Health & Fitness

Men catch up to women with bags, back strain

Message for men: If your go-to cargo carrier (gym bag, laptop case, toss-it-all-in tote) goes everywhere you do, you've joined the male fashion forefront. Also, the bad-back crowd. Women (whose purses now often tip the scales at seven to 15 pounds) aren't the only ones hauling too much stuff around by a set of skinny, shoulder-punishing straps. Guys are catching up.

Thanks to the rise of the "man purse," and to our nonstop lives, it's a good bet you're lugging around your lunch, water bottle, sneakers, shorts, laptop, smartphone and reading materials. The average guy's bag now weighs 13.6 pounds. We feel your pain. Slinging that weight over one shoulder, or always carrying it in the same hand, throws off your balance, straining back and shoulder muscles.

But being fashionable (or just prepared) doesn't have to hurt. Here's how to prevent/fix this common cause of back pain:

* Redistribute the weight. Get a backpack and use both shoulder straps. Or try a messenger bag, which balances you somewhat better by keeping the contents on one side of your body and the strap over the opposite shoulder. Just switch sides often.

* Lighten your load. Don't really need the laptop today? Leave it home. Stash extra gym gear in your office or car.

* Trade up. Been looking for an excuse to upgrade to smaller, lighter electronics? You've got one, guilt-free.

Women are ahead of us: British purse researchers say female handbags are slimming down, thanks to smaller phones, lighter laptops and electronic book readers.

Send this to your boss

Hey, sleepyhead, want a raise? Go tell your boss you'll be back in an hour ... after your nap.

Really, it could happen if your boss understands how much more productive and heart-healthy a nap can make you. After just 45 to 60 minutes of daytime sleep, you bounce back to work like a Zen master and reduce your blood pressure, too.

It's not surprising you could use a little nap. Between late-night Tweeting and channel surfing, most of us sleep almost two hours less per night than folks did 50 years ago. That snooze-deficit is costing a fortune: more than $100 billion annually in lost productivity, sick leave and medical costs in the U.S. alone!

Poor sleep makes you eat more and gain weight; it also kicks up your risk of heart disease, diabetes and more.

Can't take a nap break? Then use that midday time to set yourself up for great sleep at night:

* Take an afternoon walk (outdoors if possible, around the hallways if not) or, if there's an office gym, use it at siesta time.

* Do a daytime text-and-e-mail blitz so you can ignore all that at night. The light from the screens of computers and cell phones (TVs, too) keeps your brain in wake-up mode.

Bonus: You'll wake up smarter, too. A good night's sleep does great things for your ability to store and recall what you learned during the day. Your boss has gotta like that.

Natural ways to slow hair loss

Guys, as you eye your hairline in the mirror, do you worry that the Bruce Willis look may not be quite so adorable on you?

Don't panic. Men (women, too, who often see thinning around menopause) can take healthy steps to help reverse sudden hair loss. It's often caused by diet, illness and overdoing your hair grooming. You even can slow the gradual hair loss that's a result of genes (80 million men and women have hereditary hair loss). Here's how:

1. Sip a little caffeine. Caffeine helps slow baldness. It decreases a follicle-damaging hormone known as DHT (a friendlier way of saying dihydrotestosterone). It comes from testosterone. The easiest place to get your supply: tea or coffee.

2. Be gentle. Vigorous brushing and high heat can break strands, leaving even relatively thick manes looking frayed and thin. Avoid rough toweling, too; wet hair is more elastic and vulnerable to damage than dry hair.

3. Eat lean protein. Hair, which is made mostly of the protein keratin, needs protein to grow. Low-fat, heart-healthy, skinless poultry breasts are particularly good because they're also rich in iron and zinc, and deficiencies in either trigger hair loss.

4. Vary your veggies. Add peas, carrots, cauliflower and soybeans to salads and sides. All are good sources of vitamins B-6, biotin and folate, which help slow hair loss and encourage growth.

That should help keep your hair on your head, where it belongs.

The 'new' live longer ingredient

Just when you thought you'd heard everything about the wonders of fiber (less constipation, lower LDL cholesterol, better blood sugar, easier weight loss), a new one crops up. And this one's a big deal: longer life.

Get plenty of fiber, and you'll be 22 percent less likely to kick the bucket early. If you're thinking, "Yeah, but I probably have to sprinkle fiber supplements on everything," here's another surprise. You'll hit the mark simply by aiming for the regular recommended fiber quota: 25 to 30 grams a day.

How hard is that to get? It's easy. Here's the fiber in one cup of each of these: beans, 15 grams; peas, 9; raspberries, 8; broccoli, 6; corn, 4 ; oatmeal, 4; Cheerios, 3. A pear has 5 grams; an apple, 4 ; two slices of whole-wheat bread, 4 ; 1/4cup almonds, 4; psyllium husks, 5 grams per tablespoon.

Convert grainy side dishes to fiber-rich 100 percent whole-grain versions, and you'll also get the vitamins, minerals and dozens of health-enhancing phytochemicals in grain's innermost part, the kernel, which (like the fiberful bran layer) is usually processed out in refined grain products. That's why the real thing is so much healthier.

Start by swapping brown rice (4 grams per cup) for white (1 gram). Then get to know barley (6 grams) and quinoa (5 grams). Cook up a pot of whole-wheat spaghetti (6 grams). In a hurry? Reach for whole-wheat couscous (7 grams), and you'll have a fiber-rich side dish in a flash.

Five big, fat fat myths

Fat. You dread it. You eat it. You store it everywhere. (Even your brain is 60 percent fat.) But how much do you really know about it?

The more you know, the easier it is to become a slimmer, healthier you. Take this quiz. It will boost your fat IQ.

True or False

1. There's one good thing about fatty foods: They keep you feeling full longer than other foods.

False. Calorie for calorie, it's fiber, not fat, that gets the feel-full-longer prize. That's why morning steel-cut oatmeal or psyllium husks in your drinks save you from afternoon pig-outs.

2. Chronic stress may be agitating but at least it helps you burn off calories and fat.

False. Chronic stress makes you feel hungrier and store more fat.

3. Lifting weights burns more fat than running.

True. Or true over time. While both are great for you, weight work (resistance training) builds more muscle, and muscle cells burn more calories than fat cells.

4. How many calories you eat, not when you eat them, decides weight and fat gain.

False. People who eat all their calories in one meal gain more weight than people who space their calories out into three to six smaller meals. Frequent small meals keep hunger at bay and keep your metabolism revved up, so it burns calories throughout the day.

5. Eating carbohydrates increases belly fat.

False. Complex carbs in the form of 100 percent whole grains actually boost your ability to melt away belly fat. But all excess calories do contribute to belly fat.