Health & Fitness

Keep an eye out for signs of AMD

Noticing a change in your vision is a little like watching your neighbor get thin: It can happen so slowly that you don't notice it until his jeans fall off.

What to watch for in your eyes: seeing wavy lines instead of straight ones, or gradually developing a blurred area in the center of your vision. Both are signs of AMD (age-related macular degeneration), the top cause of vision loss after 60. Don't wait till you're invited to join AARP to beat the odds. Use these smart strategies to keep your vision clear (and your arteries, too):

l. Take half a multivitamin in the morning and half at night. A seven-year study found that women who took supplements that included B-6, folic acid and B-12 were far less likely to develop AMD.

2. Watch your numbers. High blood pressure, high lousy LDL cholesterol, high triglycerides and high weight are linked to AMD.

3. Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, including leafy greens, nuts and 100 percent whole grains. All are full of nutrients that your eyes love: vitamins C and E, zinc and carotenoids (beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin).

4. If you smoke, kick yourself in the butt and quit. Smokers (and breathers of secondhand smoke) are four times more likely to develop AMD.

5. Walk at least 30 minutes a day. What's good for your heart, waist, lungs, stress and skin is good for your eyes, too: Your retina (where the macula's nerves are) needs optimal oxygen as much as your car needs a paved road.

Healthy juice or sweet treat?

If you're a grown-up who stopped eating veggies the day you turned 21 — or a parent of kids who think salads should literally be tossed — you've probably eyed or tried the new fruity-sweet combo juices that include vegetables, too. Are they finally a way to get peas, carrots and broccoli into your diet, or your kids, without having to eat the stuff?

Sort of. We're good with 6 ounces a day of pure fruit or vegetable juice (no sugar added). Real juice is full of vitamins, minerals and health-protecting phytochemicals, plus it's often fortified with calcium and vitamin D and occasionally eye-, brain- and heart-healthy DHA. Also, some of the new mixed drinks deliver the twofer you think you're getting: 1 serving of fruit AND 1 of veggies. But others don't.

And here's the thing: Apple juice is not an apple. Ditto for carrots, tomatoes and oranges. Even high-pulp juices can't make up for all the fiber and nutrients that get discarded with the skin and pulp during juicing (and that help keep your appetite, blood sugar, LDL cholesterol and blood pressure down). Plus, using fruity-sweet drinks to hide squash won't help turn you or your kids into veggie lovers.

If sweetness is the key, sprinkle cinnamon on a baked sweet potato, add orange segments to broccoli, roast squash with apples. That said, veggie-infused fruit juices are better than no veggies.

Spot-tone your brain

You know you can't spot-tone a big belly, jiggly thighs or wide waistline. But you may be able to spot-tone a flabby area of your brain — and speed up your reaction times in the bargain.

We're talking about a boomerang-shaped brain zone called the corpus callosum. Normally, the CC is strict about controlling chitchat between the two halves of your brain. It's the CC's job to keep your left hand from mimicking your right when you're pouring coffee, tossing a Frisbee or changing highway lanes.

But the corpus callosum eventually starts to show a little age. Over time, it allows some cross-brain chatter to go on, which creates confusion and slows your reaction times. That's one reason your teenage nephew always trounces you at video games and why you're more likely to have a traffic accident in your 60s than in your 40s.

What's the best way to keep your brain's "boomerang" alert? Keep your body active. Just six months of easy walking — a one-hour, three-mile walk, three times a week — rebuilt a shrunken corpus callosum, in one study. So get with the program. Hike, swim, bike, work out with your aerobics DVD.

Soon you'll be reacting faster on the road, the job and the tennis court, and beating the pants off your nephew at Super Mario Galaxy 2.

Benefits of biking

Working hard to keep your weight down but feel like you're more stalled than the economy? Try this: Swap your walk for a bike ride.

There's new evidence that bicycling is as good for weight control as brisk walking. OK, that probably didn't shock your socks off, but get this: If you're an overweight woman, biking appears to be better than walking. In fact, women with excess weight benefit the most.

Does it matter if you ride an exercise bike indoors or pedal a real one outside? Nope. If you bike just two to three hours a week, you're a stunning 46 times less likely to gain weight. Spin away while catching up on your favorite TV shows (what we often do) or spending time with your BBB (best bike buddy).

The Harvard researchers who found all this out started by comparing fast and slow walkers with cyclers in the famous Nurses' Health Study. While brisk walking and bike riding were both good at weight control, they stumbled over one gobsmacking difference: Riding a bike was easier than walking for overweight women. So they did it. And that, of course, explains everything.

Haven't been on a two-wheeler since you wore bell-bottoms? Start on a stationary bike or take practice spins in an empty parking lot until you get your confidence back. Wear a helmet. Allow a week for your butt to get used to the seat — it will, we promise. Then spin your wheels with gusto.

Spicy ways to building your cancer defenses

Here's one of the easiest ways ever to protect you and your cells from cancer: Make like Martha Stewart and reorganize your spice cabinet.

Just put these seasonings in the front row: pepper, oregano, rosemary, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger and garlic. (Put the salt way back while you're at it.)

These magnificent seven are on a list of at least 41 spices believed to deter various kinds of cancer. Since you likely have these promising tumor zappers in your kitchen, if they're front and center, you might start using them. That's the goal.

Countries like India, which use far, far more spices than we do, also have far lower cancer rates. Coincidence? We think not.

Spices, like all plant-based foods, are one of the easiest ways to fight cancer. A fiesta of lab studies is working to pin down the spicy substances that have it in for cancer cells. But don't wait. Add a little spice to your life, and you may add more birthdays, too. Two just-for-instances:

Pepper's hot stuff because it contains pungent piperine, which goes into search-and-destroy mode when breast stem cells are trying to turn cancerous.

We're big fans of turmeric (think yellow mustard and curry) because it's full of curcumin. Curcumin has such a stellar track record in labs for shutting down pancreatic cancer cells and turning off colon cancer that three more studies on people are starting.