Health & Fitness

TVs can be hazardous to kids in more ways than one

If you think watching what’s on the screen is the only danger your kids face from TV (passive viewing can boost blood pressure of young’uns ages 3-8, and 3-year-olds who watch five hours of TV a day are 28 percent more likely to have attention problems at age 7), you’re not with the entire program. Turns out, the set and what it’s resting on may be just as damaging. In the past 22 years, more than 380,000 kids younger than 18 (the median age was 3) showed up in emergency rooms because they were injured by falling TVs. And there’s been a 344 percent increase in reported injuries from 1995 to 2011.

So, for TV viewing safety, here’s our list of smart steps:

1. Limit screen time to two hours a day for kids 12 and younger. And never put a TV in a child’s bedroom. Lots of these injuries happen in kids’ rooms; besides it’ll disrupt study time and sleep patterns.

2. Wall-mount flatscreens; most come with that option. If you can’t, anchor the set to the top of the surface it’s on. You can buy kits and floor stands that clamp them securely. Make sure no amount of tugging or roughhousing can knock it over.

3. Best of all: Turn off the TV and head outside to play with your child. Run, skip rope, take a walk. If you make family activities a part of every day, you’ll all feel better.

Guidelines for treating back pain

Ever since homo sapiens started walking upright, we humans have had back pain. It accounts for 10 percent of all visits to primary-care doctors. Fortunately, for around 85 percent of you, it’s a temporary discomfort, and simple steps can get you up and moving comfortably again.

The current clinical guidelines for treating average back pain say you should stick with physical therapy and/or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen and the pain reliever acetaminophen. (Remember: Take them with lots of warm water.) Most folks can banish their discomfort within three months by using these two simple tools. But if you or your doctor push to do more and get faster results, you can end up on a merry-go-round of unneeded scans and drugs. This isn’t good for you, and it drives up the cost of health care.

Now, we don’t want to see anyone with serious back issues denied the advantages of advanced medical screening, testing and treatments, but usually, you and your doctor should first see if you can ease your pain with over-the-counter medications, heat and/or ice, and physical therapy.

In addition, if your back pain is related to chronic stress, try meditation twice a day for 10 minutes. Extra weight also can cause back pain. We suggest you eliminate the Five Food Felons (no added sugar or sugar syrups, no saturated or trans fat and no grain that isn’t 100 percent whole) and see how much better you feel as you lose weight.

Cellphones and cancer

You know cellphones can cause problems – just ask Anthony Weiner – but can they cause cancer?

Another study recently tried to connect cellphone use with cancer. And while it failed to find a direct cause and effect, it did show that cellphones promote something called oxidative stress (cellphone users gave saliva samples from the side where they held their phones). Oxidative stress (think of it like rust) can stimulate the body to produce toxins that may lead to inflammation, and cellular and genetic damage.

Even though the study didn’t definitely prove anything, it does add one more piece of information to a growing body of suggestive findings that some styles of cellphones use (is yours pinched between your ear and shoulder for hours at a time?) may be bad for your health.

So, here’s what we suggest: When you’re on your cellphone, use a wired earpiece and keep the phone away from your head. Also, keep your cell out of your pocket and away from your waist, whenever possible. Experts say radio frequency waves that cells emit are much less likely to be harmful if the device is kept within a half-inch of your body.

Also, take cellphone breaks. Stop checking texts, e-mail and news every two minutes, and you’ll lower your stress level. That improves everything from cardio health to brain power. And don’t use your mobile devices in any way when you’re driving. That’s probably a cellphone’s biggest health hazard.

The best kind of happy

“The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer someone else up,” wrote Mark Twain in 1896. And 117 years later the human genome has confirmed Twain’s simple formula for true happiness.

We’ve known for a couple of decades that happiness equals longevity, and unhappiness equals disease and earlier death. Watch a funny video and stress hormone levels plummet 70 percent, while endorphins (feel-good hormones) rise 27 percent. And your immune system gets a boost too. But no one ever thought to ask: Is all happiness the same? And does it always make you healthier? That is, until now.

Recent discoveries have shown your genes get turned on or off (that’s called gene expression) by what you and your outside world present to them. And a careful study of folks who say they are happy reveals that different types of happiness have different effects on gene expression. If you gain happiness from helping other people, you produce gene expressions that make your body more resistant to disease. But folks who are happy because they’re pleasing themselves throw genetic switches that make them less healthy. They have high inflammation, which is not good for the heart or brain, and low antiviral and antibody gene expression.

So, for genes that smile (love those gene expressions) and an upbeat outlook on life, volunteer to help a neighbor or with any local organization that inspires you. When you care about other folks and your community, your body will take care of you.

Turning down diabetes threat

One hundred and fifty-seven pounds of beef, veal, pork, lamb and mutton – that’s how much red meat the average North American male eats every year; women average about 100 pounds; and many people eat much more. That’s at least 9 pounds of artery-clogging, brain-damaging, cancer-promoting saturated fat.

But that’s not all the harm it can do to you. For every half-serving increase per week in your usual intake of red meat (that’s 1.5 ounces), you up your risk for type 2 diabetes by 42 percent. Go on a summertime grilled-steak-and-hamburger binge, and you’re looking at a saturated fat and blood glucose disaster. So let’s see if you can reduce your red meat consumption.

Step No. 1: Try giving up half a serving of red meat in each meal; North Americans average between 2 (women) and 3 (men) pounds a week, so there’s plenty of room. That alone will cut your risk for type 2 diabetes.

Step No. 2: For the next two weeks, eat red meat no more than three times a week. Fill in with skinless (never fried) chicken, vegetarian entrees (try pasta primavera) and fish (especially salmon and ocean trout – they’ve got healthful DHA-omega-3 fat and some omega-7).

Step No. 3: Take red meat consumption down to once a week. And remember, cold turkey’s always a tasty meal.

The rewards are enormous: You’ll dodge heart troubles, obesity, diabetes and wrinkles.