Health & Fitness

You Docs: Hey, teenage brains, wait before you act impulsively

What we're about to say won't surprise anyone who's ever raised a kid: The teenage brain (not to mention a 9-year-old's) isn't equipped to handle what seems like life's simplest decisions.

Like: Should you jump off the roof into a swimming pool? Hitch a ride with someone who's drunk? Disrespect the teacher on the first day of school?

The thing is, it's not the kid — it's the kid's brain. While it's the same size as yours by age 9 or 10, the self-regulatory centers — the decision zones that govern judgment and impulsivity, and should scream: "Hello?! You could break both your legs jumping off a roof!" —are the last to reach maturity. That doesn't happen until age 24 (later for men). Result? The adolescent brain has adult-size pleasure and sensation centers without adult-level control. Explains a lot, doesn't it?

So how do you get your kids to 24 alive? Saying, "What were you thinking?" afterward doesn't work. Ask any parent. Instead, you need to get them to practice a bit of delayed gratification. As in: You'll have more fun (be more popular, win more games, get along with the principal) if you don't go for the immediate gain (being the center of attention for five seconds before breaking both legs).

We figured this out in our last book, "YOU: The Owner's Manual for Teens," which we wrote because we see way too many kids who've been badly hurt because their brains didn't say: "Wait."

The diet food you need most

If just the thought of starting another diet leaves you hungrier than a teenager at soccer camp, we've got two words for you: protein snacks. Yes, plural! Adding not one but two high-protein snacks a day to a pounds-off program sets you up for three rewards:

* More satisfaction and less hunger, so sticking with it is easier.

* More weight loss — up to double what you get with the same calories of high-carb snacks like granola bars or crackers.

* A healthier muscle-to-fat ratio when you hit your goal, which increases coordination, too (salsa lessons, anyone?).

Holding onto muscle is a priority for anyone who's trying to lose weight, especially if you're old enough to have seen the Beatles or "I Love Lucy" the first time around. That's because you naturally lose muscle as you accumulate birthdays. And since muscle cells burn more calories than fat, muscle helps keep that weight off. And (here's where those snacks come in) your body needs protein to make muscle.

What belongs on your high-protein snack list? A cup of plain, fat-free, no- sugar added Greek yogurt sprinkled with walnuts. A few slices of broiled or baked chicken breast (skip the skin). A glass of skim milk and a hard-boiled egg. Hummus smeared on red pepper strips. Peanut butter stuffed into celery. Or a yummy smoothie made from silken tofu whirled with frozen berries and a banana. Add a splash of OJ and some ice if you prefer your protein extra-frosty.

7 ways to cut your Alzheimer's risk in half

What if we said that you control seven major factors for memory loss, Alzheimer's disease and cognitive dysfunction? And that changing a few daily habits cuts your threat from these brain thieves in half. You'd pay attention, right?

Then listen up. Old age and dementia do not have to go hand-in-hand. Take as many of these seven steps as you need to, and enjoy keeping all your marbles.

1. Quit smoking.

2. Get active. Start small. For instance, walk in place whenever you're on the phone. Eventually, put a treadmill or stationary bike smack in front of the TV and don't watch unless your feet are in motion.

3. Get smarter. Going back to school, especially for new job training, is a twofer: Brain work makes you sharper forever and improves your job odds in tough times.

4. Brighten up. Fighting bouts of depression? See your doc about starting or changing your medication. And get extra-serious about step 2: Walking daily is a powerful depression fighter.

5, 6, 7. Stop three brain threats at once. We're talking hypertension, obesity and diabetes. What prevents or reverses them is identical: Eat more fruits, vegetables, fish and 100 percent whole grains. Cut saturated fat and calories. Exercise 30 minutes a day. Lose weight. Enjoy feeling terrific!

Rx for a faster hospital exit: Get out of bed

Starchy sheets, way too much Jell-O, that dratted IV, a roommate who watches the weirdest TV — there are plenty of reasons to wish you were home when something lands you in the hospital. Best way to get your wish? Get out of your bed ASAP.

Strolling the ward could cut your hospital visit by nearly two days. Of course, you need to get your doc's OK first. But once you're cleared for take-off, setting out on a short walk, then adding about 600 steps a day (about 12 minutes of easy walking) can be a great early-exit strategy.

Walking keeps your muscles strong and joints limber. And it gets hospital patients out the door sooner, even after big-deal events like heart attacks and knee-replacement surgery.

Going from horizontal (you, lying in bed) to vertical (you, in robe and walking shoes, doing laps around the nurses' station) improves circulation, helps medications you're taking get where they need to go and gives you a mental boost. Make it work with these smart steps:

* First, be sure it's OK to get up.

* Make sure you've got nonslip shoes, socks and a robe or sweatsuit you won't mind being seen in. (Bunny slippers and a hospital gown? Maybe not.)

* If you need a steadying cane or walker, use it.

* Have someone walk with you. It'll give your visitors something to do and keep you safe.

Pump iron, kick tobacco

Ready to put down that stick o' nicotine? Start by lifting weights or stretching resistance bands, and you'll double your odds of kicking the habit for good.

You may have heard that adding exercise to a smart "kick butts" plan is a proven crave-crusher. Simply walking every day engages your brain's emotion centers, releasing mood-brightening compounds that dial down tobacco urges. Now we know even more.

The news is that making muscle-building part of your stop-smoking strategy can help you stay on track for months and can keep you from gaining weight while you kick the habit. Big bonus!

Strength training likely helps the same way other physical activity does: by reducing stress and anxiety when you really want to smoke, and by relieving the uncomfortable effects of nicotine withdrawal. All it takes: two muscle-building sessions a week that target every area of your body — arms, legs, torso.

Start walking and weight work before you crumple up your last pack.

Meanwhile, check your insurance policy to see what stop-smoking aids are covered (counseling? Crave-stopping medications like bupropion? Nicotine replacements?).

Then see your doc for support, guidance and maybe an Rx. Enlist friends and family as cheerleaders. Find a quit buddy or two and invite 'em to pump iron with you. Strength in numbers!

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