It seems that millions enjoy dipping into steamy communal waters or baking in saunas. The benefits are as obvious as the beads of sweat rolling down your face: deep tissue relaxation and stress reduction. What’s not so obvious are the potential risks. So here are some tips on how to make sure your next experience will be good and good for you.
• Hit the right temperature. Saunas are safest at 140 degrees; whirlpools/hot tubs at 100 degrees — but make sure you get out before you feel woozy. Higher temps or too-long stays can trigger everything from falling blood pressure to dehydration. Anyone with uncontrolled high blood pressure or heart disease should opt out entirely, as should pregnant women. Saunas can trigger fetal damage, and hot tubs with water above 102 degrees are equally hazardous, especially in the first trimester. (Hot tub thermostats can vary by up to four degrees.) And guys, if you’re trying to conceive, even five minutes in that kind of heat will knock out many swimmers.
• Stay alert. Heat plus alcohol or medications (not to mention recreational drugs) don’t mix. You could fall asleep or slip underwater. It happens.
• Keep it clean. In public facilities you typically can gauge purity by the clarity of the water (good filtration) and by asking about disinfectant and pH testing procedures. The good news: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention info shows that out of 5 million public/private pools and hot tubs, there were only 13 reported outbreaks of infectious diseases. So relax. Really. Relax.
Just D-3 it
From October to March, the sun isn’t strong enough north of Los Angeles and Atlanta to prod your body into making much vitamin D-3. That endangers your immune system, makes you vulnerable to depression and overeating, weakens your bones and increases your risk for certain cancers. And then there’s the newest D-3 alert: Lack of vitamin D-3 in older adults is associated with cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.
And while as far as we know there’s no chance lack of sunlight will turn you into an underground-dwelling, light-averse Morlock, those are pretty significant, but quite correctable, health risks.
What’s the solution? Even if you head to sunnier climes, or live there year-round, chances are you’re not outside enough to get the D-3 machine going (90 percent of your time is spent indoors). That’s why only a quarter to a third of Americans and Canadians have the recommended minimum blood levels of vitamin D-3. So, we suggest:
• Get a vitamin D-3 blood test: If your reading comes back below 50, you need a D-boost plan. (Over 100 may be too high and trigger its own set of problems.)
• Choose D-packed foods: Canned salmon dishes up 500 IU of D-3 in every 3-ounce serving. Other good sources: vitamin D-enriched low-fat milk and OJ (100 IU per glass). One study showed that women over 70 who get the most vitamin D from their food were a whopping 77 percent less likely to develop dementia.
• Take a supplement: D-3 is the form you want — 1,000 IU a day; 1,200 if you’re 60 plus.
Keep everyone healthy inside, out of empty nest
And although 13 percent of young adults now move back in with their folks, when kids first depart, having them out on their own presents challenges — and opportunities.
The challenges? Making sure they understand the importance of accepting responsibility for their own health. Almost a third of kids report binge drinking (nine or more drinks per day), which can lead to alcohol poisoning, addiction and risky sexual behavior. STDs are rampant on campuses; there are 18 million cases a year among kids 15 to 24. (Condoms and immunizations can avoid these.) College kids average six hours of sleep a night and often get much less. This can trigger poor grades, depression and car accidents. But with your advice and support, your child can become an independent adult, making smart life choices.
The opportunities? Instead of experiencing the empty nest syndrome, many parents use newfound alone time to improve their marriage and their health. Working out with a partner makes it easier to exercise regularly (we like walking 10,000 steps a day). Try cooking together, and eliminating the five food felons from your pantry (added sugars and sugar syrups, trans fats, most saturated fats and any grain that’s not 100 percent whole).
Can acupuncture east Parkinson’s symptoms?
More than a million North Americans have Parkinson’s, a neurological disease (it disrupts production of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which can affect movement, balance, thinking and emotions). It can take 20 years for the characteristic spasms and twitches to develop. The first signs — often ignored — include loss of sense of smell and jerky movements during deep sleep. The latest theory about the cause: a virus that enters the body through the nose or gut. Contaminated, illicit designer drugs also have been known to trigger the disorder.
While there is no cure as of now, some alternative therapies (used along with conventional medications) seem to ease symptoms. The latest news is that acupuncture, when used on a specific point (GB34) on the outside of the right leg below the knee, reactivates, at least temporarily, an area of the brain that is knocked offline by Parkinson’s. So far, we haven’t seen any negative side effects.
So, acupuncture may be worth a try; ask your doc if it’s a good adjunct to your treatment.
Dangers of digital bedmates
If you’re part of the 1 in 4 North Americans who’s hooked on a tablet-sized digital device such as an e-reader, and you bring it to bed, you’re likely to have trouble falling asleep. That’s because your device might be chasing away your melatonin — the so-called vampire hormone — a sleep-inducing secretion that comes out only in the dark at night.
Melatonin, a product of the pea-size pineal gland located in the center of your brain, is essential for a good night’s sleep and a healthy immune system. Unfortunately, two hours of exposure to a self-luminous electronic display (a back-lit screen) can reduce your body’s melatonin output by up to 22 percent. That’s a formula for midnight raids on the fridge, not to mention all the other health problems that chronic sleep deprivation can trigger: anxiety, depression, elevated inflammation and LDL cholesterol, and susceptibility to infection.
So here’s what we suggest to help you get a good night’s sleep.
• No electronic devices for two hours before bedtime.
• Make sure all nightlights are red: that wavelength doesn’t shut off melatonin.
• Regulate bedroom noise and light. If needed, try a white-noise machine (a fan can do the trick) and use light-blocking shades or curtains for complete darkness.
If the computer was causing your sleepless nights, that should do the trick. And if you still can’t sleep, avoid caffeine after lunchtime and don’t exercise or eat close to bedtime.