and press the weights over your head with your palms facing inward. Lower and repeat.
  • Mountain Climbers: Begin in a plank position with your feet hip-width apart. Bend your right knee to touch your left elbow, then return to plank position and repeat with your right knee to left elbow. Continue alternating sides.
  • Narrow Hand Push-Up: Begin in a plank position on your feet or with your knees bent on the ground. Lower your body down into a push-up while keeping your elbows in and along your sides. Return to plank and repeat.
  • Boat Pose: Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Raise legs to a 45-degree angle from your torso. Keeping your back straight, lean back slightly, forming a “V” shape with your body. Bring your arms out in a straight line, parallel to your legs, and hold this position.
  • Bicycle Crunch: Lie on your back with your knees bent and abs pulled tight toward your spine. With your hands behind your head, extend one leg out while lifting your shoulders off the floor and bringing the opposite knee toward the opposite shoulder. Switch sides and repeat.
  • Shoulder Press with Leg Extension: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and bend your elbows to hold the weights at shoulder height. Raise your right leg to 90 degrees and, with your leg raised, exhale and extend your arms up with palms facing inward. Lower your arms and leg at the same time and repeat on the other side.
  • Bent-Over Fly: Bend at the waist, letting your arms hang down with a dumbbell in each hand. With a straight back and moving only your shoulders, lift the dumbbells up and out to the side until they’re even with your back. Slowly lower and repeat. 
  • Biceps Hammer Curl with band or dumbbell: Keeping your arms at your sides and bent at the elbows, raise and lower your arms into a curl.
  • Crunches: Lying on the floor with a flat back and bent knees, place your hands behind your head and use your abs to lift and lower your head and shoulders.

Got an exercise ball? You can incorporate it into your quick workout with exercises such as crunches and the “Superman” stretch (lying face-down on the ball, lift your right arm and left leg; hold and switch to your left arm/right leg).

Completing exercises like these in a circuit format allows you to do more with your workout in the same period of time, making the most of your routine.

Your Stay Healthy Guide for Kids

Your kids may come home from school this winter with something more worrisome than homework: sniffles, tummy bugs and even (ick!) lice. Now that students are cooped up in overheated classrooms all day, schools can be breeding grounds for any number of ailments.

You probably can’t avoid sick days entirely; according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average schoolchild gets 8-12 colds and 1-2 cases of diarrhea in a year, and the Centers for Disease Control reports an estimated 6-12 million head-lice infestations per year among 3-11 year-olds. But there are steps you can take to minimize the risks and keep your whole family healthier, such as washing your hands often, eating right and staying up-to-date on vaccinations. And don’t give in when the kids beg to stay up a little longer: “Getting enough sleep helps your immune system fight off whatever might be coming your way,” advises Rebecca Jaffe, MD, of Wilmington, Delaware, a fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

If you want to know about staying healthy, steering clear of the typical list of school yard sicknesses and the best way to treat them, here are the health facts about five common contagions:

Colds and flu  

Cause: Viruses.

Symptoms: Stuffy nose, sneezing, mild sore throat and cough for colds; fever, aches, severe cough for flu.

Spread by: Droplets on hands or released into air by coughs or sneezes.

Prevention: Use a tissue to sneeze, cough or blow your nose; discard immediately and wash hands. Teach kids to sneeze into their elbow if there’s no tissue handy. Don’t share cups, water bottles or utensils.

Treatment: Rest and fluids. Give antihistamines and non-aspirin pain medications for colds; antiviral meds for flu if prescribed by your pediatrician. (Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections such as strep throat.)

Gastroenteritis (stomach flu)

Causes: Virus, bacteria or parasites.

Symptoms: Diarrhea, vomiting; may include fever, headache, chills.

Spread by: Contact with infected person or contaminated food or beverages.

Prevention: Frequent hand-washing. Disinfect surfaces your family touches often -- doorknobs, keyboards, etc. -- as well as the kitchen counter and other areas used for food preparation.

Treatment: Bed rest and an oral rehydration solution to prevent dehydration; gradually give bland foods such as toast, bananas and applesauce. See your pediatrician if your child runs a high fever or if vomiting and diarrhea continues for more than a day. Keep your child home until she’s been symptom-free for 24 hours.

Conjunctivitis (pinkeye)

Causes: Virus, bacteria, allergies.

Symptoms: Reddish eye and lower lid, itching, discharge and painful inflammation.

Spread by: Contact.

Prevention: Wash your child’s hands frequently and warn him not to rub or touch his eyes. Don’t share towels or washcloths.

Treatment: See your pediatrician for a prescription eye ointment.

Infectious skin rashes

Causes: Rashes can be caused by bacteria (impetigo), a virus (fifth disease) or mites (scabies).

Symptoms: Itchy, oozing blisters (impetigo); reddish rash on face and body (fifth); intensely itchy pimple-like rash (scabies).

Spread by: Impetigo and scabies can be spread by touching the infected area or handling the affected child’s towels or clothes; fifth disease is transmitted by saliva and mucus.

Prevention: Frequent hand-washing and use of tissues; avoid sharing towels.

Treatment: Varies by type. For impetigo, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics, antiseptic soap and bandages; for scabies, prescription creams; for fifth disease, acetaminophen or ibuprofen as needed.

Head lice

Cause: Red-brown insects about the size of a sesame seed that live and lay whitish eggs (nits) in human hair. Unpleasant as they are, lice don’t spread disease, and having them doesn’t indicate poor hygiene.

Symptoms: Itchy scalp, especially around the ears or nape of the neck.

Spread: Head-to-head contact.

Prevention: Discourage children from sharing hats, combs and other hair gear. Tie back long hair in braids or ponytails.

Treatment: Ask your doctor to recommend an anti-lice shampoo and follow instructions carefully. Use a fine-tooth louse comb daily for a week to remove any remaining bugs and nits. Wash clothes, hats, bedding and stuffed animals in hot water and dry on a high setting. Ask your school nurse when your child can return; some schools have a “no-nit” policy, but the AAP says there’s no need to keep children home if they have no active lice in

Which Medical Exams Do You Need Now?

Can’t remember the last time you went for a cholesterol test or mammogram? Don’t panic! The recommended guidelines for many medical tests have changed in the recent years, so you may need to be screened less often for certain diseases than you think. “The annual physical exam has gone by the wayside,” says Sapna Kripalani, M.D., an internist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “But women still need to be vigilant about having cancer prevention screenings and other tests that detect serious health problems.” Here’s a guide to what you need and when.

Mammograms

When you need them: It depends. “There has been some controversy about when to initiate mammography,” says Dr. Kripalani. The American Cancer Society recommends annual screening for women ages 40 and up, but there’s some question as to how much benefit there is in early screening. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women begin having mammograms at age 50 and every other year after that. If you’re under 50 with no risk factors, you may want to keep that in mind.

Talk to your doctor if: You have a family history of breast cancer, or if you notice any lumps or changes in the appearance or feel of your breasts.

Pap smears

When you need them: Starting at age 21, then every two years until age 65. “We also encourage women to have a pelvic exam annually, which can help detect signs of ovarian cancer,” says Dr. Kripalani.

Talk to your doctor if: You’re over 30, are at low risk for sexually transmitted diseases (such as the HPV virus) and your last few Pap smears have been negative. The doctor may give the okay to have the test every five years.

Blood pressure test

When you need it: Every two years throughout adulthood, so long as your blood pressure remains within normal limits. A reading of 120 to 139 systolic (the upper number) and 80 to 89 diastolic (the lower one) is considered prehypertension, which means you may need to make changes to your diet and activity level.

Talk to your doctor if: You’re younger than 45 and have one or more risk factors for high blood pressure, such as a high body mass index (BMI), smoking or a family history of hypertension.   

Cholesterol test

When you need it: Also known as a lipid profile, this blood test measures the level of total cholesterol, as well as HDL (“good”) and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides. People aged 20 and over should get tested, followed by a screening every five years as long as the levels are normal. Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes or medication if a test reveals abnormal results.

Talk to your doctor if:  You have a family history of heart disease or risk factors such as obesity.

Colonoscopy

When you need it: This test for colon cancer should be performed starting at age 50, then every 10 years afterward. Your doctor may recommend more frequent screenings if you have a family history of colon cancer.

Talk to your doctor if: You want to explore colonoscopy alternatives. Dr. Kripalani says that some doctors may okay a less-invasive scan along with a stool test to detect blood or polyps in the lower intestine.

Thyroid test

When you need it: The thyroid gland, located in your neck, helps regulate a number of body functions including your metabolism, mood and weight. Although there are no standard guidelines for thyroid testing, your doctor may advise it if you have symptoms that suggest the gland is over- or underactive. “Thyroid problems become more common as we age,” explains Dr. Kripalani.

Talk to your doctor if: You have symptoms such as unexplained weight gain or loss, sensitivity to cold, fatigue, hair thinning, heavy or irregular periods