Getting yourself and everyone in your family vaccinated against influenza does more than just protect you from the flu. It protects you from diseases made worse by inflammation and decreases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Plus, it protects others, too. If you get the flu, you may transmit it to someone who is at high risk for flu-related complications — and that includes anyone over 65 or someone with a respiratory condition (asthma, COPD) or diabetes. The majority of deaths caused by the flu (and resulting pneumonia) are among those 65 or older. And people with diabetes are more likely to get — and die from — the flu than people without the condition.
• The Basics: This year’s flu shot and nasal spray protects against three strains of the flu (but not swine flu, as it did last year): H1N1, H3N2 and B/Wisconsin. The inactivated (not a live virus) flu shot is for everyone 6 months and older. It comes in a “high dose” for people 65-plus. Only one brand, Afluria, should not be given to children 8 or younger. Children 9 or younger who’ve never had a flu shot will need two doses; everyone else needs one.
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• A live (but weakened) vaccine is available as a nasal spray for people 2 to 49 who are not pregnant and don’t have a chronic disease or condition.
• If you are concerned about the mercury-containing preservative in some flu shots, a thimerosal-free (mercury-free) influenza vaccine is available. Ask your doctor or pharmacist.
Watch what you eat — it’s all about color
Even though you’d like to eat at home most nights (it’s smart economics), figuring out how to get a tasty, nutritious plate on the table can be tough. So, if it seems like the only way you get really great food in your house is by turning on the Food Network, listen up. You can gain life-extending power from your food if you paint your plate with a rainbow of colors, especially green.
Fill at least a quarter of your plate with green vegetables, a quarter with a mix of colorful veggies or fruits, a quarter with 100 percent whole grains and one quarter with lean protein. An added bonus: When you’re paying attention to what’s on your plate, you automatically eat less and better.
• Go for greenies: They include everything from broccoli and lettuce to green peppers and artichokes. You’ll be dishing up great tasting anti-inflammation and anticancer nutrients.
• Red fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon, pink grapefruit and tomatoes (especially when cooked), contain lycopene, and that may reduce the risk of prostate cancers. Polyphenol and anthocyanins in strawberries, raspberries and red grapes quell inflammation and protect the heart and brain.
• Orange and yellow fruits and veggies contain carotenoids — precursors to vitamin A. They slash the risk of macular degeneration and heart problems.
• Blue/purple foods (blueberries, raisins, plums) are loaded with anthocyanins that protect the brain, the heart and every cell in the body.
When you eat by color, you’ll lower blood pressure and bad LDL cholesterol and shed excess pounds.
Kidney stone prevention
If you’re diagnosed with these painful pebbles, you’ll join the ranks of millions of other kidneystoners, including Billy Joel and William Shatner. (Overweight white males are most at risk.) Incidents have increased by 70 percent in the past 20 years, and doctors are now seeing this once middle-age complaint in ever-more children. Fortunately, you can do a lot to avoid the stones.
First, a short course: Kidney stones are hard clumps of crystals, usually made up of calcium and oxalic acid or phosphate. Sometimes they’re triggered by a urinary tract infection (then they’re called struvite stones), or by uric acid (which also causes gout). They can range in size from a grain of sand to a golf ball. Most can be excreted through your urine.
How can you prevent a kidney stone crisis?
• Drink up to 3 quarts of water a day. Beverages such as sports drinks, grapefruit or cranberry juice and even iced tea can make it worse.
• Reduce salt, which is loaded into fast and processed foods. Opt for fresh cooked foods, seasoned with herbs and spices.
• If you have calcium oxalate stones, eating low-fat dairy is good. Calcium binds to the oxalate, keeping it out of your urine.
• If you’re in the kidney stone zone, avoid high-oxalate, stone-promoting foods such as red meat, spinach, beets, wheat germ, chocolate and peanuts, and limit vitamin C supplements to 500 milligrams a day.
Music builds brain muscles
Music expresses complex emotions, impresses brain function and just plain makes us all happier and smarter — particularly if you have the chance to play an instrument when you’re young. (A well-kept secret: You don’t even have to have much talent.) Infants who play interactive music games with parents are easier to soothe and more expressive. And if you have just one to five years of music lessons as a kid and you never touch an instrument again, your adult brain will still sing arias. Throughout your life, you’ll be better at listening to others and at learning.
How does music do all that? It lights up many parts of the brain that groove to rhythm and melody, particularly centers that control emotions, motion and creativity. And that increases your visual and verbal — not just auditory — skills.
So let the kids beat on the pots and pans (well, OK, maybe draw a line there) and encourage piano lessons.
And if you didn’t have music lessons as a kid, don’t feel discouraged. Adults who take up an instrument gain great rewards: stress reduction, increased self-esteem and a defense against dementia.