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winter exercise Let's admit something to ourselves, shall we? Mustering up the motivation to exercise is tough anytime, let alone once the weather has turned cold for the winter. Winter can discourage even the most motivated exercisers. And if you're not particularly motivated in the first place then cold weather can spell disaster for your fitness regimen. Nevertheless, our bodies' need for proper exercise remains the same year-round. Just because it's 20 below doesn't mean that we can put our fitness and well-being on hold.

One way to cope with the colder temperatures is to move your outdoors fitness regimen indoors by going to a gym or working out at home. While this is a valid way of accommodating for the weather while still fitting in your workouts there is also a lot to be said for getting your blood moving while outdoors. Outdoor exercise is a sure-fire cure for cabin fever and the winter blues. It also increases energy that can be sapped by gloomy weather. Exercising outdoors can also bolster your immune system- studies shows that moderate exercisers get 20 to 30 percent fewer colds than non-exercisers. With the right clothing and a little planning, cold-weather exercise is guaranteed to be safe, effective and fun.

Here are a few tips from the mayo clinic website on how to get the most of your cold weather workout:

Check with your doctor. Experts say that almost everyone can exercise safely in the cold, including people with asthma and heart problems. But if you have health concerns, it's best to get your doctor's approval.

Layer it on. One of the biggest mistakes cold-weather exercisers make is dressing too warmly. Exercise generates a considerable amount of heat — enough to make you feel like its 30 degrees warmer than it really is. At the same time, once you start to tire and the sweat dries, you can get chilled. The solution? Dress in layers that you can remove as soon as you start to sweat and then put back on as needed. Start with a thin layer of synthetic material such as polypropylene, which draws sweat away from your body. Avoid cotton, which stays wet next to your skin. Next, try fleece for insulation. Top this with a waterproof, breathable outer layer. A heavy down jacket or vest will cause most people to overheat. If you're naturally lean, though, you'll need more insulation than someone who is heavier. If it's very cold (about 0 F or -17.8 C) or you have asthma, wear a face mask or a scarf over your mouth.

Protect your extremities. When it's cold, blood is pushed to your body's core, leaving your hands and feet vulnerable to frostbite. Try wearing a thin pair of gloves under a pair of heavier gloves or mittens lined with wool or fleece. You might want to buy exercise shoes a half-size larger than usual to allow for thick thermal socks or an extra pair of regular socks. And don't forget a hat or headband — 30 to 40 percent of your body heat is lost through your head.

Choose appropriate gear. If it's dark, wear reflective clothing. To stay steady on your feet, choose footwear with enough traction to prevent falls. Wear a helmet for skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling.

Remember sunscreen. It's as easy to get sunburned in winter as in summer — even more so if you're exercising in the snow or at high altitudes. Wear a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays and has an SPF of at least 15 or higher. Use a lip balm that contains sunscreen, and protect your eyes from snow and ice glare with dark glasses or goggles.

Head into the wind. You'll be less likely to get chilled on the way back if you end your workout with the wind at your back.

Drink plenty of fluids. Drink water or sports drinks before, during and after your workout — even if you're not thirsty. You can become just as dehydrated in the cold as in the heat from sweating, breathing and increased urine production.

Pay attention to wind chill. The wind can penetrate your clothes and remove the insulating layer of warm air that surrounds your body. Fast motion — such as skiing, running, cycling or skating — also creates wind chill because it increases air movement past your body. When the temperature is 10 F (-12.2 C) and the air is calm, skiing at 20 miles an hour creates a wind chill of minus 9 (-22.8 C). If the temperature dips well below zero (-17.8 C), choose an indoor activity instead.

Know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite is most common on your face, fingers and toes. Early warning signs include paleness, numbness and loss of feeling or a stinging sensation. If you suspect frostbite, get out of the cold immediately and slowly warm the affected area without rubbing. If numbness continues, seek emergency care. If you suspect hypothermia — characterized by intense shivering, slurred speech, loss of coordination and fatigue — get emergency help right away. To help prevent problems, warm your hands and feet every 20 to 30 minutes, and know when to head for home.

Stay motivated. When it's cold outdoors, there's no need to hit the couch. With a little knowledge and fortitude, you can meet the challenges — and reap the rewards — of winter exercise. For many people, the solitude and quiet alone are reason enough to brave the elements.

By following these simple guidelines you will be able to enjoy a time of solace, appreciate the beauty of winter and get in a good workout all at the same time.

food portions If you're looking to control your weight (and really who isn't?) you need to focus not only on what foods you're eating but also on how much and how often you eat. The information outlined below will show you the difference between a portion and a serving, how to control portions even when dining out, and how to eat just enough for you.

A portion is how much food you choose to eat at one time whereas a serving size is the amount of food listed on a product's Nutrition Facts. The serving size is used to inform consumers about how many calories and nutrients are found in an amount of food. The serving size found on the Nutrition Facts is not the recommended amount to eat but rather a measurement.

According to the Weight Control Information Network normal portions sizes may be equal to two or three standard servings. For example if you take a look at the Nutrition Facts for a package of macaroni and cheese the serving size is one cup, but the entire package actually has 2 cups of food found in it. If you end up eating the entire package, you must remember that you are eating two servings of macaroni and cheese therefore doubling the calories and fat.

By learning to recognize serving sizes you can better judge how much food you are eating. If you're cooking at home it‘s important to look at the serving sizes listed on the Nutrition Facts of the packaged food products that you eat. Use measuring cups and spoons to put the suggested serving size on your plate. This will help you recognize how much one standard serving size looks like compared to how much you may normally eat.

Another effective way to keep track of portions is to keep a food diary. By keeping a good record of how much, what, when, where and why you eat, you can help yourself become more aware of the amount of food that you're eating and when you tend to eat too much. Through your diary, you can become aware of the times and reasons that you eat too much which may help you try to make different choices in the future. You can keep your food diary in a notebook, on your cell phone or at a myriad of online trackers. Don't worry- you do not need to measure and count every little thing you eat for the rest of your life, just long enough to decipher patterns and recognize typical serving sizes.

Here are some additional ideas from the Weight Control Information Network to help you control portion sizes at home:

  • Take the amount of food that is equal to one serving, according to the Nutrition Facts, and eat it off a plate instead of eating straight out of a large box or bag.
  • Avoid eating in front of the TV or while busy with other activities. Pay attention to what you are eating, chew your food well and fully enjoy the smell and taste of your foods.
  • Eat slowly so your brain can get the message that your stomach is full.
  • Try using smaller dishes, bowls, and glasses. This way, when you fill up your plate or glass, you will be eating and drinking less.
  • To control your intake of the higher-fat, higher-calorie parts of a meal, of vegetables and salads (watch the toppings) instead of desserts and dishes with heavy sauces.
  • When cooking in large batches, freeze food that you will not serve right away. This way, you will not be tempted to finish eating the whole batch before the food goes bad. And you will have ready-made food for another day. Freeze leftovers in amounts that you can use for a single serving or for a family meal another day.
  • Try to eat meals at regular intervals. Skipping meals or leaving large gaps of time between meals may lead you to eat larger amounts of food the next time that you eat.
  • When buying snacks, go for single-serving prepackaged items and foods that are lower-calorie options. If you buy larger bags or boxes of snacks, divide the items into single-serve packages.
  • Make snacks count. Eating many high-calorie snacks throughout the day may lead to weight gain. Replace snacks like chips and soda with snacks such as low-fat or fat-free yogurt, smoothies, fruit, or whole-grain crackers.
  • When you do have a treat like chips or ice cream, measure out 1/2 cup of ice cream or 1 ounce of chips, as indicated by the Nutrition Facts, eat it slowly, and enjoy it!

It's often more difficult to eat a healthy meal when going out to eat. Research shows that the more often a person eats out, the more body fat he or she has. When possible try to prepare more meals at home that way you have control over what and how much you are eating. Eat out and get take-out less often. But when you do eat away from home, below are some tips for controlling portions:

  • Share your meal, order a half-portion, or order an appetizer as a main meal. Examples of healthier appetizers include tuna or chicken salad, minestrone soup, and tomato or corn salsas.
  • Take at least half of your meal home. Ask for a portion of your meal to be boxed up when it is served so you will not be tempted to eat more than you need.
  • Stop eating when you begin to feel full. Focus on enjoying the setting and your friends or family for the rest of the meal.
  • Avoid large beverages such as “supersize” sugar-sweetened soft drinks. They have a large number of calories. Instead, try drinking water with a slice of lemon. If you want to drink soda, choose a calorie-free beverage or a small sugar-sweetened soft drink.

The amount of calories you eat ultimately affects your weight and your overall health. In addition to selecting a healthy variety of foods, look at the size of the portions you eat. By choosing nutritious foods and keeping portion sizes sensible you will better be able to control and stay at a healthy weight.

organic food image If your idea of an organic meal consists of dry tofu and a handful of nuts, then think again. It is no longer a world of unconvincing fake meat and alfalfa sprouts. World-class beef, produce, dairy products, even chocolate and coffee are organically made. Shopping and eating organic is not only good for you, it's good for the planet. Below is a crash course on organic and natural foods that may have you eating better before you can say “environmentally-friendly free-range chicken”.

If you haven't noticed the increased quantity and variety of organic foods and organic food stores then it's a safe bet that you need to get out more. This trend may have you wondering if organic foods are healthier or safer. Are they worth the extra money and how do they taste? And what does “free-range”, “grass-fed”, and “fair-trade” even mean?

To meet the organic standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture an organic food is one that is grown without pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients, herbicides, antibiotics, bioengineering, hormones, or ionizing radiation. Organic animal products come from animals that are fed 100% organic feed products, receive no antibiotics or growth hormones and have access to the outdoors. In addition, for a product to be labeled organic, it requires inspection and approval from a government-approved certifier to ensure that the farmer followed all the rules necessary to meet the USDA's standards. The certifier also ensures that the farmers use renewable resources that conserve the soil and water. Any company that handles the food in between must be certified organic as well.

According to kidshealth.org in order for foods to be labeled “organic” they can be:

100% organic: They're completely organic or made of all organic ingredients. Organic: They're at least 95% organic. Made with organic ingredients: The food contains at least 70% organic ingredients but can't have the organic seal on its package

In contrast, natural foods are minimally processed but don't have to adhere to the same meticulous standards that organic foods do. Natural foods normally have no artificial ingredients or preservatives and the meat and poultry is also minimally processed and free of artificial ingredients.

The USDA does not officially claim that organic foods are safer or more nutritious than those that are not considered organic. According to WebMD a large scale study conducted by the Consumers Union found that organically grown crops consistently had about one-third as many pesticide residues as conventionally grown crops. Organic foods are also far less likely to contain residues of more than one pesticide. However, experts agree that the best way to safeguard yourself from harmful pesticides is by thoroughly rinsing all fruits and vegetables regardless of if they are organic or not.

Besides lack of harmful pesticides there is another nutritional certainty of eating organic food and that is its freshness. If you want to get the most from your food, eat it while it's fresh. Nutrients such a vitamin C oxidize over time so the longer your food sits in the refrigerator or the longer it takes to ship to you, the less nutritional benefit it has. Organic farms tend to be smaller operations and sell their products closer to the point of harvest which results in fresher and more flavorable foods.

Regardless of proven nutritional value or health benefits more and more people are becoming fans of organic foods and are buying more and more of it. Sales have risen more than 20% every year in the past decade and the Food Marketing Institute says that more than half of Americans buy organic food at least once a month.

It's easy to find a well-rounded selection of organic products. Grocery stores offer organic produce, juices, cereals, baby food, dairy products, and more. In addition, many stores are 100% organic or natural. Oftentimes these stores are more expensive than your run of the mill grocery but it's up to the individual to decide if it's worth the extra money to ensure organic and natural food.

 

iStock_000004077754XSmallMost adults start off their mornings with a big steamy cup of caffeine- oh I mean coffee- just to get moving. We wouldn't even think about passing that same steamy cup of coffee to our kids but often times we pass around sodas and other sugary drinks without a moment's pause. So how exactly does caffeine affect our kids and how much is healthy?

The United States hasn't developed official guidelines to monitor caffeine intake for our kids but recommends that we keep our kids' caffeine consumption to a minimum. Canadian guidelines recommend that preschooler get no more than 45 milligrams of caffeine per day. 45 milligrams is equivalent to the caffeine found in an average 12 ounce can of soda or one 1.5 ounce chocolate bar.

Caffeine is officially referred to in the medical community as a drug due to its stimulating effects on the nervous system. Coffee is a stimulant that affects adults and kids similarly. At low levels it can make most people feel alert and more energetic. However, if too much caffeine is consumed by an adult or a child it can cause jitteriness and nervousness, an upset stomach, headaches, difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping, increased heart rate and increased blood pressure.

Below is a compilation from kidshealth.org of other reasons it's a good idea to limit your kid's caffeine consumption:

Kids who consume one or more 12-ounce (355-milliliter) sweetened soft drink per day are 60% more likely to be obese.

Not only do caffeinated beverages contain empty calories (calories that don't provide any nutrients), but kids who fill up on them don't get the vitamins and minerals they need from healthy sources, putting them at risk for nutritional deficiencies. In particular, kids who drink too much soda (which usually starts between the third and eighth grades) may miss getting the calcium they need from milk to build strong bones and teeth.

Drinking too many sweetened caffeinated drinks could lead to dental cavities (or caries) from the high sugar content and the erosion of tooth enamel from acidity. Not convinced that sodas can wreak that much havoc on kids' teeth? Consider this: One 12-ounce (355-milliliter) non-diet, carbonated soft drink contains the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar (49 milliliters) and 150 calories.

Caffeine is a diuretic that causes the body to eliminate water (through urinating), which may contribute to dehydration. Whether the amount of caffeine in beverages is enough to actually cause dehydration is not clear, however. It may depend on whether the person drinking the beverage is used to caffeine and how much caffeine was consumed that day. To be on the safe side, it's wise to avoid excessive caffeine consumption in hot weather, when kids need to replace water lost through perspiration.

Abruptly stopping caffeine may cause withdrawal symptoms (headaches, muscle aches, temporary depression, and irritability), especially for those who are used to consuming a lot.

Caffeine can aggravate heart problems or nervous disorders, and some kids may not be aware that they're at risk.

One thing that caffeine doesn't do is stunt growth. Although scientists once worried that caffeine could hinder growth, this isn't supported by research.

According to the U.S Food and Drug Administration kids can be exposed to caffeine in any of the following forms: coffee, tea, chocolate, coffee ice cream, frozen yogurt, pain relievers and other over-the-counter medicines. The best way to cut caffeine from your child's diet is to eliminate soda. Instead of serving your kids soda try to stick with water, milk, flavored seltzer or 100% fruit juice. It's alright to serve the occasional soda or tea, just try to make it non-caffeinated. It's OK to let your kids indulge in a piece of chocolate cake at birthday parties or a cup of tasty hot cocoa on a cold day- these treats don't pack enough of a caffeine punch to be harmful. As with everything, moderation is the key to keeping your kids' caffeine consumption under control.

 

HPV To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? That is the question. Following a period of much hype and speculation, in June 2006 The Food and Drug Administration approved Merck's human papillomavirus or HPV vaccine, otherwise known as Gardisil for girls and women between the ages of 9 and 26. A myriad of health professional groups including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially recommended the vaccine which also helps prevent cervical cancer. However, despite all efforts statistics show that only two out of every 10 women in the approved age groups have gotten the vaccine and now a new debate is popping up around the country regarding whether school systems should require girls and young women to get the HPV vaccine.

But let's start at the beginning. HPV or human papillomavirus is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections on the planet- as many as 80 percent of women will be exposed to HPV at some point in time in their lives. According to Newsweek the virus usually causes no symptoms, is harmless and goes away on its own. However, certain varieties of HPV (there are about 100 altogether) are particularly aggressive. Two varieties- HPV 16 and 18- cause 70 percent of all cervical cancers. Caught early, the disease can be treated with surgery and chemotherapy. If untreated, it can be painful and fairly gruesome. Until the Pap smear was introduced in the 1940's, cervical cancer was the No. 1 cancer killer among women. Since then routine screenings have made enormous strides in radically decreasing the number of cases in the United States. But the disease is far from eradicated. It's still the second most common cancer in women and according to the 2003 World Cancer Report every year, half a million women are diagnosed with the cancer and close to 250,000 die from it.

The vaccination referred to as Gardasil, manufactured by Merck, protects against the two aggressive strains of HPV- strains 16 and 18- that lead to cervical cancer. In clinical trials involving about 21,000 women, the vaccine showed notable results- nearly 100 percent protection from HPV 16 and 18, which cause 70 percent of all cervical cancers. Gardisil also protects against 90 percent of genital warts in men and women which are caused by another HPV strain. It also appears to prevent lesions that could lead to vaginal and vulvar cancers.

To be most effective it must be administered to girls before they are sexually active and it's not beneficial for women that already have HPV. It's been approved for those as young as 9 years old. And it is now up to individual states to determine if immunization should be required in school. But many religious and conservative groups that advocate abstinence oppose mandatory HPV vaccinations. Other reasons that may explain the low number of people being immunized also include the high cost and inconvenience- it typically costs $360 for three shots taken over six months, a lack of awareness regarding HPV and cervical cancer, the low number of regular physician visits among the age group (females age 9-26), and parent's unease over immunizing their kids against a disease contracted through sexual activity.

It's essential that vaccinations among tweens increase so that they are immunized before they may be exposed to the virus. Currently, health officials are trying to target tweens with the concept of an "adolescent platform" of vaccinations that includes Gardasil. Preferably, preteens would get immunizations including the meningococcal conjugate vaccine (or MCV4), the tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis vaccine (or Tdap) and the HPV vaccine.

At this juncture it's still too early to tell if or when immunity may wane and whether women will need to get booster shots later in life. But according to Newsweek, levels of the antibody to HPV appear to stay high for at least five years. Even if another dose is needed later in life, health officials are confident that multiple doses of the HPV vaccine are safe. Dr. Amanda Dempsey of the University of Michigan explains, “It's not biologically possible to get HPV from the vaccine, which contains no live or killed virus and no virus like particles.” The most common side effect has been pain at the injection site.