Health & Fitness

Want to buy happiness? Spend on experiences

Yes, we know this sounds like we've got our heads screwed on backward, but it's true: You can buy happiness, if you know what boosts your pleasure.

Here's a clue: If you've been eyeing new tech gadgets, save your cash. Stuff, especially electronic stuff, is at the bottom of the make-you-happy list. What's tops? Experiences — vacations, a show, outings with friends, etc. Here's why:

With material goods, even after you've bought them, you keep on comparison shopping. Discover that you could have gotten it cheaper or that there's a cooler version coming soon, and goodbye happiness, hello buyer's remorse. But experiences become your memories, part of who you are. So no big regrets if you find cheaper tickets later. You can't upgrade those good times.

Plus, everyone wants more vacation. If you were asked whether you'd rather live in a world where everyone had eight weeks of vacation and you had four, or where everyone had one week and you had two, which would you choose? Four weeks? Yep, so would most people.

That's not true with money: Given the choice of making $50,000 when everyone else makes $25,000, or making $100,000 when others make $200,000, the majority of people would take a $50,000 pay cut just to make more than their neighbors.

Bottom line: Got some money tucked away? Start looking into fun experiences with loved ones. You'll make everybody happier.

Is foot pain making you fat?

We believe you when you say your hurtin' dogs are making you gain weight. Seven out of 10 people say foot pain keeps them from walking.

But you can give the three most common foot problems the boot, which will help you get in great shape, right down to your toes:

Prevent athlete's foot. There are 250,000 sweat glands in your feet. No wonder itchy, smelly, moisture-loving fungal infections aim to grow there. Don't let them. If you're prone to athlete's foot, change your shoes and socks twice daily. Buy socks that wick away the moisture fungus thrives on. Wear flip-flops in locker rooms and pool showers. If trouble creeps in anyway, see your doctor for a prescription.

Don't cover up nasty nails. Hiding thickened, discolored nails inside shoes or under polish makes matter worse. See your doctor right away to be sure there's no underlying medical condition like diabetes, arthritis, psoriasis, even cancer under the nail. More likely the cause is fungal. Follow the steps above, including getting a prescription.

Heal heel and ball pains. Possible culprits for plantar fasciitis or other problems in the heel and/or ball of your foot include weight gain, pavement pounding and poor arch support. Backless shoes and walking barefoot are no-nos. Stretching leg muscles is a major yes. Your podiatrist also might recommend padding, orthotic inserts or cortisone injections until you heal. We like morning and evening stretches (foot over knee and pull your toes upward with your hand), and 20 minutes of ice twice a day.

Memorial Day food alerts

Got big plans for a Memorial Day cookout? Did you know the usual barbecue fare packs a hidden cancer-wallop?

Don't get us wrong. We love grilling. But cooking foods containing muscle — yep, not just meat, but poultry and fish, too — over sizzling heat forms cancer-causing chemicals called HCAs and PAHs. High consumption of barbecued, well-done or fried meats is linked to increased risks of colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancer. But it's easy to make grilling healthy and tasty. Steal our tricks:

1. Go heavy on the veggies. Grill oodles of low-fat, low-cal portabella mushrooms, peppers, and zucchini first — throw on some veggie burgers, too. They all taste so great you may decide to skip the meat, and the cancer dangers, too.

2. Use a marinade, every time, no excuses. If you can't resist grilling meat/poultry/fish, marinate them first in olive oil, garlic, onion and lemon juice. It cuts way back on the carcinogens (scientists aren't sure why). Almost any marinade works. And using lots of rosemary also dramatically reduces the production of HCAs.

3. Keep heat low and cooking time short. Set the grill rack as far from the heat as possible. Partially cook foods in the oven or microwave beforehand, so all you need is a quick finish on the grill ... all the flavor, far fewer HCAs.

4. Ditch the charred bits. It's the riskiest stuff. And reduce charring by trimming fat and lining the grill with foil. It keeps cancer-causing smoke flare-ups to a minimum. Easier cleanup, too!

Scary things at the movies

You know that in order to make good food choices you gotta be able to eyeball the calories (not to mention fat, salt and good stuff like fiber). The federal government knows it, too. Getting the 4-1-1 on food is such a good thing that you'll be seeing this info displayed at big restaurant chains, in convenience stores and even on vending machines next year. The catch? It won't be displayed in your movie theater's snack bar.

Nope. Food sold at the multiplex isn't covered in the new bill. Huh? A calorie is a calorie, no matter where you eat it! (We sense political pressure at work. And that's not our only issue with the rules, but that's another column.) Meanwhile, here's the lowdown on the scariest thing playing at movie theaters: the menu.

Before you say, "I'll take the mega-popcorn and soda special," check this out: A medium popcorn and soda clock in at up to 1,610 calories and 60 grams of saturated fat. That's like eating one to two sticks of butter! And that's before the kid in the snack-stand uniform pours on the buttery topping. Add in sodium levels as high as 1,500 milligrams (that's a day's worth), and a large tub of movie theater popcorn is hazardous to your waistline and your blood pressure. It makes the super-size candy (400 to 1,000 calories) look almost healthy. Almost. Do what we do: Sneak in a bottle of water and a pocketful of nuts. Then enjoy "The King's Speech" for the third time.

Feel mint work its magic

We love it when science solves the mystery of a time-honored home remedy, because we think there is at least a bit of truth in many home "brews." It's happened again, and to one of our favorite digestion-soothers: peppermint. It turns out that this ancient herbal tummy-tamer does its thing by switching off pain-sensing nerve fibers in your digestive system. Who knew?

That helps explain why pouring yourself a steaming mug of peppermint tea or just sniffing it for an upset stomach — or popping an enteric-coated peppermint oil capsule to ease irritable bowel syndrome — really works.

We've known for a while that mint relaxes smooth muscles in your GI tract, which can tone down IBS cramps. That's super-useful if you're among the one in five people with this uncomfortable problem. Now we also know it can mute hypersensitive nerves, which can trigger internal distress after a spicy meal, too much coffee, a glass of wine or during a bout of flu.

Peppermint tea or even peppermint aroma may be all it takes to soothe a queasy stomach or settle one that's gassy and bloated. But it may take a stronger dose to ease IBS. That's where peppermint oil capsules come in. To give them a try, stick with 0.2 to 0.4 ml of oil three times daily and use only enteric-coated versions to avoid heartburn. Otherwise, the muscle-relaxing oil could relax a valve at the top of your stomach, allowing acid to backwash into your esophagus. That hurts. Tip if you're heartburn-prone: Skip mint chewing gum for the same reason.