Healthier From A to Z 

Our health is something we're better off taking care of by ourselves. And lucky for us, there's more than one way to do it. In fact, we've got 26! What matters is that you choose this moment to start fresh, feel better, and begin looking great.

A is for Anticipating Obstacles.

Anticipate obstacles and plan what you'll do if you hit them. If you're nervous about walking alone at night, plan your workouts for lunchtime, research well-lit streets and trails, or set up a post-dinner walking date with a friend.

B is for Banning TV.

Turning off the television could make a big difference to your health. Studies show that the more TV we watch, the more likely we are to be obese and have type 2 diabetes. Plus, tube-time is linked with an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease.

C is for Community-Supported Agriculture.

Go straight to the farm with community-supported agriculture (aka CSA or organic farm share), a group of people who buy shares in a particular farm in exchange for regular boxes of fresh, locally grown food.

D is for Dried Plums.

You probably know them as prunes, but dried plums are worth another look. Their main benefit? Fiber. One serving (four to five) provides about three grams, bringing you one-fifth of what the average American consumes daily.

E is for Exercise.

Besides the benefits to your weight, lungs, muscles, and heart, regular exercise may help asthma and allergy-sufferers control symptoms. And it can cut your risk of developing age-related macular degeneration.

F is for Folate.

Take folic acid. Studies link folate-deficiency to depression and a higher intake to decreased risk of Alzheimer's disease. Food sources include bananas, oranges, leafy green vegetables, asparagus, broccoli, beans, and peas.

G is for Gum.

Need to make a quick decision or recall an acquaintance's name? Chewing for just three minutes can boost your brainpower, a British study found. Having major abdominal surgery? Chewing gum three times daily may have you home more than two days sooner.

H is for Honey.

Honey is one of nature's ancient super-foods, providing naturally occurring polyphenols which function as antioxidants. It also acts as a natural topical antiseptic, improving healing time when applied to skin wounds like cuts, abrasions, boils, and burns.

I is for Investing in Fitness.

Pick up a good pair of running or walking shoes, some light dumbbells, and make sure you have active wear that you aren't embarrassed to be seen in. Splurge on a gym membership or a few sessions with a personal trainer. A good one can show you how to get started and give you a reason to get out and get active.

J is for Juice.

Grapefruit juice may help prevent bone loss, apple juice may ward off heart disease and cancer, orange juice may defend against kidney stones, pomegranate juice can improve the health of diabetes patients. Fruit and vegetable juices in general may help protect against Alzheimer's.

K is for Kicking Bad Habits.

Think of the benefits of shedding your habits. If your habit is smoking, you'll be less prone to lung and pre-menopausal breast cancer and less likely to inflict the same risk on those around you. If your habit is over-eating, you'll reach a healthier weight. Focus on realizing you have the power to create positive change in your life.

L is for Laughter.

Not only does laughter help dull pain and strengthen your immune system, 15 minutes of chuckles per day can do wonders for the health of your heart, allowing your blood vessels to expand and contract more efficiently.

M is for Massage.

Massage is great for helping induce sleep and reducing stress. And you can do it on yourself! To cure a headache, sit quietly and massage your temples, finding the points of pressure along your head and the back of your neck. If your back aches from long hours at the computer, locate the sore muscle and press on it for a few minutes, breathing into the pain.

N is for Napping.

Logging extra sleep time lessens stress, boosts your mood, and keeps you alert and active throughout the rest of your day. The best time to nap is between 1 and 3 p.m., and as long as you don't snooze past the three-hour mark, napping won't interfere with nighttime sleep.

O is for Omega-3s.

Omega-3 fatty acids (aka fish oil) are huge news in health right now. Studies link higher dietary levels with a reduced risk of depression, back and neck pain, inflammation, certain cancers, asthma and cognitive decline, improved mood, and bone and heart health.

P is for Pine Bark Extract.

Pine bark extract, also known as Pycnogenol, may be able to reduce endometriosis symptoms like pelvic pain and painful periods without dangerous side effects, a recent study from Japanese researchers found. The same team of researchers found that women who took pine bark extract experienced significant relief from cramps and back pain during periods and during the third trimester of pregnancy.

Q is for Quercetin.

Quercetin, a powerful antioxidant found primarily in apples, berries, and onions, may protect against everything from heart disease and cataracts to cancer and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, research studies report.

R is for Red Wine.

Besides being good for your heart, red wine may also fight gum disease. Another study found that adults who drank about half a glass of wine daily outlived teetotalers by an average of four years.

S is for Strawberries.

A cup of sliced strawberries provides three grams of fiber and 140 percent of the daily requirements for vitamin C. And a recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found the fruit contained the third highest antioxidant level of more than 1,000 foods tested.

T is for Tea.

Black tea helps lower feelings of stress, while green tea may reduce your risk of developing heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, and cancer. And drinking green tea daily may help reduce oral bacteria and prevent tooth decay.

U is for Understanding that Improvement Takes Time.

All-or-nothing statements like "I'll never eat chocolate again" only set you up for failure. If you mess up (which you most likely will) a psychological effect called the "abstinence violation effect" kicks in, wherein you punish yourself for your mistake by doing it even more. Instead of vowing to abstain from chocolate forever, say "Today, I'm choosing not to eat chocolate."

V is for Veggies.

We shouldn't have to tell you why you need them. Just find a way to make sure these super-foods, in whatever form, get on your plate at least twice a day.

W is for Water.

It's important to stay well-hydrated, but water is good for more than just drinking! Swimming is gentle on your joints and a great full-body workout. It tones, strengthens, and lengthens your muscles, burns fat and calories, and keeps your lungs and heart in powerful working condition.

X is for X-Rated Evenings/XOXO.

Sex is the ultimate mood enhancer. The more you have it, the more feel-good hormones your brain rewards you with. It also increases your heart rate, burning calories in a way no treadmill ever can. A study in biological psychology found that partners who had intercourse up to two weeks before a stressful event felt less anxious and had a better blood-pressure response than couples who'd either abstained or engaged in other forms of sexual activity. The effects last for at least a week.

Y is for Yogurt.

Yogurt helps cleanse the intestines and replenish friendly bacteria in the gastro-intestinal tract. Plus, it's chock-full of calcium. Essential for preventing osteoporosis, calcium may also facilitate weight loss, particularly in the unhealthiest place we tend to carry fat — on our bellies. Choose yogurt with "live" or "active cultures" for the best of health-enhancing probiotics.

Z is for Zinc.

It only takes a moderate zinc deficiency to adversely affect your immune system, so load up on zinc-rich foods such as oysters, red meat, poultry, fortified breakfast cereal, whole-grains, dry beans, and nuts. Your body may need the extra mineral to heal colds, acne, and canker sores. Be extra careful if you're a vegetarian. You may need as much as 50 percent more zinc than nonvegetarians.

Jenny Stamos writes about health, nutrition, psychology, work, money, and love for magazines such as Self, Shape, Glamour, Women's Health, Prevention, and Woman's Day.

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