Health & Fitness

To get test results, you may have to be a nag

Here's one you've probably heard: "We'll call with your test results if there's anything unusual." Don't count on it any more than you count on your cable guy showing up early. About 7 percent of docs surveyed either definitely didn't tell a patient about abnormal test results or said "maybe" they didn't — maybe because they couldn't tell from their own records.

If your doc uses a combo of electronic and paper records, be even more leery. MDs who used both were more likely not to call than docs who relied entirely on one system or the other. The upshot? You have to be a smart patient. Nag, if you have to:

* Don't wait to be called. Ask when your test results should be back. Call that day, and the next, and the next, if necessary. We bet it won't be necessary, save for a few results to tests like vitamin D-3 levels, which labs don't run daily.

* Get a copy of your test results. An e-mailed or snail-mailed copy lets you double-check what you heard on the phone. Afterward, don't use it to light a fire for toasting marshmallows. Start your own personal health history if you haven't already. Future docs will love you for it.

* Call again. If a staffer says your LDL cholesterol was high or your HDL was low (you want the reverse) or anything is off and you don't hear from the doctor, dial. It's time to talk about next steps.

Bump up DHA Omega-3

You know the feeling — the missing wallets, misplaced keys and forgotten song lyrics that can make life after 40 feel like a never-ending episode of "Lost." Now, research suggests that you may be able to squelch these memory slips by getting more of our favorite good fat: the omega-3 with this tongue-twister of a name: docosahexaenoic acid. That's why we call it DHA.

In a study of people over 55 with mild memory decline, those who got 900 milligrams of DHA — the powerful omega-3 that wild salmon is famous for — every day for six months saw their brains become three years younger. The volunteers who took DHA did much better on memory and learning tests than a group who got fake pills (their brains just kept on aging).

Based on this study, we now recommend 900 mg of DHA daily. You can get yours by eating four to five 4-ounce servings of salmon a week, by taking supplements, or by doing a combo. Read labels carefully on fish-oil capsules for their DHA content. You may need as much as 9 grams of fish oil to get 900 mg of DHA. There's more DHA in algae-based omega-3 formulas: 200-500 mg per capsule.

Algae-based DHA costs about $1 for your daily dose, but we think it's worth it. An important brain cell component, DHA helps neurons communicate with each other. The more they talk, the better your memory, and the younger your brain. We take it.

Moves that flatten your belly, and more

A health club that doesn't offer a core-strengthening class using weights or Pilates or YogaFit is as behind the times as a car dealer selling gas-guzzling Humvees.

Fitness trends come and go (remember Buns of Steel?), but core workouts are here to stay. That's because they strengthen your body's "core," meaning "foundation": the large muscles in your torso, hips and abdomen that give you better balance and stability, a long, strong body line and protection against low-back pain. (Lose the belly fat, and you'll have flat abs, too.)

And you can get it free by doing our 20-minute beginner workout twice a week. The step-by-step video's on For extra credit (and to really tighten up your middle), add this "Steady on the Plank" move:

1. Lie facedown on a carpet or mat, arms folded close to your body, hands by your ears.

2. Push up your body about 6 inches, so only your toes and forearms touch the ground; your body rests like a plank between them.

3. Keep your stomach pulled in, your butt tight, your body straight and your eyes looking at the floor.

4. Hold this position as long as you can. (More than 1 minute? We're impressed.)

Try it the next time your favorite show breaks for a commercial. It will do more for your belly than the snack you were going to get.

Protect yourself in the hospital

If a hospital stay is in your future for any reason, heed these suggestions:

Buy a large bottle of hand sanitizer. If everyone who comes near you in the hospital uses it, you'll likely avoid infections while you're there, which can be far riskier than your surgery. More Americans die from hospital infections than from AIDS, breast cancer and car accidents combined. We also want you to do the following:

* Stop smoking. It raises your infection risk.

* Start walking. Just two weeks of it beforehand makes a major difference. Check with your doc if you're having hip or knee surgery, but walk if you can. It speeds recovery and helps prevent risky deep-vein clots after surgery.

* Don't shave. Nicks give germs entry points. If hair has to go, let a hospital staffer do it with electric clippers.

* Post a sign that can't be missed: "Thanks for washing your hands!"

* Don't let visitors touch your bandage, wound or IV.

* Insist on a clean stethoscope (swabbed off or wearing a tiny "bonnet").

* Leave rings at home. Whether on your hand, belly, eyebrow or elsewhere, they're germ traps.

Make air travel safer: Walk

Going on a plane trip? Before you claim a seat in the waiting area, take a walk. And if you're over 40 and your flight time is more than four hours, stroll the plane aisles every couple of hours. Long flights (include tarmac time), cramped seats (especially window seats) and being older are all risk factors for the infamous threat that frequent flyers call economy-class syndrome. Doctors call it deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) —a blood clot in a deep vein.

There's no proof that walking around the cabin prevents DVT, but it can't hurt. Neither can doing those anti-clotting plane-seat exercises found in many in-flight magazines. Why? When you're immobile, blood flow slows, and clots may form. That can cause scary problems if, say, a clot gets loose and gets into your lungs.

Here are other common-sense tips to pack in your carry-on:

* Take two baby aspirins or half a regular one with a glass of water before boarding to make your blood platelets less sticky. (We think just about every man over 35 and woman over 40 ought to be on daily aspirin anyway, but check with your doc on this.)

* Drink water to stay hydrated.

* Skip alcohol.

* Wear compression stockings.

* Relax and enjoy the flight; stress encourages clotting.