Health & Fitness

You Docs: Are you fit? Test yourself to find out

It's summer. Time to get real about all those body parts suddenly peeking out of your lightweight clothes (yikes!). You're probably wondering just how far you have to go. Looking in the mirror (sucking in that belly or not) isn't always the best fitness gauge.

Try these three tests to see where you stand. Warm up for five minutes first (march in place, swinging your arms).

1. How flexible are you? Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you, slightly apart. Extend your arms, place one hand on top of the other (fingertips forward), and reach for the space between your feet.

Women under 46: You should be able to reach 2-4 inches past your feet. Older? Aim for your soles.

Men under 46: You should be able to reach your soles. Older? Aim to be within 3-4 inches of them.

2. How's your heart? If your doc says you can, exercise for 18 minutes at 80 to 85 percent of your max heart rate (220 minus your age for men; 208 minus .82 times your age for women), then do three more minutes all-out. Check your pulse. Rest for two minutes and check it again. It should drop about 66 beats. The faster it drops, the fitter you are.

3. How are your muscles? Do some push-ups. A 30-year-old man should be able to do 35; a woman, 45 (knees on the floor). Figure five less for every decade after that.

Not quite at your age goals? Working on it is worth it.

Save your life and your marriage: Turn off the cell

If you're one of those highly intelligent cellphone users who pulls over before calling your mate about the small stuff ("Do we need cat food?") or the big stuff ("Sorry I was so snarky this morning"), you're doing more than keeping yourself and other drivers safe. You're avoiding divorce.

How? Turns out that chatting on the phone with your significant other while you barrel down the highway doesn't just make you a road risk (yes, even if you're using a headset). It also raises the odds of big misunderstandings. That's because it's too easy to talk to each other in ways you never would face to face.

You know. Sudden silences when you miss a sign ("Are you there?"). Yelling ("Talk louder!"). Not listening ("Umm, your boss did WHAT?"). Disappearing ("Oops, there's my exit!" Click). Any or all can make the most important person in your life irritated, hurt and tense, researchers say. Dropped calls and erratic static only add to the frustration.

It's a two-way street, of course: If your mate's driving, your own quick call to the car ("Is it safe to talk?") can quickly dissolve into curt commands ("TURN DOWN the radio!" "I said, yes, get milk"). That ratchets up the tension, too.

The bottom line? Don't be a cellaholic — keep it on, but just for emergencies. And let the important people in your life know you take or make calls only when you can pull over and park. Then you'll give them the total, loving attention they deserve.

5 ways to make your hospital stay safe

"Short and totally boring." You're in trouble if that's how you'd describe your last romantic encounter. But if you're talking about a hospital stay, those are four perfect words! The last thing you want is a nasty surprise... as in one of the 2 million annual cases of hospital-caused infections.

So if you (or anyone you love) will be checking into a hospital anytime soon, here's how to cut your chances of bringing home a bug that's far more dangerous than whatever sent you to the hospital.

1. Declare germ warfare. Wash your hands every chance you get. Scrub for at least 15 seconds (long enough to sing the Happy Birthday song twice.)

2. Remind others to clean up, too. While there are now sanitizing gel dispensers all over hospitals, as an extra reminder to staff and visitors, keep a jug of the alcohol-based stuff by your bedside with a Post-it saying, "Please help yourself."

3. Ditch the jewelry. Even if you feel naked without your wedding ring or lucky necklace, leave it at home. They're germ traps.

4. Don't touch the remote. It's likely one of the germiest objects in the hospital. Clean it with disinfectant wipes; even then, try to wrap it in a glove when handling it.

5. Sweetly discourage visitors. Each one brings in a bucketful of bacteria. Call them from your room phone or cell. Yes, new tests show you can use your cell without short-circuiting the heart monitor down the hall.

We want you to get home, bored but safe.

Are you ready for a little puppy love?

We're fast approaching the dog days of summer. No, not those hot, humid, horrible days. We're talking about the cool, clear mornings when you notice more dogs than you've seen in months, romping with human partners. And you think, "Gee, wouldn't it be fun to have a dog?"

You bet! Dogs can boost your health in ways that may surprise you. Even if you can't own one, there are ways to unleash your puppy love and enjoy the amazing health benefits. Here's what canine critters can do for you:

1. Help you lose weight. Dog owners walk twice as many hours a week as poochless people (five hours versus about two and a half). Without eating one mouthful less, you could shed more than three pounds a year. Just wear a pedometer to make sure you're doing more starting than stopping as you walk.

2. Protect your heart. People who've had a heart attack are 75 percent less likely to have another if they have a dog.

3. Lower your stress and blood pressure levels. Just petting your four-legged friend can do both. And how about that feel-good rush you get every time your dog goes tail-wagging wild just because YOU walked in the door? Priceless.

4. Can't own a dog? Have a fantasy pup. Just watching pet pranks on the Animal Channel reduces stress, no pooper scooper needed! Or offer to walk your neighbor's pooch. They'll both love you for it. Bonus: Adding your dog-owning neighbors to your network of friends also boosts your health.

Not for nothing do they call dogs man's best friend!

Autism protection in a little vitamin pill

Taking prenatal vitamins with the DHA form of omega-3s three months before getting pregnant and during pregnancy cuts your chances of having a child with autism or an autism spectrum disorder by a whopping 40 percent, according to a study in the July 2011 issue of Epidemiology journal.

This is wonderful news, because autism-related disorders are increasing quickly, although no one knows exactly what's causing them. Why are DHA omega-3s so important? They're critical to both the fetus's rapidly developing brain and your own healthy brain functioning. Here's how to help protect your future family now:

* Women, say yes to taking prenatal vitamins with 300 mg to 600 mg of DHA omega-3s — ideally from childbearing age on, but at least three months before there's even a chance you'll get pregnant.

* Guys, start on a multivitamin with DHA early — long before you begin trying for a mini-you. The better your health, the better it is for your offspring.

All that family protection in two little pills!