Mind Games: The Fun Way to Keep Your Brain Healthy

Mind Games: The Fun Way to Keep Your Brain Healthy

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness month

Lost your keys? Walked into a room and forgot why you were there? Forgot all about an important appointment or deadline? It happens. And the older you get, the more likely you are to experience age-related memory loss.

Some memory loss is a normal part of the aging process. But what if you could do something to keep your brain healthy longer, remember more, and ward off Alzheimer’s disease and dementia?

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness month

Mark it on your calendar and celebrate by having a little fun.

A recent study published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry found that playing word and number games keep your brain sharp as you age.

Researchers looked at the brain health about 19,000 people over age 50 and compared it with the amount of time they play word games or solve puzzles.

They found that people who play word games like crossword puzzles and Scrabble have brains 10 years younger and healthier than those who don’t. And if you like games of reasoning and strategy, your brain may be eight years younger.

Play games to keep your brain healthy

Playing chessWant to keep your brain healthy as you age? Or at least be able to find your keys the next time you lose them? Make it fun:

  • Play chess.
  • Solve a crossword.
  • Complete a Sudoku puzzle.
  • Or play another game of strategy or game with words.

When you keep your mind active by solving problems and puzzles, you’re also keeping connections in your brain healthy to support problem solving, reasoning and memory.

Exercise Rx: Take a Dose of This to Boost Happiness

Regular exercise improves mood, mental health

You’re in a funk. You’re feeling blue. You’re down and depressed. Everybody’s experienced those feelings at some point in time. But what happens if you’re always feeling that way?

About 35 million (1 in 6) adults who feel this way, take antidepressant medications to improve mood, feel happier, and boost productivity. But it’s no secret that medications have side effects.

Just listen to a TV commercial for prescription medicine or read the fine print for a magazine ad.

Is there an alternative to medication to treat depression and mental health problems? New research suggests there is. And it’s free. The prescription…Exercise.

In the study published in Global Advances in Health and Medicine, researchers helped about 100 patients diagnosed with depression and other mood disorders learn to exercise.

Participants followed a fitness instructor for 60 minutes and learned to exercise. The results: 95 percent of the participants reported lower levels of anger, anxiety and depression. They also reported higher self-esteem and overall mood.

Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day

ExcerciseWant to improve your mood and your health? Be more active. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30 to 60 minutes a day of moderate physical activity for most adults. It’s easy:

  • Go for a walk.
  • Ride a bike.
  • Play with your kids.
  • Hit the gym.
  • Pick an exercise activity you enjoy and make time for it.

For decades, doctors have prescribed medication to treat depression and mental health problems. But that may change, says lead researcher Dr. David Tomasi.

“The general attitude of medicine is that you treat the primary problem first, and exercise was never considered to be a life or death treatment option,” says Tomasi. “Now that we know it’s so effective, it can become as fundamental as pharmacological intervention.”

Feeling down? Lace up your walking shoes and head out the door. Exercise is medicine.

Adopt the No-Diet Habit to Lose Weight

Keep a food journal to lose weight, make healthier food choices

Looking for the next fad diet to shed a few pounds? Captivated by a late-night infomercial that promises crazy weight-loss results in record time? Or thinking about taking diet pills to tip the scale in the right direction? If you’re trying to lose weight, you’ve probably considered all of the above.

After all, about 70 percent of all adults in the U.S. are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes and other chronic health problems.

But fad dieting isn’t the answer. In fact, research shows that up to two-thirds of people who follow a fad diet lose weight, then gain it all back, plus a little extra.

Why? Most fad diets recommend eating habits and diet restrictions that just aren’t sustainable for the long term.

So what should  you do? Don’t diet. Do this instead…

Keep a food journal to lose weight

Food habitsIn a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers followed 1,700 overweight people for about 2.5 years. Everyone in the study received information about healthy eating habits, and was encouraged to keep a detailed food journal. Here’s what happened:

Researchers found that people who kept a daily food journal for the entire study lost twice as much weight, and kept it off, as those who didn’t.

Why does it work? Keeping a food journal helps you be more mindful of your food choices. And it doesn’t have to be complicated. For example:

  • Keep a notebook with you and write down what you eat
  • Use a food tracking app on your smart phone like MyFitnessPal
  • Write down what you eat on a Post-It note and stick it up where you’ll see it
  • Send yourself an email about what you ate for the day
  • Text yourself a message or picture of your food

Want to lose weight? Keep track of what you eat. Over time, you’ll train your brain to eat healthier, make better food choices, and be more active. That’s how you lose weight and keep it off for good.

The Simple Way to Cut Your Risk for Colorectal Cancer

About  143,000 new cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed each year

It’s the third most common cancer for both men and women. About 143,000 cases are diagnosed each year. And an estimated 9 percent of all cancer deaths (598,038 annually), are caused by this type of cancer. When detected and treated early, most people survive colorectal cancer, but it’s largely preventable.

Are you at risk for colon or rectal cancer? If your diet looks anything like the typical American diet (burgers, fries, soda, fried foods, pizza, processed meals, candy and desserts), you are.

In a recent study published in the journal JNCI Cancer Spectrum, researchers found that nearly 40 percent of all colorectal cancer cases are linked to poor eating habits.

Improve your diet to prevent colorectal cancer

If you want to lower your risk for colorectal cancer, here’s what your diet should look like and what you should avoid:

Eating habits

Eat this

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fish, lean meats, or poultry
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Legumes
  • Plenty of water

Not that

  • Processed meats such as canned meats, deli cold-cuts, hot dogs, etc.
  • Red meats
  • Sugary snacks
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages

Eating a healthy diet is one of the best ways to cut your risk for colorectal cancer. But it’s not the only way. You’ll also lower your risk for this type of cancer if you avoid or limit alcohol, don’t smoke or quit if you do, exercise at least 30 minutes a day, and maintain a healthy weight or lose weight if you need to.Get Your Zzzs to Protect Your Health
1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep

Have you ever laid in bed counting sheep hoping to drift off to sleep? Maybe you’ve made a habit of staying up late to hang out with friends, or watch TV, movies or play video games.

Then when your morning alarm clock sounds, you’re still tired, or your lack of sleep hits you later in the middle of the workday. Sound familiar?

If you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re not alone. An estimated 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And that’s a problem if you want to live a long and healthy life.

How much sleep do you need?

About 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night is best.

The trouble with lack of sleep

Lack of sleepYou might think getting by on 4 to 6 hours of sleep is fine. Maybe you drink an extra cup of coffee or gulp down an energy drink to stay away. That might keep you away for a few extra hours. But it won’t protect you from chronic diseases and other health problems. You need your Zzzs.

Research shows that lack of sleep raises the risk for:

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Depression and other mental health problems
  • Memory and learning problems
  • Work-related accidents
  • Driving-related accidents

Create a bedtime routine to sleep better

If you want to sleep better, feel better, and improve your health, create a bedtime routine and stick with it. Here are some things you can do:

Make an appointment. Go to bed at the same time every night. Put it on your schedule just like going to work, school, or an important appointment. Go to bed at the same time, even on weekends.

Control your environment. Turn off all electronics at least an hour before bed, including smart phones. Your room should be dark and cool. And you should have a comfortable bed, mattress, sheets and blankets.

Get to sleep…step by step. When you’re ready for bed, go through your routine step by step. For example: Change into your pajamas, brush your teeth, get into bed, and read for 15 minutes. Do the same thing every night. You’ll train your brain to recognize those steps mean it’s time to go to sleep.

Rethink your drink. Avoid or limit caffeine 6 to 8 hours before bedtime. Caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you awake. And avoid or limit alcohol before bed. It can make you feel drowsy at first, but you’re more likely to wake up later and have a hard time going back to sleep.

If you’re still having trouble getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, take a short nap during the day. Other factors that can impact sleep include eating big meals late at night, being overweight or obese, medications, and stress. If poor sleep is a chronic problem, see your doctor.

Grilling Season: The New Rules of Red Meat

Grilling Season: The New Rules of Red Meat

Avoid or limit red meat to prevent chronic disease

When Joey Chestnut steps on stage this month at Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island in New York, he’s going to be hungry…hungry for hot dogs. And in case you didn’t know, most hot dogs are made from highly-processed red meat.

What’s on your menu for the summer grilling season?

It’s probably not anything like Chestnut’s. He’ll eat 70 plus hot dogs in under 10 minutes to defend his title as the Major League Eating champion. But if you do plan to eat hot dogs, steak, or burgers this summer, it’s time to learn the new rules of red meat.

In a recent study published in the British Medical Journal, researchers found that eating even small amounts of red meat raises the risk for diabetes, heart disease (the leading cause of death in the United States), certain types of cancer, and early death.

Researchers found that eating just 3.5 servings more of red meat per week (common during grilling season), raised the risk for early death and other health problems by 10 to 13 percent. And that’s no way to celebrate summer.

Choose healthier grilling options

GrillingIf you’re a vegetarian, you don’t have to think about the health risks of eating red meat. But if meat is a grilling-season staple, what can you do to improve your diet?

Choose healthier grilling options like:

  • Chicken
  • Pork
  • Fish, or a
  • Veggie-burger

It’s a smart way to lower your risk for chronic disease. You’ll consume less calories, sodium, and saturated fat, too. And you can still enjoy firing up the grill this summer.

Want to improve your health and prevent disease? Use the FitMap tool to manage your health.

Lather Up to Protect Your Skin from the Sun

90% of all skin cancer caused by sun exposure

When ultra-runner Julie Nisbet (who lives in the U.K.) showed up to run a race, she thought a quick smear of sunscreen would be enough to prevent skin damage. But she was in the sun for a lot longer than just a couple of hours.

By the time she crossed the finish line, the backs of her legs were bright red and blistered. She felt the pain and fatigue of running 69 miles. But her sunburn was a lot worse. After she crossed the finish line, she headed for the hospital to get treated for severe sunburn.

Do you use sunscreen?

SunscreenYou should. About 90 percent of all skin cancers are caused by sun exposure. About 1 in 5 adults will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, but it’s largely preventable.

If you want to protect your skin from the sun, cover up, wear a hat, stay in the shade, and use sunscreen.

Here are a few things you need to know before you lather up:

Check the SPF sunscreen rating. Use a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) rating of 15 or higher. This will protect most people from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays for about 150 minutes.

Sunscreen with a higher SPF will last longer and provide greater protection from the sun. In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, researchers found that using sunscreen with an SPF rating of 100+  provided more protection than sunscreen with an SPF 50 rating.

Don’t forget to reapply. Sunscreen with an SPF rating of 15 or higher may protect your skin from the sun for a couple of hours. But if you’re going to be at the beach, at the lake, or working in the yard all day, for example, you’ll need to reapply sunscreen. You’ll also want to reapply after swimming outdoors or heavy sweating.

Get a skin check-up. At least once a year, make an appointment to see your dermatologist. Most skin cancer is highly treatable when detected early. But left unchecked, it can be deadly. An estimated 7,000 people a year die from melanoma, the most common form of skin cancer linked to sun exposure.

Got an appointment with your dermatologist? Use FitDoc to keep track of your condition, diagnosis, treatment plan, and billing.

Drink Up: 6 Reasons You Need a Hydration Habit

Drinking waterDrinking water helps prevent disease, manage weight, improve health

Drink plenty of water. You’ve heard the advice before. But do you actually follow it?

In a recent study published in Preventing Chronic Disease, researchers looked at the hydration habits of about 3,400 adults. Here’s what they found:

  • 7% of adults don’t drink water
  • 36% of adults drink 1 to 3 cups of water per day
  • 35% of adults drink 4 to 7 cups of water per day
  • 22% of adults drink 8 cups of water or more per day

How much water should you drink?

It depends on factors like your bodyweight, activity level, and climate you live in (more if you live in a hot climate). But on average more than 4 cups per day is best, 8 cups is better.

Based on the study, an estimated 43 percent of adults are chronically dehydrated, and that’s a problem.

Are you drinking enough water? Think about it. Here are 6 reasons you need a hydration habit.

  1. Fight fatigue. It’s mid-afternoon and you’re feeling sluggish, or you’re trying to fit in some exercise but you’re not feeling it. Maybe you didn’t sleep well the night before. But maybe that’s not it. Research shows fatigue is a common symptom of dehydration.
  2. Quench your thirst. But don’t wait until you’re thirsty. Thirst is one of your body’s first warning signs for dehydration. And if you don’t do anything about it, dehydration can take a bigger toll on your body than dry mouth.
  3. Give your brain a boost. Did you know your brain is about 70 percent water? Your brain needs water to do its job. If you’re dehydrated, you’re more likely to experience memory and thinking problems and be anxious or irritable. Drink up to give your brain a boost.
  4. Keep your metabolism humming. Looking for a way to control hunger, feel fuller longer, and keep your metabolism humming along? Drink plenty of water. Research shows drinking water can help speed metabolism to help with weight management.
  5. Avoid kidney stones. Ask anyone who’s experienced the pain of kidney stones, and they’ll tell you it can be excruciating…and expensive if it requires hospitalization or surgery. But it’s largely preventable by drinking plenty of water. Research shows that about 20 percent of all kidney stone cases are linked to dehydration.
  6. Prevent disease. Here’s a low-cost way to protect your health. Drink plenty of water. In a study published in the journal Nutrition Reviews, researchers found that good hydration can help prevent constipation, exercise-induced asthma, high blood sugar levels, urinary tract infections, poor circulation, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Go have a drink of water. Then…Check out the Health Education Library for more about the health benefits of hydration.

Go the Distance: Be More Active to Improve Your Health

CyclingAim for 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day

Hop on a bike. Pedal for 23 days. Ride more than 2,000 miles up and down steep mountains. Burn a ton of calories and strengthen your heart, lungs, and muscles. That’s what happens at Tour de France, the most storied bike race in the world, which begins this month.

Maybe you’re not going to be in the peloton chasing elite cyclists through the countryside. But now is always a good time to be more active.

Take 10,000 steps a day. Be active for 30 to 60 minutes a day. Pick an activity you enjoy and make it a regular habit. Here are some easy and fun ways to be more active:

  • Ride a bike.
  • Go for a walk, jog, or run.
  • Work in the yard.
  • Lift weights.
  • Take a fitness class.
  • Always take the stairs.

Are you active or getting enough exercise? Here’s what the American College of Sports Medicine recommends:

  • Cardio counts. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. Pick any activity that elevates your heart rate. If you’re short on time, exercise in 10-minute sessions to reach your goal.
  • Be strong. Strengthen your bones and muscles with bodyweight exercises or weight lifting two or three days a week. Train all the major muscles groups: Legs, back, shoulders, arms, chest, core. 2 to 4 sets per exercise, 8 to 20 reps.
  • Stretch and balance. Take time to stretch two or three days a week. You’ll improve flexibility and range of motion, which will help prevent injuries. Hold a stretch for 10 to 30 seconds. Release, and repeat 2 to 4 times. Include balance exercises to improve the body-brain connection, too.

Need a fitness challenge to help you be more active? Pick a FitChallenge to focus on and get to work.

Improve Your Mood with More Time Outdoors

Study: 5 to 15 minute in nature can increase happiness

Ever have one of those days? You know…down in the dumps, feeling sad, negative, or unhappy?

Good moodIt happens to most people from time to time. And while some mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and mood disorders should be treated by a doctor, there’s a simple way to improve your mood when you’re feeling down…spend a little time outdoors.

It doesn’t have to be much. In a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology¸ just 5 to 15 minutes in nature is enough to improve your mood and help you feel happier. It’s easy. For example, you could:

  • Go for a walk outside.
  • Visit a park near your work or neighborhood.
  • Ride your bike to work.
  • Hike a trail.
  • Pick outdoor dining instead of indoor dining.

How’s your mental and physical health? Check in with your Health Coach to learn more about making healthy lifestyle choices.

The ‘Star Wars’ Strategy to Prevent Chronic Disease

Positive family relationships linked to better health

When Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opened in theaters recently, fans already knew Luke Skywalker’s legacy and the Force was bound to continue. But it might not have turned out that way.

Something happened that helped Skywalker achieve Jedi status years earlier. His father, Darth Vader, mended their relationship when he said: “I am your father…Search your feelings. You know it to be true.”

How are your family relationships with a parent, grandparent, sibling, or child? Research shows that strained family relationships can have a negative impact on your health. The relationship with a spouse or partner matters, too. Not getting along may increase the risk for chronic disease, stroke, headaches, stomach problems, and even early death.

Family bondTips to Strengthen Family Bonds
If there’s a strained relationship in your family, the holidays can be a good time to make a change. Pick up the phone. Send a text, e-mail, card or letter. Plan a get-together. You’ll feel better and be healthier. Here are some things you can do to improve family relationships.

  • Keep promises. If you say you’re going to do something, make it happen. When people know they can count on you, you’ll build stronger bonds. If you don’t think you can keep a promise, say so. Just be honest.
  • Apologize. Stuff happens. People make mistakes. You can’t make it to your kid’s soccer game. You miss a family event. If you really want to build stronger bonds with others, let people know you’re sorry when you’ve done something wrong or made a mistake.
  • Pay attention when someone is talking. Be an active listener. Ask questions. Restate to make sure you know what the other person said.
  • Be supportive. When someone you care about is facing a challenge, step in and help out when you can. Encourage them. Let them know you care.

Tip: Take five minutes to write a thank-you note or send an email to your boss or co-worker.

Deck the Halls with Avocados to Lower Cholesterol

An avocado a day helps lower bad cholesterol levels

AvocadoSetting out a Christmas Eve snack for Santa? It’s no wonder the Jolly Old Elf is obese. There isn’t enough holiday magic to turn a plate of cookies and glass of whole milk into health foods.

In fact, dairy products, animal fats, and foods made with butter and cream are high in saturated fat. Too much of them raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Over time, this can block blood vessels and limit blood flow to the heart and brain. Bad cholesterol raises the risk for a heart attack or stroke.

What’s a heart healthy holiday snack? It’s good. It’s green. And it contains healthy fats that help lower bad cholesterol. The answer: Deck the halls and your plate with avocados.

A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition showed just how healthy avocados can be. Eating one a day for five weeks helped obese people lower bad cholesterol. In the United States, about 72 percent of adults are overweight or obese. Healthy fats and antioxidants in avocados can also help:

  • Prevent plaque build-up on artery walls
  • Reduce the risk for heart attack or stroke
  • Lower the risk for certain types of cancer
  • Improve blood pressure
  • Lower triglycerides
  • Support brain function
  • Control hunger and aid in weight management

Spread avocado on whole-grain toast. Try veggie dip made with avocado. Add avocado to a salad or sandwich. And leave a healthy snack for Santa: carrot sticks and guacamole. His reindeer will thank you.

Tip: Keep track of calories and what you eat with a food diary or mobile app.

It’s a Wonderful Workout: 5 Smart Ways to Be More Active

Improve your life with 30 minutes of exercise a day

George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) thought his life was anything but wonderful. But by the end of the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life, he had a plan. He said: “I know what I’m gonna do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next year, and the year after that.”

Morning walkHere’s one way to improve your life: Be active at least 30 minutes a day. Exercise does more than help you get in shape or lose a few pounds. It can also improve your mood, something Bailey needed.

‘Now’ is Always the Best Time
You might be thinking about starting a new fitness routine after the holidays. But why wait? Here are the five most popular ways to stay active in the coming year, according to the American College of Sports Medicine:

  1. Go for a walk. It’s the easiest way to get started.
  2. Use a fitness tracking device, smart watch, or mobile app. Set a daily goal for steps, calories burned, heart rate, and more. Keep track. Try to improve a little each week.
  3. Do high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Raise your heart rate and burn more calories with short workouts. Try jumping jacks, burpees, and curl-ups. Perform an exercise for 1 minute. Rest 30 seconds. Then move on to the next exercise. Repeat.
  4. Workout with a group. You’re more likely to exercise when you know others are counting on you. Take a group fitness class at the gym. Joint a walking club. Or find a workout partner.
  5. Build strength. It’s not just for bodybuilders and athletes. Strength training builds muscle and makes your bones strong. You can lift weights or do exercises that use your body weight, like push-ups and squats.

Want to live a wonderful life? Make exercise part of your daily routine.

Tip: Set a daily goal for steps or minutes of physical activity, and keep track with your wearable device or mobile app.