Health & Fitness

Exercises can help your grip

You don't have to be a boxing champ or a concert cellist to need strong hands. Just imagine trying to get through a day without using your grip.

Building hand strength in midlife protects you from disabilities later on and keeps you active longer. It's also critical to walking a dog, carrying groceries, opening paint, re-arranging furniture and attempting a one-armed pushup (good luck with that). Strong hands keep your life and your body running as smoothly as a new car.

Ready to get a grip? Here's how:

* Pop bubble wrap. Popping bubbles is an easy (and addictive) way to start.

* Squeeze a ball or play with clay. Steal Rover's tennis ball and squeeze it 10 times. Or take a clump of the kids' modeling clay and start rolling, pinching and squeezing it. After several minutes, the clay and your hands should be warm and supple.

* Form a few "O's." Touch your thumb to each fingertip and repeat 10 times per hand. Advance to squeezing and holding the O's for a few seconds.

* Push against a wall. Hold your hands out in front of you and press gently against a wall. Bonus: This stretch can help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.

Put your liver on a diet

If your belly got a little pudgy over the winter, you can camouflage it with a roomy T-shirt until daily walking and healthy eating trim the fat. But there's no fashion fix for the latest body part gaining dangerous weight: your liver.

Yep, your chances of developing a fatty liver have doubled in the past 20 years. They're now at least 1 in 9, and maybe as high as 1 in 3.

Fatty liver's no joke. It ups your risk of diabetes, heart disease and serious liver damage, not to mention dementia, impotence and cancer. How did livers get so endangered? Although overdoing alcohol is the classic cause of liver trouble, it wasn't fallout from the martini and microbrew-beer crazes.

Instead, blame the usual suspects: eating too much and exercising too little. Both increase weight and waist size. And extra pounds around your belly boost your risk for a fatty liver as much as 90 percent.

The only definitive way to find out if you have a fatty liver is to surgically test a sample — forget that! Take the simpler, smarter route: Slim down if you need to. Slowly losing just 10 percent of your weight (20 pounds if you weigh 200) is all it takes to get a big improvement.

Do it the smart way: Boost your fiber (more fruits, vegetables, 100 percent whole grains). Replace foods high in saturated fat (meats, regular cheese) with lean protein (fish, skinless poultry breasts, eggs, beans) and low/no-fat dairy. Add some extra omega-3 fats from nuts (especially walnuts), canola/olive oils and a DHA omega-3 supplement (900 mg a day).

Facebook good for you?

Want to feel better about yourself? Here's a simple cyber-solution: Put your best face forward on Facebook, and watch your mood improve.

Yep, if you and your pals and your kids or grandkids are spending a huge chunk of your waking hours friending, but you sometimes wonder if it's all just a huge waste of time, relax! Turns out that Facebook is good for your self-esteem. And the more time you spend tweaking your profile, the better you feel about yourself.

That's good news, because we've seen a lot of debate in the past few online years about whether all this social networking might just make people lonely and depressed. After all, the more time you hunker down in front of your computer screen, the less time you've got to spend with friends and family in the flesh, right?

Not so much. There's now evidence that adding new photos and status updates that announce what you're up to make you feel happier about yourself in important ways. You feel better about your looks, your relationships, even your romantic appeal.

Why? Sites like Facebook let you present the person you want others to see. You can post the wittiest comments and best photos from your birthday party (why share the unflattering stuff?). That encourages upbeat feedback from your friends ("You haven't aged a bit!" "Great party! Did you find my shoes?"), which makes you feel even better.

So go on, update your profile and scribble on Facebook walls. You'll soon feel as good as your profile looks!

Parlez vous? Good for you

If you learned more than one language as a child, or remember enough high-school Spanish or French to get the gist of foreign-language TV shows, you've got a powerful anti-Alzheimer's advantage. Being bilingual slows down the development of dementia. Knowing three or more languages reduces your risk even further.

The ability to chat in Thai, Greek or Arabic is good for more than ordering coffee abroad. Growing up with several languages builds more brain cells and improves their connections. It also makes your brain work harder all the time as you process information. This adds up to more "cognitive reserve," med-speak for extra mental capacity that allows your mind to continue functioning normally, even when it's developing brain changes that could lead to Alzheimer's disease.

That's great news if you're among the nearly one in four Americans and Canadians who can converse in at least two languages. But you're not out of luck if you can't. Learning a new language as an adult, or picking up where 10th grade Spanish left off, exercises your brain cells in ways that guard against memory loss and fuzzy thinking.

Losing weight with the photographer's diet

The TV camera lens famously adds pounds to your frame. But your digital camera could do just the opposite for you. It could melt pounds. We're not just talking about looking thinner. Snapping photos can actually make you thinner.

That is, if you're snapping pics of what you're eating. Yep, if you take a photo of everything you eat for a week, two things will happen: You'll eat more healthy foods. And you'll eat less than usual.

Why? Seeing a real-life picture of what you're about to put in your mouth makes you think twice. Unlike keeping a food diary, where you jot down what you eat after you've eaten it, taking a digital photo ahead of time gives you a chance to change your mind before you do the damage. You can weigh the visual evidence and decide, "Whoa, that's way too much food for one person!" Or think: "Hey, this photo could use some color. It needs some bright fruits and vegetables!"

Ready to start snapping? Here are two more photo-diet tricks:

* Make sure you can see the plate in the photo: If you use a white plate and leave white space around each food, it not only makes a prettier picture, it keeps the portions smaller.

* Admire your photo as you eat. Putting your fork down occasionally to gaze at your artful work will remind you to slow the pace. That's key to feeling fuller while eating less.