When it comes to heart health, the DASH and Mediterranean diets are synonymous with being good for your ticker. Both of these diets focus on consuming copious amounts of whole foods – fruits, vegetables, and whole grains chief among them – while reducing intake of foods that are high in sodium and saturated and trans fats. While it’s well-known that they can help improve cardiovascular function, new research has shown that combining certain components of the DASH and Mediterranean diets can improve brain function, too. The MIND diet (short for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay), developed by an epidemiologist at Rush University Medical Center, has been shown to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by between 35 and 53 percent.
The MIND diet is centered on ten “brain-healthy” food groups that appear in DASH and/or the Mediterranean diet: leafy green vegetables, other vegetables, berries, nuts, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and wine. The diet involves eating at least three servings of whole grains, a salad made with leafy greens, and one other vegetable each day. A daily glass of wine is encouraged, although not required. Snacking is also encouraged, with nuts being the snack of choice. Other recommendations include consuming beans every other day, poultry and berries at least two times a week, and fish at least once a week.
The MIND diet also includes five “unhealthy” food groups: red meat, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried and fast food. Like all good diets, the MIND diet does not advocate cutting these foods out completely; instead, it designates them as “sometimes” foods that should be consumed in small amounts (less than one tablespoon of butter a day; less than a serving each of cheese, fried food, and fast food a week; fewer than four servings a week of red meat; and fewer than five servings a week of pastries or sweets).
The MIND diet is fairly easy to follow, as it offers suggestions more than hard-and-fast rules. If you’d like to follow the MIND diet, all you need to do is follow the guidelines above for consuming a variety of foods from the ten brain-healthy food groups and a limited amount of foods from the unhealthy food groups. Eating a balanced diet that includes treats in moderation is an easy way to improve your eating habits, and quite possibly, your brain and heart health, too.
If you spend most of your workday sitting at a desk, staring at a computer, you may be putting your eyes at risk. Poor lighting and an improperly placed monitor, especially one that you’re looking at for a prolonged period of time, can lead to eyestrain and irritation; watery eyes and red, swollen eyelids; double vision; a decrease in the ability to focus your eyes and see clearly; headaches from straining to see clearly; and neck and back pains from hunching over to see small items. Chances are, you’ve probably experienced at least one of these issues at some point throughout your career, but you may not have been sure of what caused them – or of how much of an effect they were having on your productivity. Research has shown that even slight eyestrain can reduce workplace productivity by up to 20% – if you’d like to feel more focused and productive, here are some tips to avoid eyestrain and related problems:
- Brighten up the place by placing an extra light above your workstation or on your desk. If your workspace is naturally dim, this “task lighting” can help you see more clearly.
- Place your computer monitor at a 90-degree angle to any nearby windows and close window blinds to reduce glare from the sun.
- Keep the top of your computer monitor even with or slightly below eye level – the top task bar on your Internet browser or computer program should be parallel with your eyes.
- If you wear bifocals or reading glasses, adjust your monitor so that you don’t have to tilt your head back to see clearly, or look for progressive lenses with reading, mid-distance, and long-distance prescriptions.
Even if you’ve adjusted your workspace to reduce eye problems, it’s a good idea to follow the 20-20-20 Rule throughout the workday: Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break to look at something 20 feet away. Giving your eyes a break, even if it’s for a few seconds, should help make your workday more productive and less stressful – on your body and your mind.
Summer brings with it lots of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, and the benefits that come along with doing so. Being active outside can do wonders for your mental and physical health, and sunlight is a crucial component in helping your body produce Vitamin D. However, continuous sun exposure in the absence of sunscreen can put you at risk for developing skin cancer, especially melanoma, the deadliest form. While I’ve already discussed ways to protect your skin from the sun, it’s also important to note that skin cancer can still occur even after taking all the recommended precautions (although protecting yourself – early and often – greatly reduces your risk). For this reason, dermatologists recommend doing a monthly skin self-exam to check for new or suspicious moles which could be precursors to melanoma. It’s also a good idea to have your skin checked out by your primary care doctor or a dermatologist once a year. In the meantime, take a close look at the moles on your body and be on the lookout for any of the following characteristics:
Asymmetry: one half does not match the other.
Border: edges are irregular or blurred.
Color: variable in shades or colors.
Diameter: larger than a pencil eraser.
Evolving: has changed over time.
Funny-Looking: different than any other moles on your body.
The good news about skin cancer is that it’s highly curable if caught early enough, so if you notice any of the above signs of atypical moles, which have a greater chance of being, or turning into, melanoma, you should call your doctor immediately to rule out any abnormalities.
Back pain is extremely common – in fact, 8 out of 10 people will suffer from it at some point in their lives. If you’re part of this statistic, know that in many cases, back pain can be prevented, or at least reduced, by following a few easy, back-friendly practices at work and at home.
- Practice good posture while sitting by keeping your shoulders back and your spine straight. Every few hours, check your posture by placing a fist between the small of your back and the back of your chair. If it fits perfectly in between, you’re sitting up straight. If you have too little or too much extra room, then it’s time to readjust.
- If you sit down all day, elevate your feet on a low stool or stack of books. Once every hour, stand and stretch by putting your hands on your lower back and gently leaning backward, then forward.
- If you’re on your feet a lot, be sure to spread your weight evenly between both feet. Keep your ears, shoulders, and hips in a straight line. Your head should be up and your stomach pulled in.
- If your job involves heavy lifting, keep your back straight as you lift from the knees, tightening your stomach muscles and keeping your head down at the same time. Keep objects close to you and don’t twist your body while lifting.
- Since you probably spend most of your time at home in your bed, be kind to your back by purchasing a firm mattress that supports your body evenly; there should not be any gaps between your body and the bed. If you have a soft mattress, there’s no need to go out a buy a new one right away; you can make it firmer by putting a half-inch plywood board underneath it.
- In order to prevent bulges or indentations that can lead to back pain, rotate your mattress clockwise or turn it upside down every few months (check with your mattress manufacturer for specific recommendations).
- Choose a pillow that supports your head and neck. When lying down, you body should be fairly flat and straight.
- Incorporate regular exercise into your weekly routine. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a day, most days of the week. If you need to take a break from exercise, make sure to take it slowly once you get back into the swing of things.
If you’re currently suffering from back pain, try low-impact exercises like yoga, walking, swimming, and stationary bike riding. Make sure to warm up and cool down before and after every workout.
Prevention is a topic about which I feel very strongly – we all owe it to ourselves to be proactive about our health, since catching medical issues early, before they have a chance to turn into serious problems, can save us time and money and confer a host of intangible benefits in the long run. Prevention really begins with a yearly physical exam, and it’s important you make the most out of yours in order to help prevent return visits to your doctor’s office throughout the year.
It’s important to come prepared to your physical exam (and any other doctor’s appointment, for that matter). Before you head to your doctor’s office, especially if it’s your first time there, make sure you have a list of essential information in hand:
- Your family health history
- ALL medications and supplements you currently take (including over-the-counter medications, dietary supplements, vitamins and herbal remedies, in addition to your prescription medications)
- All of your allergies (food, environmental, medications)
- Any past medical treatments, surgeries, or hospitalizations
- Your previous immunizations
- Results of previous medical tests or diagnostic procedures
- Any symptoms you may be experiencing or health concerns you have
It helps to bring a notepad with you – you can jot down your essential information on it, as well as any questions you have beforehand or come up with during your visit. When it comes to questions, you should feel comfortable asking anything and everything that comes to mind, but at the very least, the National Patient Safety Foundation suggests you should be asking three key ones any time your doctor discusses tests, treatments, or any other next steps:
- What is my main problem?
- What do I need to do?
- Why is it important for me to do this?
While your doctor is answering these questions, and any others you might have, make sure you take detailed notes so you can ask follow-up questions and have a visual reminder of everything that was discussed during your visit. By coming prepared, asking questions, and taking notes, you’ll ensure that you make the most out of your physical exam, and each and every doctor’s visit.