9 Surprising Health Benefits of Exercise

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Yesterday, on New Year’s Day, millions of Americans resolved to begin exercising and lose weight in 2013. While exercise helps you burn calories and lose weight, it also has numerous other health benefits that will help you have a truly healthier, happier 2013.

Here are 9 surprising health benefits of exercise:

1. Sleep better. Regular exercise helps you sleep better, provided it’s not done within 2 to 3 hours of your bedtime. Exercise can also reduce and sometimes eliminate sleep apnea, a frustrating and potentially health-threatening sleep disorder that causes disruptions in breathing.

2. Reduce your risk for skin cancer. Studies show that regular exercise lowers your risk for skin cancer, including life-threatening melanoma.

3. Be happy. If you’ve heard of “runner’s high,” then you know that exercise makes people happy. That’s because exercise boosts mood-enhancing or feel-good endorphins.

4. Reduce heartburn. Studies show that regular exercise, especially less stressful aerobic types like swimming and walking, reduce the severity of acid reflux or heartburn. And reducing heartburn can also help you sleep better.

5. Improve your acne. Because regular exercise helps regulate blood sugar, it helps reduce inflammation which can improve acne. It also reduces the stress hormone, cortisol, which is an acne trigger.

6. Have more energy. Many studies show that exercise, even just a few times a week, boosts energy. And morning exercisers reap the biggest benefit. If you need some help learning how to exercise in the morning, check out this post on 5 Tips for Starting a Morning Exercise Routine.

7. Improve chronic pain. Losing weight is critical to improving chronic pain since the  more weight you carry, the more pressure and pain to your joints and bones you’ll experience. Exercise also reduces pain because it reduces inflammation.

8. Reduce your risk for Alzheimer’sA 2012 study from Rush University Medical Center showed that daily exercise significantly reduced your risk for Alzheimer’s, even if —get this— you start exercising after the age of 80.

9. Reduce your risk for psoriasisA 2012 study from Harvard Medical School showed that vigorous aerobic exercise and calisthenics are associated with a reduced risk of psoriasis, a chronic inflammatory skin condition.

While this isn’t a direct health benefit, regular exercise saves you money by reducing the  the number of medications and doctor’s visits you’ll need. And who wouldn’t like that?

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Am I Sleep Deprived?

Sleeping Beauty

I never understood sleep deprivation until I experienced medical residency and worked 24 or 36 hours straight. I’d come home, sit down at my kitchen table to eat and fall asleep with the fork in my hand. I’m not kidding.

When you’re sleep-deprived, your body works overtime to get you to stop what you’re doing and sleep. That’s because sleep is critical to our physical and emotional health. Lack of sleep can lead to weight gain, headaches, irritability, and confusion and put you at increased risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.

You won’t become sleep deprived from missing a couple of hours of sleep for one or two nights. You can become sleep deprived if you’re repeatedly cheating yourself out of sleep, pulling all-nighters, or going to bed too late.

If you think you “catch up” by sleeping for 14 hours on your next day off, you can’t. The only way to recover from sleep deprivation is to add 1 to 2 hours of sleep every night. Sleep deprivation happens over time and so does recovering it.

Below are somes classic symptoms of sleep deprivation. If you are experiencing several of these symptoms or have questions or concerns, then you should schedule an appointment with your doctor.

1. Falling asleep instantly, including standing up. (Leave that to horses.)

2. Extreme irritation and mood swings.

3. Problems with mental focus and memory.

4. Frequent infections/illnesses.

5. Difficulty socializing.

6. Experiencing hallucinations.

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4 Back-to-School Habits For a Healthy Family

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Millions of kids across the country will be starting school this week and learning new routines. It’s not a bad idea for moms and dads too. (Starting new routines, not retaking 6th grade).

Even if they don’t need help with fractions, your kids could you use some help from Mom and Dad. Kids who see parents engaged in healthy behaviors are more likely to follow their lead. With that in mind, here are few tips to help make back-to-school time a little easier and healthier for the whole family.

1. Sleep TIme: Establish a light outs time when everyone needs to be in bed. Kids need anywhere from 8 to 11 hours of sleep per night, depending on their age, activity level, and personal needs. Parents could benefit from more sleep too. So set your alarm at night to tell you when to go to bed to ensure you get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep. And don’t hit the snooze button when it goes off.

2. Eat Meals Together: Studies show that children who eat meals with their families are less likely to have behavioral problems, more likely to do well in school, and more likely to have a healthier diet. It doesn’t have to be dinner. Any meal counts, including breakfast.

3. Digital & Device-Free Time: Set a time, maybe 30 or 60 minutes a day, when everyone in the family has to be digital and device-free — no texting, emailing, tweeting, or pinning.

4. Move Together: We all know exercise is good for us. It’s especially important for kids. According to Let’s Move.gov, 8 to 18 year-olds spend an average of 7.5 hours a day using digital devices such as computers and cell phones, while only 1/3 of high school students get the recommended level of physical activity. Set times when the family will do something fun and active together: it could be Sunday morning bike rides, Friday afternoon swims, or nightly dancing to Wii. My 10-year-old niece highly recommends Just Dance 3 with Katy Perry.

What are your healthy family habits? Please share them with us below.

Photo credit: FCC, USDAgov

8 Reasons to Get More Sleep

Babies are much smarter than adults. They understand the importance of sleep.

In case you need a reminder, here are 8 reasons to get more sleep:

1. Anti-Inflammatory: Sleep reduces inflammation which means it can help with inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, and acne.

2. Pain Blocker: Studies have shown that lack of sleep lowers our pain threshold, while increased sleep can lower actual pain. Aim for 8-9 hours a night, especially if you’re in chronic pain.

3. Fend Off Cravings: Sleep helps regulate leptin, an appetite-regulating hormone, which means more sleep leads to less hunger and fewer cravings.

4. Increased Willpower: When you’re tired, you’re more likely to eat poorly, drink more alcohol, skip exercise, and make other unhealthy choices. Sleep better and you’ll feel less tempted.

5. Increased Weight Loss: #3 + #4 = #5.

6. Fewer Headaches: Lack of sleep is a known trigger for headaches, especially migraines. Aim for a regular sleep schedule, and try to take short 10-20 minute power naps when a headache hits. It can help take the edge off.

7. Beauty Sleep: Yes, there is such a thing as beauty sleep. Sleep helps repair your skin. Ever notice how flush and vibrant your skin looks after a restful sleep or nap? So splurge on some 800-count thread sheets. Doctor’s orders.

8. Better Sex: It’s well known that many people skip sex because they’re too tired. It’s not as well known that lack of sleep can increase cortisol levels which can lower testosterone and your libido.

Photo credit: FCC, tokyosucks