If you're not one of the 16 million Americans who have discovered that the corpse pose actually restores life and the sun salutation makes you cheery on a dark and stormy day, roll out a magic-carpet mat and give yoga a try.
We both do it regularly — it clears stress and keeps us strong (don't think those relaxing positions aren't also taxing).
Mounting medical evidence supports yoga's mind-body healing powers. For instance, if you've been in a perpetual slump, this new finding should cheer you up: After taking a yoga class, you'll have more GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in your brain. More what? Just think of it as more of nature's own anti-anxiety agent: a chemical that improves mood and decreases anxiety.
If you're unlucky enough to have painful fibromyalgia, a once-a-week yoga class can help you, too. Researchers have watched its gentle stretching and meditation help relieve fibro's pain, fatigue and depression and also improve memory, anxiety, balance and stiffness.
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Been wrestling with your weight? Yoga somehow helps you stop gaining. Overweight people ages 45 to 55 who had been doing yoga for four years or more gained 18.5 pounds less than a similar group who didn't practice. Yoga also keeps your joints young and flexible, making you as peppy as a puppy. How's that for a reason to ease into downward-facing dog?
A heart tonic in the produce aisle
Have you noticed the shift in colors at the produce aisle? Tawny-skinned cantaloupes have given way to dark-red pomegranates, which are at their peak now. Don't save these apple-shaped fruits for festive centerpieces. There's a substance (punicic acid) in their juicy seeds that is reputed to send triglycerides — dangerous fats in your blood vessels — packing.
True, even during a holiday blowout you're not likely to eat the seeds of 24 pomegranates twice a day, which is roughly what it would take to match the pomegranate oil supplements that produced these benefits in one new study. But the more you munch, the better, since they also are reported to help fight infection, cool inflammation, keep your skin firm and springy, and dive-bomb cancer cells. So once the centerpiece has done its job, crack open your pomegranates and sprinkle those glossy, ruby-colored seeds on salads, mix them into yogurt, and add them to quinoa or oatmeal.
Never peeled a pomegranate before? Here's how to release the sweet-tart seeds without getting red all over. Score the leathery outer peel, submerge the whole fruit in a bowl of water, and break it into pieces. The whitish pith will float to the surface, where you can easily skim it off. Pour the rest into a colander, and the seeds are ready to pop in your mouth. If any are left over (unlikely), refrigerate or freeze for later.
How medically scary are airport scanners?
Just when you thought air travel couldn't get more stressful, rumors spread that the new full-body scanners release cancerous amounts of radiation.
Exhale. While it's always smart to minimize radiation exposure, take the body scanners off your worry list. They emit far, far less radiation than you get flying high in a plane, where you're exposed to more cosmic rays from space. (Yes, really, cosmic rays!)
For example, if you fly round-trip from New York to Los Angeles, you're exposed to about 4,000 times the radiation in a single airport security scan. You'd have to go through 330 airport scans to absorb what you receive in one hour in the not-so-friendly skies. Put another way: One scan gives you about the same radiation that you get from your smoke detector in a year.
Compare that to medical X-rays, which throw off much bigger doses. A chest X-ray equals roughly 6,000 airport scans. Even a tiny dental X-ray equals about 50 airport scans.
It also helps to know that you get the equivalent of about four dental X-rays (200 airport scans) a day just from walking around. You get that much on average from natural sources (like radon), gizmos with electronic screens (TVs, computers, etc.), cosmic rays, even smoke detectors. The amount you absorb from airport scans is negligible by comparison, even if you fly as often as we do.
Keep energy high and belly slim
Do you get tired just thinking about the holidays? Does the prospect of visits with relatives and rounds of parties zap your strength before you've even made a list, let alone checked it twice?
Don't reach for the big Cs to snap you out of your sluggishness. You know: cookies, candy, carbs and caffeine concoctions. We've got better ways to pep you up and beat belly bulge.
Walk right past the TV and out the door. Walking is an amazing energizer. Even a 10-minute spin around the block will recharge you. Do that three times a day, and you won't just feel rejuvenated, you will be: 30 minutes of daily walking makes your RealAge 2.2 years younger.
Eat more often, not less. Skipping a meal won't save calories. You'll come through the holidays slim — metabolism high and energy humming — if you eat five to six mini-meals a day. Go for the goodies: lean proteins, fruits/veggies, 100 percent whole grains.
Breathe through your nose. Nasal breathing, big in meditation, releases stored nitric oxide, which opens up sluggish arteries and gets you and your blood moving like a Ferrari on a country road.
Pick up a weight. Just 10 minutes of strength training three times a week helps you shed inches and aging stress. It's also a speedy energy booster.
Five ways to get more good cholesterol
Like the adopt-a-highway folks who tidy up the nation's roads, a housekeeping crew in your bloodstream works 24/7 to keep your arteries squeaky-clean. On the crew: healthy HDL cholesterol, which goes after lousy LDL before it can morph into heart-threatening plaque.
1. Good HDL acts like a plastic bag; it wraps up bits of LDL and totes them to your liver for disposal. The more HDL, the merrier your arteries: Every 1-point rise reduces your odds of a fatal heart attack by 6 percent. A great HDL level is 50 mg/dl and higher. How can you get yours into this range? Eat healthy fats, as in walnuts, avocadoes, salmon, trout, and olive and canola oils. Adding monounsaturated fats to a healthy diet can raise your HDL by 12 percent.
2. Walk for 30 minutes a day, and raise HDL by 9 percent. Add 20 minutes of intense exercise three times a week, and you increase it further.
3. Lose a bit if you need to. You'll add 1 HDL point for every 6.6 pounds you drop.
4. Quit smoking. Besides its other payoffs, this will boost your HDL by 4 points. Even if you put on a few pounds, says a new study.
5. Ask your doc about taking niacin (vitamin B-3), or pantothenic acid (vitamin B-5). To deter hot flashes, a B-3 side effect, ask about taking two baby aspirins with a glass of warm water an hour beforehand.
6. Talk to your doc about other choices: a little alcohol, estrogen replacement if you're a woman, and a low-dose statin drug such as rosuvastatin twice a week.