Confusing Fitness Advice, Decoded

Should You Work Out On An Empty Stomach?

The Confusion We know that food fuels us. But if you’re looking to lose weight, some people—possibly those who read the 1999 bestseller Body for Life—believe exercising with a growling tummy may help burn fat faster. “The rationale behind this theory is that low glycogen levels cause your body to shift energy utilization away from carbohydrates toward fat,” says Keri Peterson, MD, a medical contributor to HealthiNation.

The Reality This theory holds no weight in the scientific community. “Results of studies show that with low-intensity to moderate exercise, fat burning remained the same for up to 90 minutes in both fasting and non-fasting subjects,” says Dr. Peterson. Need further proof? Working out with or without food in your tummy won’t affect the amount of fat you torch—but not eating before working out may cause muscle loss if you do it regularly, according to the February 2011 issue of Strength and Conditioning Journal.

The Bottom Line When your body is famished, it kicks into survival mode and starts using muscle—like those abs you’ve been working on—as a source of protein. Do your bikini body a favor and make sure you have a light meal or sports drink to raise your blood sugar before exercise.

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Is third-hand smoke harmful too?

I love keeping my “summer blond” year-round, but I’ve heard the highlighting chemicals can cause health problems. True?
—Rachel B., New York, NY

Not quite. Highlights are a safe health bet, as long as they’re applied only to the hair shaft and not to the scalp, where they could burn your skin or seep into your bloodstream. Women yearning for darker locks, however, should take note: Preliminary studies have found tentative links between some permanent dark-color dyes (typically applied to hair and scalp) and certain cancers. That’s not to say you shouldn’t tint your locks—just keep it to a few times a year, and ask your colorist about newer, safer dyes.

We all know smoking is awful, and second-hand smoke is bad. Is third- hand smoke harmful too?
—Sue R., Baltimore, MD

Yes. Inside every plume of smoke are traces of some
250 poisonous gases such as cyanide, ammonia, arsenic, and cadmium. They can linger on hair, skin, and clothing for months after a smoker stubs out her butt. Research shows third- hand smoke may also contain lead, which can mess with brain function. That’s bad news for smokers and the people around them. You don’t need to run next time your smoker buddy visits, but do your best to minimize your day-to-day exposure.

Does “holding it” strengthen or weaken your bladder muscles?

The sinus drip in the back of my throat is driving me nuts. What can I do?

Your sinuses are lubed with a thin lining of germ-catching mucus. But when that layer becomes infected or irritated by allergies, it swells and starts to drip. First, try flushing out your nose with a daily saline rinse.
If, after two weeks, the trickle persists, visit your doc and ask about a steroid nasal spray, which can reduce mucus build up and inflammation. And if that doesn’t work, get a course of antibiotics. Just be sure to stick with them; sinus infections often require a few weeks of damage control.

Does “holding it” strengthen or weaken your bladder muscles?

Neither! When you’re squeezing to hold back the flow of urine, you’re actually flexing your pelvic-floor muscles. But while you might be giving those a good workout, don’t get into the habit of walking around with a full tank. Though holding it won’t damage anything or cause an infection, when your bladder is filled to the brim it can start to spasm, which may cause some humiliating leakage. Why take that chance? Relieve yourself as soon as you feel the urge.

I can’t seem to stop biting my nails.

I can’t seem to stop biting my nails. Could I really be hooked?

—Stacey J., Cleveland, OH

The myth that your nails contain an addictive chemical is just that: a myth. Most nail biting is simply a nasty habit— one that can spread germs and cause bleeding and infections. Try wearing unbreakable fake nails or coating your own with a bitter ointment like Control- It. In extreme cases, biting could signal an anxiety problem, so talk to your doc.

How much water is too much?

How much water is too much? I’m petite, but I drink three liters a day. -Lina P., Northvale, NJ

The amount of H2O you need depends on how much you sweat, not your size. If you’re a jogger in Miami, three liters might be perfect. But if you live somewhere cold and slack on exercise, it could be excessive. Keep an eye on your pee. If it’s dark yellow, you need to drink more; if it’s clear, you may have gone overboard. Sip about eight cups of water throughout the day (don’t chug it all at once!) and you should be just fine.

7 New Year’s Resolutions Health Experts Wish You’d Really Make

Ditch those pie-in-the-sky New Year’s resolutions you make every year. With these doctor- and nutritionist-approved goals, you can be healthier and happier in the new year.By Lauren Gelman and Kelsey Kloss

Eat More

Disclaimer: of the right foods! “We’re big fans of goals that start with ‘eat more’,” says Lauren Slayton, RD, director of FoodTrainers, a New York City-based nutrition counseling service. For example, resolve to fit in more probiotic foods, like miso, apple cider vinegar, and yogurt to improve your mood and cut cravings. If you do want to cut out guilty pleasures, don’t nix them completely. “Instead of having red meat every week, say, ‘I’ll have red meat once a month’,” says Keri Peterson, MD, an internal medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital. Enjoying your cravings once in a while will make staying on track the rest of the time less grueling.

Disclaimer: of the right foods! “We’re big fans of goals that start with ‘eat more’,” says Lauren Slayton, RD, director…

Go to Sleep a Bit Earlier

If vowing to get eight hours of sleep every night is totally unrealistic, tell yourself you’ll go to bed 15 minutes earlier than your usual bedtime. “Keep shifting that number earlier and earlier, rather than vowing, ‘I usually go to bed at midnight, now I’m going to bed at 10,” says Roshini Raj, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center and co-founder of the skin care company TULA. “Everyone has time to go to bed 15 minutes earlier. If you keep doing it, eventually you will be going to sleep an hour and a half earlier.”

If vowing to get eight hours of sleep every night is totally unrealistic, tell yourself you’ll go to bed 15 minutes earlier…

Clean Your Mind Daily

Clutterbugs, this one’s for you. Instead of telling yourself you’ll be more organized this year (as you’ve vowed last year and many years before that), try meditating once a day. “When people are stressed, hurried, anxious, or depressed, they don’t want to keep their place clean,” says Sherry Blair, PhD, a positive psychology expert and University of Southern California adjunct instructor. “Mindfulness will help center you.” In a study of 3,515 adults published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers found 30 minutes of meditation every day improved symptoms of depression and anxiety in participants after eight weeks. “When people start cleaning up, you can tell they’re feeling better,” says Blair.

Clutterbugs, this one’s for you. Instead of telling yourself you’ll be more…

Take Steps to Lose Weight

Really, take more steps. “Instead of just worrying about working out during the week, I want my clients to turn their focus to accumulating more steps during their day-to-day activities,” says Shannon Fable, director of exercise programming at Anytime Fitness. “Even 500 extra steps for five days will lead to significant changes.” Schedule breaks during the day to stroll around the block or walk to your coworkers’ desks instead of emailing. This way, you’re focusing on overall wellness (hello, healthier arteries!) rather than just shedding pounds. “The goal should be achieving a healthier lifestyle, not just losing the weight,” says nutritionist Rania Batayneh, author of The One One One Diet. “With wellness, weight loss can happen naturally.”

Really, take more steps. “Instead of just worrying about working out during…

Define Every Day

Pick a new word to live by each month (say, “friendly” or “wholesome”) and apply it to your daily actions—introduce yourself to that new neighbor, or swap your favorite fast food joint for a juice bar once a week. “That’s a really great roadmap,” says wellness expert Sadie Nardini, author of 21-Day Yoga Body. “So many people move through the year without a clear purpose. If I had a word, it would probably be integrity—to me, that means I’m taking actions that feel aligned with my health and happiness.” Post your word somewhere you can see it or set it as your email password as a reminder.

Pick a new word to live by each month (say, “friendly” or “wholesome”)…

For Cigarette Quitters, Splurge on Something Nice

The catch: You can only use money you save from not smoking. “Smoking increases your risk for every disease out there, from heart disease to cancer,” says Leana Wen, MD, an emergency physician at George Washington University and coauthor of When Doctors Don’t Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Tests. “If I could advise anyone to make any New Year’s resolution, it is to stop smoking.” If you’re one of the nearly 70 percent of adult smokers who want to quit, it’ll likely be hard to stop cold turkey. For extra motivation, pick a “splurge” item once a month that you can only purchase with money not spent on cigarettes. “Say you’re spending $50 a week on smoking,” says addiction specialist and inspirational speaker Marti MacGibbon. “But what if you found $50 under your pillow each Sunday? What would you spend it on?” Tape a photo of your goal item where you can see it often.

The catch: You can only use money you save from not smoking. “Smoking…

Journal Your Favorite Things

Instead of resolving to simply “be happier” this year, write down what you’re thankful for each morning. “No matter how challenging life is at that moment, take time, even if it’s in bed, to remember everything you do have,” says Nardini. “This will help you have more joy in your life.” Research has shown that those who regularly journal what they’re grateful for sleep better, work out more, and visit the doctor less. If keeping a journal isn’t your thing, you can also download gratitude-centric apps for your smartphone.

Instead of resolving to simply “be happier” this year, write down what you’re thankful for each morning. “No matter how…


How to Survive Cold and Flu Season

Cold and flu season is upon us, and our main priority during this one will be avoiding the germs.

During these busy fall months, it’s easy to get wrapped up in your demanding life and let yourself get run down. Whether you’re pulling all-nighters as a student or spending extra hours at work, it’s important to put your health first.

When you run yourself down, your immune system becomes weak and you become more likely to catch a cold. To avoid becoming sick during this busy season, check out some of my favorite tips below:

1. Wash your hands. This is the simplest way to prevent germs from spreading. The suggested time to ensure a proper germ-killing hand wash is 20 seconds.

[Read More: What You Need to Know About Enterovirus D68]

Always wash your hands before and after you use the restroom — and especially before you eat. If you are in an environment where getting up to wash your hands every so often could be problematic, keep a bottle of hand sanitizer handy. By having a disinfectant at your disposal, it will be easier and more convenient to keep on top of constant hand washing.

2. Take a zinc supplement. Zinc is often used for boosting the immune system, preventing lower respiratory infections and treating the common cold and recurring ear infections.

During flu season, if you feel symptoms coming on, you can take a zinc supplement to avoid falling ill. You can find zinc supplements at your nearest pharmacy or grocery store. By taking zinc supplements, you’ll be able to reduce the duration of your cold.

3. Hydrate and eat healthy. Drinking water and following a healthy diet can also help boost and maintain your immune system. Maintaining a healthy immune system lessens common cold symptoms and decreases the risk of getting a cold or the flu.

Drinking lots of water throughout the day is not only important for preventing colds, but it’s also important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Switching from sugary drinks to water is a simple step that will make a huge difference in how you feel.

Staying hydrated is something that should be practiced every single day, but especially during the colder months. It will reduce the likeliness of becoming sick.

4. Get a good night’s sleep. Many of us are guilty of staying up late into the wee hours, but by not getting at least seven hours of sleep, you’re actually doing a disservice to your body and your immune system.

Researchers have found that those who get fewer than seven hours of sleep are three times more likely to get sick. So if you’re a night owl or feel that you’re not getting enough sleep, get strict with yourself and set an earlier bedtime.

–Dr. Petersen

Readers — Do you get an annual flu shot? What steps do you take to avoid getting sick? What methods do you use to reduce your symptoms when you are sick? Do you prefer natural options or over-the-counter medications? Leave a comment below and let us know.

Dr. Keri Peterson obtained her bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and received her medical degree from Mount Sinai School of Medicine. She completed post-graduate training in internal medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and is board-certified in internal medicine. Dr. Petersen has been in private practice with a prominent medical group on the Upper East Side of Manhattan since 1999.

She holds appointments at Lenox Hill Hospital and Mount Sinai Medical Center. She is also a member of the American College of Physicians and the American Medical Association. With a demonstrated commitment to the advancement of medicine, Dr. Peterson has several publications in leading medical and scientific journals and has presented at distinguished medical symposiums.

To learn more about Dr. Peterson, visit her website or connect with her on Twitter.


Preventing Illness During Cold and Flu Season

Flu season is in full swing. It hits hard and fast causing body aches, fever, cough and congestion right off the bat. If you do get the flu, there are antiviral medications available that will make you feel better faster and also prevent you from spreading it to others. But they must be given no later than 48 hours after the onset of symptoms so call your doctor right away.

While you may get better a few days sooner with anti-viral medication, you won’t escape several days of illness.

Adults get 2-4 colds every year and even more for children, mostly between September and May. It’s called the common cold for a reason! Many people think a cold lasts 3-4 days but actually it lasts on average 9 days! They can be very debilitating.

So, we need to take measures not only to prevent cold and flu but also to treat them. Having the best remedies makes a big difference in your comfort. Here are my tips for getting relief!

• Get plenty of rest.
• Use a cool, damp washcloth on your forehead, arms, and legs to reduce discomfort associated with a fever.
• Put a humidifier in your room to make breathing easier.
• Gargle with salt water to soothe a sore throat.
• Cover up with a warm blanket to calm chills
• At the first sign of a cold take Cold-Eeze cold remedy. They are clinically proven to shorten the duration of your cold by almost half. Cold-Eeze zinc ions released in your mouth, inhibit the cold virus from replicating, shortening your cold.

Drink lots of fluids
Water, juice, sports drinks, electrolyte beverages or warm lemon water are all good choices. They help prevent dehydration, loosen up mucus and replace fluids lost from mucus production or fever.


Increase your intake of Vitamin C
Studies have found that taking Vitamin C preventatively did seem to help prevent colds in people who were doing vigorous exercise in extreme environments. And taking vitamin C at the onset of cold symptoms may shorten the duration of symptoms.

Consider echinacea supplements
]Some studies have shown a significant reduction in the severity and duration of cold symptoms when echinacea was taken in the early stages of a cold.

Avoid alcohol and caffeine
They can cause dehydration which can aggravate your symptoms.

Try chicken soup
Generations of parents have spooned chicken soup into their sick children’s mouths. Now scientists have put chicken soup to the test, discovering that it does seem to help relieve cold and flu symptoms in two ways. First, it acts as an anti-inflammatory by inhibiting the movement of neutrophils which are immune system cells that help the body’s response to inflammation. Second, it temporarily speeds up the movement of mucus through the nose, helping relieve congestion and limiting the time viruses are in contact with the nasal lining.

For congestion and runny nose use a saline spray
Most people pass it over for decongestant pills that have pseudoephedrine as an active ingredient, but these pills can have significant side effects like increased blood pressure, jitteriness and insomnia. Saline on the other hand has no side effects. Look for one containing purified water and sodium chloride- this is the purest version with no additives. Saline spray works by drying you out and in addition it flushes out germs and mucous and kills germs.


Cold and flu season: Tips for prevention

Cold and flu season is upon us. And every year, it brings with it the same concerns and questions about prevention and treatment. To help get you through the next few months, we talked with Dr. Keri Peterson, a primary care physician with a private practice on the Upper East Side, for prevention and wellness tips. “You can’t educate enough,” says Peterson, who’s seen the number of patients with respiratory infections in her office increase sevenfold in the past few weeks.

Be smart about the spread of germs

“Pretend there’s a glass table at your neck and your hands can’t go above your neck because they’ll hit the table. I think it’s a good visual. And you want to make sure you wash your hands long enough — use soap and water and wash for at least 20 seconds — the time it takes you to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice. Many people don’t wash them sufficiently to remove germs. You also want to cough into your elbow rather than your hands.”

Approach Enterovirus D68 the same way

“For the vast majority of people, Enterovirus D68 is going to be very similar to the common cold. But it’s especially worrisome for kids with asthma. It’s all the same preventative measures — washing hands, avoiding touching your face. Clean surfaces regularly. I’m a big fan of disinfectant wipes. ”

Get your flu shot

“You should start getting it now if you haven’t already because the flu’s on its way. It takes two weeks for the flu shot to kick in, so now’s the time to get it. And you do need it every year — there are different strains that become dominant every year, so the flu shot is developed to fight off more recent flu invaders.”

Stock up on Cold-EEZE

“[If you have a cold] the first thing you should do is get zinc lozenges, like Cold-EEZE — that will shorten the duration of the cold by half. Suck on that for the next few days. That’s the main thing that’s going to shorten the duration of the cold. Other than that, the only thing that’s going to shorten the cold is rest, eat healthily and drink lots of fluid.”

Relieve other cold symptoms

“If you have congestion, use a saline spray. It really opens up the nasal passage. For a sore throat, you can take ibuprofen or do salt water gargles. For a dry cough, you’d want to use a suppressant to stop the cough, like dextromethorphan. For a wet cough, an expectorant will help clear the airway and ease the cough.”

Know when to see a doctor

“The key thing is being properly diagnosed with the cold vs. the flu. The difference between the cold and flu is the flu hits you like a truck, it comes on more quickly with high fevers, headaches, body aches, congestion and cough all at once. If it’s the flu, you need to initiate treatment quickly. A cold is more insidious — it comes on gradually, with a sore throat and congestion. Fever and aches are very rare. If it’s the common cold, you don’t need to see a physician. But if you’re having symptoms for more than two weeks and your sinuses are becoming really painful, you could get a secondary infection. If you have shortness of breath and severe sinuses, then I would seek treatment.”


Prepare Your Practice for the Upcoming Flu Season

When it comes to preparing your medical practice for the upcoming flu season, the key to success is being proactive, not reactive. A proactive approach means a more efficient and productive practice. And as Keri Peterson, MD, knows, there’s not much you can do once the horse is out of the barn.

“We generally do the Lysol and the Clorox wipes on the doorknobs and the spray of the rooms all year long,” Peterson explains. “But in terms of being more aggressive about cold and flu with the Cold-Eeze and the masks—we start all that September 1st. Everything we do is designed to educate, to protect, and to prevent.”

Methodical approach
Peterson and her staff take a very systematic approach in preparing the practice for flu season. That starts with the entire staff being vaccinated.

“We have to protect ourselves in case a patient comes in demonstrating flu symptoms,” she explains.

Signs with various flu- and health-related messages are also posted around the office. One sign informs patients about different flu symptoms to be aware of, thus educating even those who come to the practice for wellness visits. There are also signs hanging at the entrance to every exam and waiting room encouraging patients to vaccinate.

Hand sanitizers can be found in every exam and waiting room.

“We teach patients. We have signs up also that say, ‘Cough into your elbow,’” Peterson says. “And we educate our patients. If I see a patient who’s coughing when I walk into the room, I will ask them, ‘Please cough into your elbow,’ and teach the patients.”

Along those lines, staff wears pins that say, “Who needs the flu vaccine? You do,” as a reminder that everyone is a candidate. Then once patients receive their flu shot, they get little arm stickers saying “I got my flu shot today.”

Peterson also makes sure to have rapid flu kits on hand so that she and her staff can diagnose patients through a swab in the nose when they come in; a diagnosis at the time of their visit that’s accurate, rather than just making a guesstimate based on symptoms.

Germ free
Peterson and her staff work to control the spread of germs as much as possible. They stock up on masks, and if a patient is suspected of having the flu, if they can’t be quickly quarantined in a room away from other patients, they’re asked to wear a mask while in the waiting room.

Masks are also available for staff.

“I will mask if I’m walking into a room where there’s a suspected case, so that I don’t become contaminated.

Purell in every room, and disinfectant wipes also help reduce the spread of germs. Peterson and her staff wipe down the doorknobs before and after every patient who is sick exits a room. That way, the next patient or staff member who opens the door isn’t touching a contaminated surface.

Peterson also keeps a large supply of Cold-Eeze in the waiting room.

“If a patient demonstrates a sign of a cold, they can grab a package, a two-pack,” she explains. “The zinc in the formula will fight the cold and it will cut the duration of their cold. So if anyone is coming in early on enough in their illness, they can get started on it right away, and then we’ll advise them to go buy some when they leave.”

Of course, Peterson stocks up on flu shots as soon as they become available. And while there have not been any vaccine shortages in the last two years, it’s always a possibility. As such, having a back-up plan is essential.

“There are shortages that can occur, and that can be very detrimental to the practice,” she says. “There have been seasons where the flu shot come out a little later than we would have liked, and that was definitely a bind for us. We wound up having to refer patients to pharmacies, which were well stocked.”

The right mindset
Peterson says that perhaps the most important element in preparing her practice for the flu season is that staff are all of the same prevention and education mindset.

“We rely on our staff to implement the proper measures for sanitizing the rooms,” she says. “If they don’t that leaves every single one of us, and our patients, susceptible. Thank goodness we’ve had our staff long enough to know that we’re all germaphobes, and we are very diligent. We know the protocol.”