How to exercise outside with spring allergies

No doubt many of us are shooing off the last remnants of winter and rejoicing that (according to the calendar, at least) it’s finally spring. Good riddance, bulky coats and stuffy gyms. Welcome, t-shirts and jogs outside, where it’s lukewarm, flowery and full of people who are equally jazzed to be walking without shivering. Hallelujah.

But then — behold, a familiar enemy.

“Now the sun is higher in the sky, you’re craving exercise and all of a sudden, your spring allergies hit,” says Lisa Lynn, a New York-based fitness trainer. “And it’s gigantic. Now you have a new reason not to exercise, because the allergies make you feel exhausted, and some of the symptoms, like stuffy nose and irritated eyes, can be debilitating enough to make you not want to move.”

Lynn, who specializes in performance nutrition and is perhaps best known for being Martha Stewart’s personal trainer for 13 years, is no stranger to intrusive seasonal allergies. She won’t accept sniffing and sneezing as excuses to miss out on outdoor exercise –- not after you’ve been cooped up in a gym (or in front of Netflix) for the last few months. Below, Lynn shares advice for reaping the benefits of exercise and fresh air while avoiding the worst of spring allergies.

Know your enemy. For seasonal allergy sufferers, the enemy -– the thing that makes you sniff and sneeze -– is pollen, and time of day and weather can affect how much of it you’ll encounter. The pollen count (the amount of pollen in the air) is typically highest in the mornings, so save your outdoor workouts for the afternoon or evening. (If you’re running at night, remember to sport reflective gear for visibility.) Pollen is usually at its peak levels during warm, dry, windy weather and at its lowest during cool, damp weather, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Weather channels and websites, including the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology’s National Allergy Bureau website, will show pollen counts for your area so you know when to take your workout outside and when to stick to the gym.

Cover your hair. Lynn says it’s key to wear a hat so pollen doesn’t stick to your hair. This is especially important for people who don’t wash their hair every day, she says. “You want to cover [your head] so you don’t get all that stuff in your hair and let it continually irritate you.” She points out that a billed hat, like a baseball cap, can play double duty by protecting your hair from irritants and providing sun protection.

Shield your eyes. Wear sport goggles, regular eyeglasses with an attachable band securing them to your head or sunglasses while exercising out doors. Lynn explains: “If the pollen never gets in your eyes, you never really have to worry about it.”

Get clean. We hope for your sake (and for whomever is in smelling range) that you’re bathing after exercising. This step is even more important for allergy sufferers, because the pollen can stick to their bodies and irritate them long after their venture outside. If you’ve decided to exercise at night, wash thoroughly before hitting the hay. Your allergy symptoms will get worse, Lynn says, “if you jump into bed with pollen and allergy irritants on your body.”

Discuss your medicines. Lynn, who suffers from allergies herself, says some antihistamines can make you feel tired. Work with your pharmacist or doctor to discuss the side effects of your allergy medicines and when you should take them. This way, you can avoid taking a medicine that will drag you down minutes before you plan to exercise.

Go back to the basics. While this advice is relevant any time of year, it’s worth repeating. For one, drink “buckets of water,” Lynn says, pointing out that “it’s great to be in a predicament where we’re going to sweat again.” Feel your best while exercising by eating a balanced diet that’s high in fruits and vegetables. There’s some evidence suggesting the vitamin C in plant-based foods may help reduce allergy symptoms, and even if that’s not the case, “they’ll just make you feel good, because they’re natural sources of energy,” Lynn says.

And as you begin spring cleaning, now may be a good time to check in with the state of your gym shoes, Lynn says. Replace shoes as they become worn out, although experts have different ideas on when shoes officially become kaput. The point: Don’t wait until your shoes are visibly tattered, or you may end up hurting yourself.

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Trying to cut back on salt? Focus on spices during cooking

Teaching people how to cook with spices could help them get their sodium levels down, a small new study suggests.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego and Johns Hopkins University found that sodium intake decreased more when people were taught how to use spices and herbs in their cooking, choose low-sodium foods at restaurants and monitor their diet, than when people were left to go it alone.

“Given the challenges of lowering salt in the American diet, we need a public health approach aimed at making it possible for consumers to adhere to an eating pattern with less salt,” study researcher Cheryl A. M. Anderson, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at the university, said in a statement. “This intervention using education and tasty alternatives to sodium could be one solution.”

The study was funded by the McCormick Science Institute, which is a research organization that receives funding from the spice company McCormick & Company, Inc. However, McCormick Science Institute had no role in the data collection or analysis. The study was presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association; because the findings have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, they should be considered preliminary.

Fifty-five overweight people with an average age of 61 participated in the first part of the study; most of the participants were African American, 63 percent had high blood pressure, and 18 percent had diabetes.

They first consumed a low-sodium diet – for which researchers provided all foods and drinks — for four weeks. During this part of the study, the participants decreased their sodium intake from an average of 3,450 milligrams per day to 1,656 milligrams per day.

Then, 40 of the participants from the first half of the study took part in the second half of the study. Twenty were assigned to a 20-week intervention where they received advice on replacing sodium in their diets with spices and herbs, watched cooking demonstrations and received dietary advice. They also received spices to use for their own cooking. The other 20 did not go through this intervention. Researchers wanted to see how well the participants were able to maintain low sodium consumption from the first part of the study to the second part of the study.

People in the intervention group “were encouraged to purchase fresh foods, and to cook at home using spices and herbs to flavor foods,” Anderson told HuffPost. “Eating foods that taste good are important for adherence to healthful eating, and we encouraged them to share how they were modifying their recipes to remove sodium and flavor with herbs and spices.”

Even though sodium consumption increased in both groups for the second part of the study, those who were in the intervention group consumed 966 fewer milligrams per day of sodium, on average, than the other group.

According to the current dietary guidelines, U.S. adults should consume 2,300 milligrams of sodium or less each day, with some groups being advised to consume 1,500 milligrams or less each day. Sodium consumption is linked with blood pressure, and high blood pressure is a known risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

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The best parts of fruits and veggies you’re not eating

Most adults would benefit from one and a half to two cups of fruit and two to three cups of vegetables each day. But it might be easier to reach our recommended servings if we didn’t throw away so many beneficial pieces and parts of our favorite fruits and veggies. (Not to mention we might just want to stop wasting 25 to 33 percent of our food globally). Yep, we’re talking seeds, skins, stems and more you thought you were supposed to toss.

Turns out, thanks to some big-time health benefits, those incidentals don’t need to be banished to the compost heap. Start enjoying these eight extras today.

Apple Peel

An antioxidant called quercetin awaits in the skin of your apple, providing benefits to the lungs and the brain. Apple peel also packs more fiber and vitamins than the flesh of the fruit.

Swiss Chard Stems

A 2006 study found that within those brightly-hued stalks have substantial amounts of glutamine, an amino acid that plays an essential role in the body’s healing and repairing processes. Try chopping and cooking those stems right along with the leaves.

Orange Peel

According to a 2004 study, a chemical in the peel of oranges and other citrus fruits may have a cholesterol-lowering effect stronger than that of some prescription drugs. The compounds, polymethoxylated flavones, may also account for citrus fruits’ protective powers against heart disease and inflammation, according to the study.

Not to worry: You don’t have to bite into the thing whole. Grate or zest the rind to flavor your favorite dishes.

Beet Greens

Although now we harvest these plants for their roots — the beets — they were grown first for their leaves, according to The Complete Leafy Greens Cookbook. Cook ‘em for major fiber, calcium, iron and more, plus heaping helpings of vitamins A and K. Expect a taste that’s half beet, half kale, all yum.

Watermelon Rind

The watery flesh of this summertime favorite contains an amino acid called L-citrulline, thought to improve athletic performance and ease muscle soreness. But citrulline, which also helps remove nitrogen from the blood, was discovered to be in the rind of the watermelon too, in a 2003 study from the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

Turnip Greens

These not-to-be-discarded leaves are a sweet and spicy mix. Like beet greens, they’re sky high in vitamins A and K, as well as a very good source of fiber, iron, potassium and more.

Potato Skin

The flesh of your spud has a lot to offer too, but, ounce for ounce, the skin provides more fiber. It also contains a host of B vitamins, vitamin C, iron, calcium and potassium, among other nutrients, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. That doesn’t mean ordering the potato skins at the bar; stick to baked spuds with the skin on, please.

Pumpkin Seeds

Next time you’re carving a pumpkin, set aside the gory guts as you scoop ‘em out. About half a cup contains more than your daily recommended intake of magnesium, low levels of which may lead to heart problems, osteoporosis and headaches. Pepitas are also rich in iron and protein, as well as certain plant-based compounds called phytosterols, which have been shown to reduce “bad” cholesterol.

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The ultimate staircase workout for serious fitness gains

We’re not talking about StairMaster workouts, though they might have their place. We’re talking about a good old-fashioned set of steps, be they the zigzagging flights in your office building or the well-trod bleachers at a nearby stadium. A staircase workout is an incredibly effective way to improve fitness and overall health: One study found that simply walking up 200 steps twice a day, five days a week, for eight weeks, can cause a 17 percent increase in VO2 max, which is a common way of measuring someone’s aerobic fitness.

Running up stairs brings even more benefits. Because the body is constantly being lifted upward with each step, it engages more leg muscles than running and improves vertical jump. Plus, according to Greatist Expert and strength trainer Jordan Syatt, running up stairs is easier on the joints than regular sprints, and better improves an athlete’s range of motion.

But the best thing about staircase workouts? They can be done on any staircase and they don’t cost a thing. So find some steps and step on the gas, because Jordan Syatt has put together two incredible high-intensity interval training staircase workouts — one for beginners and one for the more advanced peeps. You shouldn’t need too many stairs for this, just enough that you can run continuously for 10 to 15 seconds (about two to three flights). Remember to keep your focus on the top of the steps ahead of you. You can do it!

What’s your favorite free workout? Let us know in the comments below.

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Nutrition Label 2.0: bigger, bolder, better

Ice cream lovers beware: The government knows you’re unlikely to stop after half a cup.

New nutrition labels proposed Thursday for many popular foods, including ice cream, aim to more accurately reflect what people actually eat. And the proposal would make calorie counts on labels more prominent, too, reflecting that nutritionists now focus more on calories than fat.

For the first time, labels also would be required to list any sugars that are added by manufacturers.

In one example of the change, the estimated serving size for ice cream would jump from a half cup to a cup, so the calorie listing on the label would double as well.

The idea behind the change, the first overhaul of the labels in two decades, isn’t that the government thinks people should be eating twice as much; it’s that they should understand how many calories are in what they already are eating. The Food and Drug Administration says that, by law, serving sizes must be based on actual consumption, not some ideal.

“Our guiding principle here is very simple, that you as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into your local grocery store, pick up an item off the shelf and be able to tell whether it’s good for your family,” said first lady Michelle Obama, who joined the FDA in announcing the proposed changes at the White House.

Mrs. Obama made the announcement as part of her Let’s Move initiative to combat child obesity, which is marking its fourth anniversary. On Tuesday, she announced new Agriculture Department rules that would reduce marketing of less-healthful foods in schools.

The new labels would be less cluttered. FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg called them “a more user-friendly version.”

But they are probably several years away. The FDA will take comments on the proposal for 90 days, and a final rule could take another year. Once it’s final, the agency has proposed giving industry two years to comply.

The agency projects food companies will have to pay around $2 billion to revise labels. Companies have resisted some of the changes in the past, including listing added sugars, but the industry is so far withholding criticism.

Pamela Bailey of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the industry group that represents the nation’s largest food companies, called the proposal a “thoughtful review.”

It is still not yet clear what the final labels will look like. The FDA offered two labels in its proposal — one that looks similar to the current version but is shorter and clearer and another that groups the nutrients into a “quick facts” category for things like fat, carbohydrates, sugars and proteins.

There also would be an “avoid too much” category for saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium and added sugar, and a “get enough” section with vitamin D, potassium, calcium, iron and fiber. Potassium and vitamin D are would be additions, based on current thinking that Americans aren’t getting enough of those nutrients. Vitamin C and vitamin A listings are no longer required.

Both versions list calories above all of those nutrients in large, bold type.

Serving sizes have long been misleading, with many single-serving packages listing themselves as multiple servings, so the calorie count appears lower.

Under the proposed rules, both 12-ounce and 20-ounce sodas would be considered one serving, and many foods that are often eaten in one sitting — a bag of chips, a can of soup or a frozen entree, for example — would either be newly listed as a single serving or would list nutrient information both by serving and by container.

The inclusion of added sugars to the label was one of the biggest revisions. Nutrition advocates have long asked for that line on the label because it’s impossible for consumers to know how much sugar in an item is naturally occurring, like that in fruit and dairy products, and how much is added by the manufacturer. Think an apple vs. apple sauce, which comes in sweetened and unsweetened varieties.

According to the Agriculture Department’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, added sugars contribute an average of 16 percent of the total calories in U.S. diets. Though those naturally occurring sugars and the added sugars act the same in the body, the department says the added sugars are just empty calories while naturally occurring ones usually come along with other nutrients.

David Kessler, who was FDA commissioner when the first Nutrition Facts labels were unveiled in the early 1990s, said he thinks focusing on added sugars and calories will have a public health benefit. He said the added sweetness, like added salt, drives overeating. And companies will adjust their recipes to get those numbers down.

While some people ignore the panels, there’s evidence that more are reading them in recent years as there has been a heightened interest in nutrition. An Agriculture Department study released earlier this year said 42 percent of working adults used the panel always or most of the time in 2009 and 2010, up from 34 percent two years earlier.
What do you think of the proposed changes – would they be helpful to you and your family?

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