Winterizing Your Workout
Winter is coming, and this means adjusting your outdoor workouts—not just your binge-watching schedule. Most of us know to bundle up by protecting the parts of the body that are most vulnerable to cold. “The main thing with winter is heat loss,” says Sameer Dixit, a sports medicine specialist at Johns Hopkins. Yet some winter activities—and a few new fads such as gear that makes our bodies colder—suggest colder is better. The truth is, the body doesn’t burn more calories when we exercise in cold weather. Being cold causes your body to burn more calories, but only when you’re physically shivering—which you shouldn’t be while in the middle of a run, Dixit says. Icy temps also invite a host of fitness challenges like the Polar Bear Plunge, but think twice before entering. “As a physician, it’s pretty hard to recommend someone go do this,” Dixit says. Ice-cold water can cause your heart rate to slow down or throw your body into shock.
Every Breath You Take
Making deep breathing a regular part of your day can lead to major health benefits, says Johns Hopkins psychologist Neda Gould. “Deep breathing reduces the activity of stress hormones and lowers heart rate and blood pressure. Mentally, it can help with anxiety as well as be an anchor to stabilize the mind and improve concentration.”
Taking mindful, deep belly breaths can be useful in both a stressful situation and as part of a regular daily practice, Gould says. Try “three-part breathing”: Place one hand on your belly, the other on your chest, and inhale through your nose. Feel your belly rise, your ribs expand, and finally your chest rise. Exhale slowly, releasing the breath from your chest, ribs, and belly, and continue for several minutes.
Heavy Metals in Your Vape?
E-cigs are often thought to be a safer way of lighting up, but according to new research there are high levels of toxic—potentially carcinogenic—metals in the liquid used to create the “smoke” you inhale when you vape. E-cigs use a coil to heat liquid that turns into an aerosol, or the “vapor.” After analyzing the liquids used in five leading brands, researchers found worrisome amounts of cadmium, chromium, lead, manganese, and nickel—which have been linked to serious health issues like cancer. The researchers suspect the coil used to heat the nicotine-rich liquid is the culprit. When the coil heats, the metals in question potentially leach into the liquid. “We do not know if these levels are dangerous, but their presence is troubling and could mean that the metals end up in the aerosol that e-cigarette users inhale,” says study leader Ana María Rule, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Is Adrenal Burnout Real?
If wellness gurus are to be believed, we’re in the midst of an epidemic: We’re overworked and it’s taxing our adrenal gland and the healthy level of hormones that regulate our body’s energy. But is “adrenal burnout” really a thing? Johns Hopkins endocrinologist Roberto Salvatori says it’s a myth, pure and simple. Adrenal insufficiency is a real and dangerous condition caused by a malfunction in the production of hormones, owing to disease in either the adrenal glands or the pituitary gland. Adrenal insufficiency can lead to extreme fatigue, weight loss, low blood pressure, and depression, but it’s rare (about one in 10,000 suffers from it). “This idea that having a stressful life is going to exhaust the adrenal system is totally bogus,” he says.
Diagnosing adrenal issues happens with a test that measures blood cortisol levels in the early morning or through more sophisticated hormonal testing. Treatment requires hormone therapy—not “adrenal” superfoods or pills, Salvatori says.
Heart and Mind
Poor vascular health in our 50s has been linked to dementia. A Johns Hopkins study found that middle-aged people who were obese, smoked, or had high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes were more likely to have amyloid plaque built up in their brains later in life—a factor in the development of Alzheimer’s. This connection between midlife health and dementia in later years needs more research, says Hopkins neurologist Rebecca F. Gottesman, the study’s lead author.
How to Pick a Healthy Milk Alternative
Milk used to be a straightforward item in the American diet: It came from a cow and it boosted strong bones. Fin. Now, due to an uptick in vegetarian diets, lactose intolerance, and a desire to move from animal-based sources of protein to plant-based options, there are myriad milk alternatives—from soy, to spelt, to sunflower. “The milk aisle is overwhelming,” says Christine McKinney, a Johns Hopkins nutritionist. “No wonder consumers are confused.”
It’s important to know that plant-based milks are not always a healthier alternative. “They’re not a substitute for eating the actual food product,” McKinney says. You won’t get the same nutritional benefit from a cup of almond milk as you would from actual almonds.
Whether you should switch to a nondairy alternative, and if you do, which plant-based milk you should pick, depends largely on your nutritional priorities. Here’s what to look for:
Prioritize protein. If protein is a concern, keep in mind that only three types of milk contain naturally occurring protein: dairy, soy, and pea milk.
Figure in the fat. Most nondairy milks are low in fat (thefats they do contain are considered healthy ones, according to McKinney) and cholesterol-free.
Check carbs. Grain-based milks, like rice or oat, tend to be high in carbs—up to 10 times the amount in almond milk.
Screen sugars. Many milks are sweetened and flavored, which means laden with added sugars. Go unsweetened.
View vitamin values. Dairy milk has added calcium and vitamin D, so look for plant-based options that are similarly fortified.
Interrogate the ingredients. Some added ingredients, like fortified vitamins, are OK. Others, like sugars or thickeners (think carrageenan or ingredients ending in “gum”), aren’t. “The longer the list, the more of a red flag it could be,” McKinney says. “Usually, the cleaner a product is, the fewer ingredients it has.”