Stealthy health

. November 7, 2012.
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Now is the time of year when many of us hope to re-commit to those resolutions made at the turn of the New Year — to be healthier: be active, eat well and stay positive. Yet in the chaos surrounding everyday life, it’s easy to let those health resolutions slip. Here are four simple ways you can sneak “healthy” into any busy school
year routine.

1. Go for a walk. Over the past few years, researchers have discovered that walking improves everything from your sex life to your insulin intake. Perhaps the most significant benefit is all in your head: Walking may help guard the brain from Alzheimer’s, the seventh leading cause of death, according to the Center for Disease Control.

“We found that walking five miles per week protects the brain structure, especially in areas of the brain’s key memory and learning centers,” says Cyrus Raji of the University of Pittsburgh. “We also found that regular walkers with Alzheimer’s had a slower decline in memory loss over five years.”

An after dinner walk through the neighborhood, anyone? Or, what about on the trails at County Farm Park (2230 Platt Rd.)? Including a variety of trails and an 18-station exercise trail, the park also boasts a children’s play area and nature areas (www.ewashtenaw.org).

2. Breathe deeply. Activities such as yoga, meditation and tai chi are for more than hippies and gurus. In fact, one study found that just a few minutes of deep breathing and stretching associated with yoga helped relieve chronic pain, anxiety and depression. 

“Check with your local YMCA,” suggests Ashtanga yoga instructor, Julie Ferrari, who once suffered from chronic back pain. “My body was a train wreck,” says the mother of one. After a few months of regular yoga practice, however, Ferrari saw improvement in her flexibility, strength, and peace of mind. “A year later, the pain is just gone,” she says. Don’t have a membership at the YMCA? Try Ypsi Studio (www.ypsistudio.com) or A2 Yoga and Nia Studio (www.a2yoga.net). 

Too shy for classes? You can also check out a book or DVD from your local library (www.aadl.org) for use in the wee hours before the kids are up and clamoring for your attention.

3. Wear (the right) sunblock. You need to pay as much attention to what you put on your body as what you put in it. While we all know the benefits of slathering on sunscreen each day, especially for children whose delicate skin is more sensitive to the sun, parents should pay close attention to the ingredients and to the SPF rating. A higher rating isn’t necessarily better. In fact, according to the product evaluation service Goodguide.com, most sunblocks rated above SPF 30 contained carcinogenic chemicals, yet they only
provided a fraction more protection. For example, SPF 30 blocks 97 percent of harmful UVA rays while SPF 60 stops only about 98 percent, yet the latter contains higher amounts of oxybenzone, a chemical that has recently raised health concerns about free radicals and allergies.
Exposing yourself, or your loved ones, to potential toxins isn’t worth the added one percent.

4. Smile more. You’ve heard the adage, “Fake it ‘til you feel it”? Well, there may be some medical benefit in this advice after all. According to Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, studies show that the mere act of smiling makes people happier, even when they smile mechanically. But it’s not all about feeling good. Smiling not only boosts your mood but can actually lead to overall improved health and longevity. In fact, in a recent issue of Psychological Science, researchers found a connection between
smile intensity in photographs and length of life. That is, those who smiled more intensely in the pictures were found to have lived an average of four years longer than those who didn’t smile.

Of course, smiling doesn’t guarantee a longer life, but it can indicate an underlying predisposition to being positive, which can mean a healthier, happier existence. And besides, what’s not to smile about? Soon enough, the weather will warm up and spring will bring with it, once again, a world of new possibilities.