Allergy-Proof Your Workout

There are already countless excuses for skipping your workout -- don’t let your allergies be one of them. If you’re one of the 40 million Americans who suffer from sniffles, sneezes, wheezes and watery eyes every spring or fall, you know that these symptoms can make exercising outside difficult. But with a few smart moves, you can breathe easy while staying fit.

1. Time it right.
Plants release their pollen early in the morning, right after dawn, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of American. As the wind shifts, the count rises and reaches its peak around mid-day in cities and urban areas. To avoid an allergy attack, schedule workouts in the very early morning or later in the evening. Or head outdoors right after it rains, which temporarily washes away the pollen.

2. Check the pollen count.
If the pollen counts are particularly high, you may want to take your workout inside. Check the levels in your area on the National Allergy Bureau’s website. Hit the gym, set up your own mini boot camp or do a workout DVD.

3. Treat it early.
The best time to take your allergy medication isn't when you start to sneeze -- it's beforehand. Those meds are most effective when they're already in your system, say the experts. 

4. Shield your eyes.
To keep irritants from getting in your eyes during a workout, slip on a pair of wraparound shades before your walk, run or bike ride. Wearing a hat can also keep pollen from clinging onto your hair all day long, which can worsen your symptoms.

5. Shower off.
As soon as you get done with your workout, hop in the shower to rinse away that pollen and toss your clothes straight in the wash. To avoid tracking those allergens throughout your home, keep a clothing and sneaker bin in your home's mudroom or entryway.

6. Keep moving.
Don't be tempted to skip your sweat session on account of those sniffles: According to a study published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Allergy and Immunology, exercising for half an hour can reduce your allergy symptoms by as much as 70 percent. The researchers explain that moderate physical activity may counteract nasal inflammation. That's motivation enough to lace up those sneakers!

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Snooze Soundly -- Even When You're Sick

Sore throat. Stuffy nose. Wheezing cough. When you're sick with a cold or flu, all you want to do is crawl into bed and sleep for a week or two. But your pesky symptoms make it impossible to rest easy. When bedtime finally rolls around, you actually feel worse than you did during the day.

When you have a cold or allergies, congestion worsens at night. "When you lie down, the airways are more likely to become clogged with mucus,” says Dr. Neil Schachter, medical director of the respiratory care department of the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, and author of The Good Doctor's Guide to Cold and Flu.

Here's how to stop tossing and turning, and get a restorative night's sleep.

1. Have a tea party.
Before you go to bed, sip a mug of decaffeinated black tea. The antioxidant-rich beverage contains theobromine, which is a natural cough suppressant, and the heat thins mucus. Add lemon to help cut through congestion and honey to soothe the throat.

2. Rinse away congestion.
Wash away gunk that's interfering with your breathing by doing regular nasal rinses. Nasal rinse kits can be found at most drugstores and are easy and painless to use. Essentially, you are rinsing your nasal cavity with a mixture of distilled water and sodium. This helps to clear passages and keep them moist. If you're uncomfortable with a nose rinse, try a saline nasal spray instead. This also helps to flush out the nose, which makes breathing easier, says Schachter.

3. Pamper a sore throat.
"The throat feels sore during an infection because the mucus that is lining the throat is filled with inflammatory compounds," says Schachter. Add half a teaspoon table salt to warm water, gargle for 10 seconds and spit out. Removing the virus-laden mucus relieves both sore throat and coughing. 

4. Darken your bedroom.
It's important to create a healthy environment that promotes quality sleep. Since incoming light tells the brain to wake up, try to block morning light from reaching your eyes. You can accomplish this by hanging dark curtains or by wearing a comfortable sleep mask that covers your eyes. Also, if you have a brightly illuminated alarm clock, make sure it's not facing you during the night.

5. Keep it cool.
In your bedroom, set the thermostat low. When your body temperature drops, your brain goes into sleep mode. The National Sleep Foundation recommends between 54 F and 75 F.

6. Take a hot shower.
Before bed, muster the strength to take a hot shower. When you get out, the drop in body temperature helps prepare your brain for sleep. Bonus: Steam loosens congestion and hydrates your nasal and throat passages.

7. Slip on socks.
Put on a pair of cozy socks before you get into bed. According to a Swiss study, warming your feet helps your body relax and puts you in the snooze zone.

8. Silence symptoms.
Some common symptoms, such as a cough and congestion, can make restful sleep a real challenge when you're sick. Over-the-counter medications can help alleviate these uncomfortable obstacles to a good night's sleep. 

9. Elevate your head.
When you're congested, sleep with your head elevated. Prop yourself up with a few extra pillows or the plump cushions from your sofa. Sleeping elevated helps ease sinus pressure and makes breathing less difficult.

10. Quiet your mind.
Even when you're exhausted and not feeling well, sometimes you can have a mental block that prevents you from falling asleep. To get into the right frame of mind, try one of these calming pursuits: meditate, jot your thoughts into a journal, listen to soothing music or read your favorite book. 

Last but not least, be sure to keep a box of soft facial tissues on your nightstand. That way, you’ll avoid irritating your face during a cold, and relief will be within reach whenever you need it.

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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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Spring-Clean Your Health: 6 Steps You Likely Forget

The mercury is rising, the trees are blooming -- and for many families, springtime means spring cleaning. But besides the broken toys and outgrown clothes, what else should you toss and update? Use these guidelines when you spring-clean to stay healthy, safe and prepared for the new season.

Sneakers
If you're a runner, experts recommend replacing your kicks every 350 to 550 miles, before they lose shock absorption and stability. Buy a new pair before your old pair wears out so you can break them in gradually, suggests Rudy Dressendorfer, a triathlete, American College of Sports Medicine fellow and personal trainer in Penryn, Calif. He recommends rotating in your new sneakers for a few workouts each week (or less than half of what you usually do in the old pair), especially if you're changing models or brands.

Smoke Detectors and Fire Extinguishers
You've probably heard that you should check your smoke detectors’ batteries twice a year. (Use daylight saving time, when you change your clocks, as a reminder.) But even with fresh batteries, smoke detectors that are older than 10 years may not work as effectively and should be replaced, says Lorraine Carli of the National Fire Protection Agency. For fire extinguishers, "check the gauge to make sure they are fully charged," she says."If they're not, recharge or replace it." Some extinguishers are disposable, she notes, and can only be used once.

Cosmetics
You'll likely notice when makeup starts to go bad -- any change in color, consistency, or odor is a sure sign that it's time toss a product. While most cosmetics last for at least a year, the Food and Drug Administration recommends discarding eye makeup, like mascara, every three months. They may have bacterial growth, which can lead to an eye infection. And you may need to replace all-natural brands sooner because their plant-based ingredients may breed bacteria. Be sure to keep facial tissues around too -- they can be a lifesaver, especially this season, for quick makeup touchups or help with allergies.

Medicine
All medications -- both prescription and not -- should have an expiration date printed on their package or, in the case of ointments, embossed on the crimp, says Kathleen Besinque, associate professor of clinical pharmacy at the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy. If a medication isn't in its original packaging, don't use it."I advise that people review the contents of their medicine cabinet at least once a year," says Besinque. But don't flush or throw away prescription drugs, which can contaminate waterways. Visit TakeBackNetwork.com for information on how to dispose of them safely.

Vitamins
If you take vitamins or supplements regularly, they should run out before they expire. For those of you who don't take your vitamins daily, don't hang on to them past the expiration date, when they may begin to lose effectiveness, says Besinque. If the bottle doesn't have a date stamped on it, throw it away -- and opt for a different brand next time.

Toothbrushes
Change your toothbrush -- or if you have an electronic toothbrush, swap out the head -- every three to four months, advises the American Dental Association. That's when bristles start to wear down and aren't as effective at removing cavity-causing plaque. It's also a good idea to toss your toothbrush earlier than that if you've been sick, if you're more susceptible to infection or if the bristles become frayed.

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8 All-natural Allergy Remedies

Now that spring has arrived, many families are reaching for the tissue box. After all, 30 percent of adults and 40 percent of children battle some form of allergies, according to the American Academy of Asthma & Immunology.

If you or your little ones are plagued by allergies, see your physician to get those symptoms under control. And in addition to over-the-counter and prescription medications, there are a few additional moves that can help ease the sniffles, sneezes and watery eyes. Consider these following strategies:

1. Try a saline rinse and spray. Rinsing the nasal passages with a saline solution helps flush out irritating allergens and dried mucus, which eases congestion. I recommend using a rinse before administering any nasal spray medication: It cleans off nasal membranes, so the medication is better absorbed.

If you make your own saline solution, it's essential to use sterile water. A type of bacteria in drinking water, which is harmless when consumed, can lead to life-threatening infections when introduced to the sinuses. Although these cases are extremely rare, play it safe and boil water before using it (including both tap and bottled water).

2. Find a healthy way to stress less. Stress increases levels of a hormone called cortisol, which can trigger inflammation in the body and worsen allergy symptoms. To stay calm and collected, encourage your family to exercise: It may strengthen an area of the brain that buffers against stress, according to researchers from the National Institute of Mental Health. Turn exercise into quality time by going on family walks and bike rides, and encourage massages for further relaxation.

3. Scale back on sugar. Some foods simply aren't helpful for allergies, like sugar and simple carbohydrates (think white flour/bread/rice, along with many processed goods). Eating a diet that's high in these foods spikes blood sugar and encourages bodily inflammation. In fact, researchers from Loma Linda University have shown that sugar can suppress the immune system's response.

To keep allergy symptoms in check, steer clear of added sugars whenever possible, and trade refined grains for nutritious whole grains.

4. Consider the right vitamins and nutrients. Certain nutrients and vitamins may also help you and your children find relief, as part of your diet and sometimes as a supplement. I recommend the following, but -- as with any supplement -- consult your own physician first:

  • Vitamin D This important vitamin has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. According to a study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, children with low levels of vitamin D were more likely to develop allergies than those who got enough of the nutrient. You can get vitamin D in salmon, along with most dairy products and cereals. Children may also take a supplement of 500 IU per day; adults can get up to 5,000 IU.
  • Vitamin A This nutrient has anti-inflammatory properties and is believed to help form mucus membranes (there are tons in your sinuses!), according to the National Institutes of Health. To get it in your diet, think green (broccoli, leafy greens) and orange (sweet potatoes, squash, apricots, carrots). Children may also take a 1,000 IU supplement per day, and adults can get up to 3,000 IU.
  • Pycnogenol Derived from a type of tree bark, this supplement has been shown to lessen allergy symptoms, shows a study in Phytotherapy Research. Children should consider taking 100 milligrams a day, and adults can get up to 300 mg.
  • Quercetin Researchers believe this compound may work as a natural antihistamine to block pesky allergic reactions, though more research is necessary to prove its effectiveness. It's easy to get a dose in a number of everyday foods, including apples, onions, sage, parsley, tea and dark berries (blueberries and blackberries). Check with your doctor first if you're interested in quercetin supplements for you or your child.
  • Probiotics These good bacteria encourage a healthy gut. Some studies on children have also shown that it helps manage allergies. Yogurt is full of probiotics; you can also consult your doctor about an appropriate OTC probiotic supplement.

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