Health & Fitness

For better rest, put cell phones to bed early

Cell phones and computers — we love 'em (most of the time). We can keep in touch with our wives and kids no matter what. If we're not 100 percent sure what clouds are made of, we can find out instantly (tiny ice crystals and air). What would we do without them? Simple: We'd sleep better! And so would our kids.

Turns out that 8- to 22-year-olds who send texts and e-mails, surf the Web or play computer games around bedtime have sleep troubles ranging from restlessness and insomnia to leg pain, reports a new study. The daytime effects: anxiety, depression and learning difficulties. Not what anybody (your child or you) needs.

Healthy sleep at night does for kids what it does for you: boosts alertness, productivity, creativity and general well-being. So make it happen.

Put kids' cell phones to bed — say, in your closet. Remember sneaking a flashlight under the covers after lights-out? Some things don't change. Half the parents in the study said they didn't know their kids were surfing and texting hours after bedtime. Clear TVs and computers out of bedrooms, too (including yours).

Limit total screen time to two hours a day. The typical kid watches three hours of TV alone. That's time not spent playing outside and reading, activities that are more likely to induce sweet dreams.

Keep it down. Kids can't sleep if your TV is blaring and your cell phone is beeping. Besides, all that screen time isn't good for your zzz's either.

Eat like a Spaniard

Forget the falling temperatures outside. Imagine relaxing at a cafe in sun-drenched Spain. You sip some red wine, nibble on nuts, then dig into a hearty meal of fish, salad with olive oil, and juicy orange segments. You're not only eating like a local, your blood sugar's singing "Ole!" Keep it up and you could cut your odds for diabetes by a whopping 52 percent.

That's exactly what happened when two groups of people followed a traditional Mediterranean diet for four years. Armed with cookbooks, aprons and a supply of extra-virgin olive oil — plus, for one group, a package of nuts — they ate the way we wish everyone did. Lots of fruit. Plenty of veggies, often prepared with olive oil. Mouthwatering sauces made with tomatoes, onion, garlic, spices and more olive oil. Main courses built around fish, chicken, beans or other legumes. They enjoyed a little red wine but cut back on red meat, sugary drinks and sweets. The group that got nuts ate 23 almonds, 15 walnut halves or 50 shelled pistachios daily.

Four years later, devotees of either delicious diet (neither low-fat) were half as likely to develop diabetes as a control group on a rigorous low-fat diet. The amazing part? The fabulous foods they ate — high in healthy, monounsaturated fats and plant foods — did all the work, keeping their blood sugar low and their bodies sensitive to insulin, meaning resistant to diabetes. It's got us cheering.

More good news for chocolate lovers

To us, bringing you good news is like nibbling on lush, dark chocolate: totally satisfying. Today, we've got some of both in one tasty bite. A new study has gone one step beyond the earlier research that uncovered chocolate's heart-healthy benefits (and more). It explains why: Dark chocolate inhibits an enzyme known as ACE (short for angiotensin-converting enzyme) that's famous for raising blood pressure.

And here's how powerful chocolate is at inhibiting ACE: Within three hours of consuming a small dose, the Swedish volunteers lucky enough to have to eat chocolate in the name of science got the same 18 percent reduction in ACE that prescription blood-pressure drugs produce.

That's not all. For a while now, sweet news from other studies has been flowing like a chocolate fountain at a wedding. Fudgy flavonoids not only promote healthy blood vessels but improve cholesterol. Older women (70 and up) who eat chocolate at least once a week cut their risk of being hospitalized or dying from heart failure by 60 percent, and from heart disease by 35 percent. The flavonoids may make you smarter, and they also protect your DNA from the kind of damage that can cause cancer.

Feeling a little choco-crazy after reading all this? (Really, who isn't sometimes?) Just remember, the darker the better; aim for 70 percent cocoa. Limit yourself to an ounce a day, and you'll get all the good stuff you need, guilt-free. Not a chocoholic? No worries. Try these other great flavonoid sources: red wine, green tea, apples, onions and cranberries.

Answers to your workout questions

If you're anything like our patients, you know exercise is good for you. But you suspect it takes too much work. And you're not totally convinced it'll pay off, or how. In fact, you'd like to ask us a few questions. OK, shoot.

Won't working out make me so hungry that I'll eat more calories than I burn? Nope, just the reverse. If you're a habitual eater who rarely notices whether you're actually hungry or not, new research shows that exercise restores the sensitivity of neurons that tell you you're full. So in the long run, it can make you feel fuller, eat less and lose more weight.

Can exercise really fend off the biggies, like cancer? You bet. Staying active reduces your odds of colon, pancreatic and prostate cancer. Breast cancer rates are at least 33 percent lower in women who exercise regularly; in fact, just 20 minutes of daily walking cut them by 38 percent in one study. And (this just came in) 30 minutes of physical activity five times a week reduced the threat of endometrial cancer by 34 percent.

Does it do anything else? How does helping you avoid about 25 serious conditions sound? The list includes heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, hypertension, depression, dementia, obesity and erectile dysfunction.

When is it too late to start? Never. The minute you get moving, your body starts benefiting.

Snacks that fight off colds and flu

Call 911 in an emergency, and the dispatcher urgently asks, "Where are you?" When a virus attacks, your immune system wants the same info — which of the trillions of cells in your body is in trouble? Enter arginine, a nutrient that knows how to yell "SOS."

This amino acid hangs a "Help! Over here!" sign on newly infected cells. That attracts virus fighters with the fire power to knock out a cold or flu. In one new study, kids prone to common colds who got extra arginine had fewer sniffles. In another, arginine helped cells beat back infections better.

There's no official target for how much arginine you need in a day, though in addition to fighting viruses, your body uses arginine to manufacture nitric oxide, which keeps arteries young and supple. Being on the low end isn't a good idea. It may boost bodywide inflammation, encouraging build-ups of heart-threatening plaque in artery walls.

No need to take a supplement. Plenty of delicious, healthy foods — shrimp, crab, lobster; orange roughy, tilapia, canned light tuna packed in water; chicken and turkey breasts — are full of arginine. And guess what? So are many of your favorite snacks: raisins, nuts and seeds, sugar-free gelatin, even chocolate. It doesn't take a nutritionist to figure out these should be your go-to munchies during cold and flu season.