Beat Home Allergens

To ease your child's allergies, you probably encourage her to stay inside when the pollen count is sky-high. But what if it's your home that is causing those sniffles? Many parents don't realize that kids with seasonal allergies may also be sensitive to allergens indoors, like dust mites, mold and pet dander. If your little one tends to have symptoms year-round or sneezes like crazy after petting Rover, see your health care professional. Then, consider making these moves to beat home allergens:

1. Leave your shoes at the door.
Place a bin and clothes rack by the door and ask family members to take off their shoes, jackets and bags before entering. That way, you'll prevent tracking pollen throughout your home. If your child is particularly sensitive, you may also want to change your outfit and rinse off any residual pollen in the shower too.

2. Run the air conditioner.
Pollen can enter your home through open windows and settle on furniture, while fans may stir up dust. Try shutting your windows and using your air conditioner in your home and car to block out those allergens. Just make sure to clean the unit's air filter regularly.

3. Keep tabs on Rover.
When your pet comes in from the outdoors, wipe him down with a wet towel to remove any pollen clinging to his fur. If your kid is also sensitive to dander, teach your pet to stay off furniture and out of your child's bedroom.

4. Wrap up your bed.
Keep dust and pollen from burrowing into your pillows and mattress by encasing them with covers.

5. Do laundry regularly.
To remove allergens, wash bedding weekly in hot water that's at least 130 F (54.4 C). Dry bedding in a dryer -- don't hang it up outside -- and remember to remove it promptly. Leaving it in the machine can encourage mold growth. Cold temperatures also kill dust mites, so pop delicate items, like soft stuffed animals, into the freezer for 24 hours.

6. Ban cigarettes.
It's a no-brainer, but some parents need reminding. The chemicals in smoke can aggravate allergies, so declare your home and car smoke-free zones.

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The Health Benefits of Smiling

A smile can go a long way -- especially when it comes to your health. Not only can flashing a grin win you friends, but a growing body of research also reveals that it can deliver a host of body benefits. Here, four more reasons why you should flash those pearly whites more often:

Reason to Smile No. 1: Less Stress

There’s some truth to the saying, “grin and bear it.” In a study from Kansas State University, people who gave a real smile while tackling pressure-filled tasks had less of a stress response and a lower heart rate than those who kept neutral expressions. So the next time you’re feeling frazzled, take a moment to think of something that makes you giggle.

Reason to Smile No. 2: Pain Relief

According to a study published in the Journal of Pain, people who grimaced during an unpleasant procedure felt more pain than those who turned that frown upside down. Smiling boosts the production of feel-good brain chemicals called endorphins, which can act as a natural pain reliever. Battling a headache or sore back? Watch a few silly YouTube clips for some comedic relief. It’s impossible not to smile at adorable puppy or kitten videos!

Reason to Smile No. 3: A Happier Outlook

You beam when you’re happy, but it turns out that it works the other way around too. Researchers from Britain’s University of Cardiff found that women who received frown-blocking Botox injections reported feeling happier and less anxious than those who didn’t. (They also said they didn’t feel any more attractive, which rules out the possibility they were just more cheerful because of their lack of wrinkles.) Try smiling even when you’re not feeling peppy -- and your mood may soon catch up.

Reason to Smile No. 4: A Healthier Heart

Take heart: A study of nearly 2,000 people published in the European Heart Journal revealed that those with a more positive outlook were less likely to develop heart disease than their more pessimistic peers.

The bottom line: The more smiles, the better! Just remember to stash some tissues in your purse to blot your lipstick and wipe away smudges for a dazzling smile.

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Should You Work Out When You're Sick?

When you wake up feeling the symptoms of a cold or flu, most of the time you just want to stay in bed and rest. But if you're a fitness buff, it's not that simple. When you take a few days off, you risk losing your hard-earned momentum and might even fall short of your fitness goals.

It's a tough choice: When you're sick, can you still do your usual workout -- your power walk, gym class or exercise video?

The answer depends on your symptoms, says Dr. Neil Schachter, medical director of the respiratory care department at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and the author of The Good Doctor's Guide to Colds and Flu.

Here's how to know if you should lace up your sneaks or stay in bed.

Skip your workout if: Your symptoms are below the neck.
“Coughing, body aches, exhaustion, gastrointestinal problems and fever indicate a widespread infection -- one that needs rest and could be made worse by the stress of a workout," says Schachter. Even an easy bike ride or jog could fatigue you and slow down your immune system -- and make your symptoms last longer.

Do your workout if: Your symptoms are above the neck.
Mild to moderate exercise is usually fine if you have a cold -- marked by a runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, watery eyes and a sore throat. And getting your heart pumping might even make you feel better."Activity can help mobilize secretions in your sinuses and relieve congestion, possibly shortening the duration of your symptoms," says Schachter.

But if you have enough energy to exercise, try not to overdo it by jumping right into your usual challenging routine. Follow these three rules:

Rule No. 1: Take your workout indoors.
Exercise at home or at the gym to avoid cold weather, which can aggravate your symptoms. Chilly temperatures kick congestion up a notch because your body pumps extra blood to the nose to help it warm the freezing air you breathe in. The tissues in your nasal passages swell, resulting in congestion. To make things worse, cold air triggers an increase in mucus production.

Frigid weather can also worsen a sore throat because you breathe through your mouth when congested."When cold, dry air hits your sore throat directly, it will make it more inflamed," says Schachter.

If you exercise in a gym, be considerate of other members and take care not to spread your germs. Be sure to sanitize and thoroughly wipe down any equipment you use. It's also a good idea to carry alcohol-based hand sanitizer in your gym bag to use after you cough or sneeze.

Rule No. 2: Go easy on yourself.
When you're under the weather, even just mildly, toxins circulating in your system make you weaker. So take your usual exercise regimen down a notch or you could make your cold worse. For example, if you typically take a daily 30-minute run, alternate jogging and walking instead.

Or instead of cardio, practice yoga. "Certain poses can improve breathing, which can be very helpful when you're congested," says Schachter. One basic move to try is the Downward-facing Dog:

1.      Start on your hands and knees, with feet hip-width apart and hands shoulder-width apart (fingers spread out).

2.      Curl toes under and push back, raising the hips and straightening your legs.

3.      Let your head hang, keeping shoulder blades away from the ears.

Rule No. 3: Know when to stop.
Listen to your body and accept your limitations. If you feel tired or if your symptoms start to worsen, it's time to end your workout. Here are a few specific red-flag symptoms that signal you should call it quits:

  • You start to cough.
  • You feel exhausted.
  • You experience shortness of breath.

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5 Ways to Show a Friend You Care

You can’t imagine life without your friends. They share in your happiness, lift you up you when you’re down and make every day more joyful. But that’s not all: They also help you stay healthy. According to Australian researchers, people with more good pals lived 22 percent longer than those with few friends.

But with our increasing busy lives, many of us are falling out of touch and letting these close bonds unravel. Case in point: Over the past three decades, the number of people the average American calls a close friend has shrunk by a third, reveals a Duke University study.

To keep your relationships stronger than ever, it’s important to take time to remind your friends how much they mean to you. Consider one of these suggestions:

1. Write a heartfelt letter or card.
Even if you often tell your pal you love her, there’s something about putting it on paper. Jot down three favorite memories of your time together or list three of her best qualities -- and how much you value them. Just remember to keep the facial tissues on hand when you present her with your note.

2. Plan a special “date.”
Your coffee chats and walks are meaningful, but try surprising your pal with an afternoon or evening centered on her. Do something she’s always wanted to do, whether it’s visiting downtown art galleries or going on a country bike ride. You can trade off months so you’ll have a fun day to look forward to planning (and attending!).

3. Compile a CD.
Who says mixed tapes are a thing of the past? As a fun token, create a CD with all of your favorite tunes, past and present -- from your favorite jam in college to the boy-band song you tease her about liking now.

4. Schedule a video chat.
Whether you haven’t seen a friend in ages because she’s out of town or you’re both swamped with family duties, it’s still important to catch up face to face. Log onto Skype or Facetime to catch up as you do an activity together, whether it’s baking a batch of cookies or creating a craft.

5. Create a photo album.
Bring the scrapbook into modern day with a crafted photo album. Use a photo publishing site, like or, to create a gorgeous bound book of your favorite snapshots and memories. You’ll both be crying tears of laughter and joy -- and reaching for those facial tissues!

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Why It's OK to Indulge Yourself

You’re stuck in traffic on the way to your son’s soccer game, your kids won’t quit bickering, and the supermarket line is absurdly long. All the little things that go wrong each day can add up to one stressed-out parent.

“Women don’t realize they’re living under chronic stress, because it has become the new normal,” says psychologist Gregory Jantz, Ph.D., founder of The Center, Inc., A Place of Hope, a mental-health treatment facility in Edmonds, Wash., and author of How to De-Stress Your Life. All that stress does more than make you irritable and tired. “Chronic stress can lead to constant headaches, insomnia and depression,” says Jantz.

To make things worse, when moms get frazzled, healthy me-time behaviors that can make you feel better, such as exercising and sleep, are often the first to go.

So indulge in me time for once … without guilt. Try these six easy strategies; science has proven they’re good for your body. Your family will thank you!

It’s OK to … take a nap.

If you’re exhausted, a simple snooze can help you recharge. When researchers from the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium followed sleep-restricted men, they found that their levels of the stress hormone cortisol dropped immediately after they took a nap. So sometimes, give yourself permission to put the kids in front of the TV and take a 30-minute power nap. But be picky about the show; Jantz recommends educational programs on the National Geographic Channel or the Discovery Channel. And don’t rely on the television to be your regular babysitter.

It’s OK to … skip your workout.

Exercise is linked to an abundance of health benefits: decreased risk of diabetes and heart disease, reduced feelings of depression and anxiety, weight maintenance, lower risk of some cancers and more. “There’s no doubt that being physically active is good for you, but once in a while, getting extra rest can refresh your mind and body,” says Stephen Ball, Ph.D., associate professor of nutrition and exercise at the University of Missouri. So if you just can’t squeeze your 30-minute jog or yoga DVD into a jam-packed day, give yourself a break.

Worried that you’ll stall your progress? Taking a day or two off won’t set you back in terms of your fitness level. “It’s OK to miss a workout,” says Ball.

It’s OK to … go on a date.  

If you can’t remember the last time you and your husband went out without the kids, it’s time to initiate a weekly date night. “At home, it’s easy to create a system of dysfunction and stress, so it’s healthy to get out and have fun with your spouse,” says Jantz.

Get started by shaking up your usual Friday-night routine. Instead of a movie, plan an activity that encourages communication. Make a reservation at a cool new restaurant (go for Thai or Indian food instead of your usual Italian), sign up for a dance lesson, or take a cooking class.

Finally, follow these hard-and-fast rules to ensure your night out is quality time for two: 1) Don’t talk about the kids, and 2) Don’t talk about work.

It’s OK to … turn on the TV.

“A silly show that makes you smile can be a simple pleasure,” says Jantz. Laughter increases your pulse, stimulates circulation, increases oxygen intake and helps you relax, according to the American Heart Association. It also triggers the release of feel-good hormones called endorphins.

Laughter reduces stress as well. A recent study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine tracked 18 people while they watched a 30-minute clip from a funny movie or a stressful movie. Researchers discovered that laughter decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

It’s easy to help your whole family reap the health benefits of laughter: Rent a funny movie, take turns reading from a joke book before dinner, or play practical jokes, suggests Jantz.

It’s OK to … dish up a scoop of ice cream.

Making your favorite treats off-limits fosters an unhealthy relationship with food -- and it sets you up to overeat eventually. You don’t have to eat healthy all the time, says Ball. “One good strategy is to eat healthfully most days, but allow yourself one free day per week in which you eat what you want,” he says.

If you prefer, you can simply make your indulgence healthier: Try nonfat frozen yogurt instead of full-fat ice cream, reach for an ice-cream sandwich (instant portion control), or add fresh berries for a dose of vitamins and antioxidants. For a creamy snack that packs serious protein, have low-fat Greek yogurt drizzled with honey.

It’s OK to … talk on the phone.

“Talking to a trustworthy, supportive friend is a great way to combat stress,” says Jantz. “Ideally, you should have at least three people like this in your inner circle.” In a review published in the journal Psychiatry, when researchers looked at dozens of studies on the connection between social networks and well-being, they found that people with social support tend to bounce back better from stressful situations. Just be careful that chat sessions don’t turn into gripe sessions. “It should not be a whining and complaining session where you talk negatively about your spouse and your kids,” says Jantz.

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