Health & Fitness

Should you work out if you're sick?

One beauty of exercise is that it kicks your immune system into high gear. If you work out five or more days a week, you'll get far fewer (and shorter) colds than the average person.

Does that mean you should keep exercising if you do get sick? Not necessarily. Here's when to keep going and when to stay in bed.

If you have a cold: Do the "neck test." If your symptoms are above the neck (stuffy nose, scratchy throat, sneezing), being active usually helps clear your sinuses and makes you feel better. But remember to exercise at home so you don't infect others.

If symptoms are below the neck (hacking chest cough, chills, intestinal distress), even without fever, it is best not to exhaust yourself. But deep breathing helps clear gunk from your lungs.

If you have a fever: Exercise can raise your temperature further and risk making you dehydrated. Cool it and stay home.

If you have diarrhea or are vomiting: Are you kidding? Rest until your symptoms aren't constant, and drink something like Gatorade or Powerade.

If you're recovering but not 100 percent: Start at half speed and increase gradually over a few days.

Bottom line: Listen to your body. If you're tired, rest. If you're antsy, walk.

Laptops hazardous for wannabe dads

If you're a guy reading this column on a laptop computer or tablet nestled in your lap, start speed-reading. You could be nipping your chances of fatherhood in the bud.

Here's the problem. To hold the laptop steady, you have to keep your legs fairly close together, right? That position, combined with heat from the computer, can send the temperatures in your, well, lap, high enough to damage sperm — and/or make them too sluggish to swim out there and find the egg of their dreams.

Just 10 to 15 minutes of staring at a laptop screen is enough to reduce potency and sperm count.

Heat may not be the only fertility hazard. Early research suggests that the electromagnetic radiation emitted when a laptop's connected to Wi-Fi may also damage sperm DNA. So what can you do to safeguard fertility?

1. Put your laptop on the table. Even protective pads won't protect you.

2. If you must use your lap, keep it short. And spread your legs.

3. Stop biking. Cycling more than five hours a week also lowers sperm concentration.

4. Eat healthy foods and take vitamins. Foods and supplements rich in DHA-omega 3 fats, zinc, selenium, folic acid, and vitamins C and E increase sperm count.

The motherhood penalty

Working moms with young kids are 2.5 times more likely than working dads to get up at night and care for the kids. Even worse, moms stay up for 50 percent longer than dads — 44 minutes, versus 30 for men.

If this motherhood sleep penalty is making you grumpy and irritable, we want to help you fast. Drowsiness can put you at greater risk for accidents and weight gain. Disrupted sleep also can weaken your immune system, your heart and even cause life-threatening blood clots.

Here's how to get the sleep you need:

1. Show this column to your spouse. Then agree to alternate kid-duty nights.

2. Use a nightlight to guide you to your kid's bedroom. Bright lights halt melatonin production, a hormone that helps you fall asleep. Install red-wavelength lights in the bathroom, since they seem not to affect melatonin.

3. Practice back-to-sleep techniques: Progressive muscle relaxation, meditation and deep-breathing exercises can ease you back to slumberland. Don't turn on the TV, even if you're tossing and turning. Reading a book with a tiny book light will make you drowsier. Ask your partner to show you the same kindness tomorrow night, when it's his turn.

Beat winter blues

Just because the warm weather long ago headed south doesn't mean your mood has to follow. If you're feeling a little tense and blue, the problem — and cure — could be a swallow away.

Yep, winter blues could just mean you're not taking enough of those B-eautiful B vitamins. One in five people may not be getting enough.

Focus on vitamins B-6 and B-12. There's new evidence about how powerful these two can be in reversing depression and restoring your sense of well-being. Even better: Those bouncy Bs also can help prevent colon cancer, strokes and heart disease. Here's how to get what you need:

Top B-6 boosters: For a great B liftoff in the morning, top B-fortified breakfast cereals with bananas and sunflower seeds. Later in the day, consider B-6-rich tuna, salmon, potatoes, chickpeas, chicken breast, broccoli, tomato sauce, spinach and carrots. In addition, we recommend a daily 40-milligram B-6 supplement.

Best bets for B-12: Clams and calf's liver pack a huge B-12 punch. So do oysters, salmon, canned tuna, beef, lamb, yogurt, chicken, turkey, cottage cheese, milk and eggs. B-12 is easier to absorb in supplement form. Go for no less than 25 micrograms a day; jump up to 400 to 800 mcg if you're on the far side of 50 or have acid reflux.

Four-legged foods can hurt body, brain

We love four-legged creatures. But our aim is to protect you, not them, when we tell you they don't belong on your dinner plate.

The real reason to steer clear of steers is that they increase your risk for many cancers, heart disease, metabolic syndrome — and, more than anyone knew, stroke.

It only takes a little to do a lot of damage. A major new study found that women who eat just 3.6 ounces of red meat daily — less than a small burger at most diners and fast-food joints — are 42 percent more likely to have a stroke than those who eat less than 1 ounce. Processed meats are worse: Only 1.5 ounces a day boosts stroke risk by 24 percent.

How does meat wreak such havoc? The big culprits are thought to be the usual suspects: artery-clogging saturated fat and the high salt content in processed meats. Both may accelerate the production of cell-damaging free radicals and increase your blood pressure, the main cause of stroke.

So why risk it, especially when so many other great proteins are healthy gold mines?

1. Fish. Salmon and trout are full of those good-for-you fats: heart-healthy omega-3s.

2. Skinless white-meat chicken, ground turkey breast, tofu and non-fat dairy. These low-cal proteins pack muscle-building punch and help keep you younger longer.

3. Nuts. Not only are nuts good protein sources but many of them — especially walnuts and almonds — lower lousy LDL cholesterol. Walnuts have more than six times as many omega-3s as any other nut.

4. Beans. These legumes are chock-full of fiber and cholesterol-lowering flavonoids.