Health & Fitness

Mind-set can affect lower back pain

If you're over 30, chances are you've had a bout of lower back pain or will soon. That's when years of slumping in car seats and over keyboards leave your spine protesting louder than a Cleveland fan.

If you or someone you know is out with a bad back, whisper this news: What you think will happen next — healthy recovery or chronic pain — dramatically affects what will happen. The more optimistic and can-do your mind-set, the better off your back will be.

Don't get us wrong. We don't think low back pain is all in your head. But developing what one expert calls grounded optimism is what studies show helps. Try these:

* Get spine smart. Ask your doc to explain what's going on, and use a model or picture. In one study, people who learned what was wrong with their backs and how to treat it soon felt better. Those who decided their bad back was fate had months of disabling pain.

* Get moving. Chronic back pain sufferers often fear exercise, yet your muscles grow stronger to protect your back when you use them. Start slowly. Do a little more every day.

* Think "watch me beat this" instead of "woe is me." Where your mind leads, your body follows almost as fast as paparazzi follow Lady Gaga.

The healthiest way to blow off steam

Got a blow-your-stack, lose-your-cool conversation coming up? Maybe your neighbor's mowing the lawn at midnight again, your teenager dented the car and has gone AWOL, or the dry cleaner turned your favorite white shirt a bilious shade of pink. Our advice: Take a walk before you talk.

We can hear you now: "'Take a walk' is the You Docs' answer to everything." Actually, getting physical helps an amazing number of things in your brain and body. That includes heading off a blow-up.

In a recent study, hot-tempered men were shown a series of infuriating photographs after they'd been lounging around for 30 minutes. Their scores on an anger test jumped 25 percent. Next, they were shown maddening pictures after riding a stationary bike for half an hour. This time their anger scores rose only slightly.

Why? Being active enough to break a sweat boosts levels of feel-good brain chemicals like serotonin (the "happiness molecule") and simultaneously drains off stress and anxiety — all of which cools your jets. Getting your mind off the object of your disaffection creates much-needed calm.

The guys in the study pedaled their bikes at a moderate intensity. If you don't have a handy bike, try taking a fast 30-minute walk instead. Put another way: Burn calories now and you'll avoid burning bridges later.

What would the future you do?

Imagine getting a phone call from a younger version of you, wanting advice: Should you marry your high school sweetheart? Take your Elvis act on the road? Patent that gizmo and sell it for a gazillion dollars?

You know what you'd say now; too bad you don't get to say it. But here's the twist: You can phone ahead, at least in your imagination. Connecting yourself with the "future you" can help you stay healthier, slimmer, happier and hotter. And you don't need a time machine.

Studies show that people who strongly identify with their future selves make much better decisions: They postpone rewards more easily, save more and have less debt. While most research into what's called "self continuity" examines money decisions (they're easier to measure), why not harness your thoughts for your health?

First, list 10 adjectives that describe the current you. Then write down 10 adjectives that describe you in 10 years. If your lists aren't close, think about how to get them closer.

Now, imagine phoning your 2020 self when you're making health choices and big decisions. Should you eat that peach cobbler? Postpone your mammogram? Croon "Love Me Tender" at the office talent show? Patent that idea?

Your answers will help you reach that future you now — one who delays gratification (skipping those 400 cobbler calories), avoids health debts (extra pounds, work stress) and piles up assets (hot body, big bank account).

Four things you ought to know about yogurt

Some health food trends come and go as fast as color fads in kids' sneaks. Just as last year's retro reds are this year's high-top metallics, last year's gluten-free oats are this year's pea flour. Acacia seeds are out; chia seeds are in.

But really great foods have staying power. Take yogurt, especially Greek yogurt — not the tricked-out "yogurt" that dominates grocery shelves and is so crammed with candy, syrups, calories, sugar and goopy jam that we hate to call it yogurt. No, we're talking about healthy, low-fat real yogurt with no added sugar. It makes fresh fruit sing, gives herb dips zing, and does all kinds of good things for your body. For example:

1. Yogurt makes your blood vessels happy. A diet rich in low-fat dairy curbs your risk of high blood pressure by up to 31 percent.

2. Yogurt with probiotics kills bad bugs. Probiotics are good-guy bacteria that search out and destroy the nasty microbes that cause periodontal disease and intestinal trouble. Look for "contains probiotics" or "live active cultures" on yogurt labels.

3. Yogurt helps you remember. Researchers have linked better memory recall to eating low-fat yogurt rather than full-fat dairy foods.

4. Yogurt satisfies hunger better than a candy bar. Leave it to the French: They just reported that an afternoon yogurt snack makes 20-year-olds feel fuller than a chocolate bar does. Stir a few dark-chocolate bits and some juicy fruit into a thick, creamy, low-fat Greek yogurt and you won't need any convincing.