Category Archives: Health Tips

All About Blood Pressure

Hypertension has almost no symptoms, so women often overlook this dangerous condition. But knowing your numbers could save your life.

What Causes High Blood Pressure? 10 Reasons You Have Hypertension

Every time your heart beats, it pushes blood, nutrients, and oxygen through your arteries to reach the rest of your body. But when you have high blood pressure (anything at or over 140/90 mmHg), it’s a sign that your heart is having to work too hard to pump that blood where it needs to go, says cardiologist Kevin Campbell, MD, author of Women and Cardiovascular Disease. The result: Damaged arteries, a worn-out heart, and an increased risk of heart disease—which is to blame for the deaths of one in three women every year. Here’s what causes high blood pressure, and how you can fight whatever might be throwing your heart into overdrive.

 

  • Sitting on Your Butt

    While the most noticeable way that sitting all day results in high blood pressure (aka hypertension) is by promoting fat storage and weight gain, it’s also true that the less you get your heart pumping and working during the day, the less effective it will become at doing its job over time, Campbell says. And most women don’t work out enough to counteract the effects of sitting disease, according to 2015 research from the University of Toronto.

    Fight Back: Get at least 30 minutes of exercise at least five days (and preferably seven days) a week, advises Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD, director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute at Huntington Medical Research Institutes. Your best bet is performing cardiovascular exercise like swimming, running, and spinning. Plus, even walking can go a long way toward lowering your blood pressure, he says. So start taking extra trips to the water cooler.

    Overdoing It on Alcohol

    “Alcohol use in moderation is actually associated with lower cardiac mortality, possibly because alcohol increases good cholesterol levels and dilates the body’s blood vessels. But excess alcohol tends to jazz up the sympathetic nervous system and increase blood pressure,” he says. What’s more, overdoing it at happy hour can pack on the pounds, which, again, will increase your blood pressure, according to Campbell.

    Fight Back: Drink. But only in moderation, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines as no more than one drink per day in women. Bonus: Research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that women who drink a light to moderate amount on the regular tend to gain less weight over the years compared to those who never raise a glass.

    Eating Too Much Salt

    You probably hate the way a bag of chips—or, more specifically, its sodium—makes you bloat. But there’s a whole other reason to hate salt’s water-retaining ways, Campbell says. When your kidneys respond to excess sodium intake by retaining water, you end up with too many fluids running through your bloodstream, which can increase the pressure on your blood vessels, he says.

    Fight Back: Nix processed foods. According to the CDC, more than nine in 10 Americans get more sodium than they should. The top sources include breads and rolls, lunch meats, cheese, potato chips, pretzels, and popcorn.

     

    Taking Certain Medications

    There’s no end to the number of medications that list increased blood pressure as a possible side effect. Among the most commonly used ones are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, decongestants, certain antidepressants, and hormonal birth control, according to Kloner. Some medications raise blood pressure by causing you to retain water, while others simply cause your blood vessels to constrict.

    Fight Back: If you have high blood pressure, talk to your doc about how your current medications (both prescription and OTC) could potentially affect your ticker, Campbell says. And always discuss possible side effects before popping anything for a cold or sinus infection—these medications can significantly elevate blood pressure levels in some women or even reduce the effectiveness of any medications you are taking to reduce your blood pressure.

    Stress

    By putting your nervous system’s pedal to the metal, stress causes your adrenal glands to pump out blood pressure-increasing hormones, Kloner says. Plus, your body’s natural fight-or-flight response causes your blood vessels to contract. That’s a good way to prevent blood loss if you’re a cavewoman who just had a close call with a lion. But it’s less than helpful when you’re keyed up at work over a tyrannical boss and looming deadlines, he says. The longer you spend in this stressed-out state, the more strain you put on your heart.

    Fight Back: Take a chill pill. While everyone gets stressed from time to time, it’s important to find a way to keep little flare-ups from snowballing into chronic, long-term stress, Campbell says. “For some it’s meditation, for others it’s exercise, or even a hobby.”

    Having a Family History of Hypertension

    If your parents have high blood pressure, your chances of having it are a lot higher. High blood pressure and heart disease definitely have a genetic component, Kloner says, who notes that African Americans are at a higher risk of high blood pressure and heart disease compared to Americans of European, Asian, and Hispanic decent.

    Fight Back: You can’t change your genetics. But you can talk to your doctor about your family history of high blood pressure to help make sure that you stop any spikes before they become a problem, as well as discuss whether you need to take blood pressure-lowering medications, Campbell says. If you don’t already know your family history of hypertension, ask your parents, siblings, and grandparents about their levels

    Smoking (Even Occasionally)

    Even if you don’t consider yourself a smoker, the occasional cigarette every now and then can add up to high blood pressure. The nicotine from just one cig can cause your blood vessels to temporarily narrow, and tobacco smoke itself physically damages the cells that make up your blood vessels, Campbell says. The result: Stiff, inflexible blood vessels, and an ever-increasing risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.

    Fight Back: Whatever your history with cigarettes, any steps to reduce your exposure to smoking can help reduce your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease, he says. Talk to your doctor, friends, and family about your desire to quit. You don’t have to do it by yourself.

    Not Eating Fruits and Vegetables

    Sodium aside, overall poor diets can contribute to high blood pressure levels. While weight gain is a definite link between junky diets and hypertension, other mechanisms might be at play, Campbell says. For instance, researchers at the University of Houston are currently studying how antioxidants may help treat high blood pressure.

    Risk Factors: Focus on a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats, recommends Campbell, who notes that following Mediterranean-type diets is associated with a healthier heart.

    Sleep Apnea

    Besides the obvious downsides of not breathing throughout the night, sleep apnea can shoot up your blood pressure levels, Kloner says. Why? Because when you’re not breathing and your body’s oxygen levels fall, your brain responds by telling your blood vessels to constrict and prioritize oxygen flow to your heart and brain over the rest of your organs as well as your skeletal muscles. The effects can continue long after the sun comes up.

    Risk Factors: Are you a snorer—and not just when you have a cold? Then you might benefit from visiting a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea, such as a pulmonary, sleep, or ENT doctor, he says.

     

    Getting Older

    There’s no getting out of this one: Age ups your risk of high blood pressure. “Readings tend to rise with age and do so exponentially after the age of 30,” Kloner says. “By the age of 75 almost 95 percent of people have high blood pressure.” While changes in your blood vessels and heart are a natural part of the aging process and may up your blood pressure levels, hypertension in older adults most often goes back to all the other risk factors we already discussed, Campbell says. After all, 70 years of stress, sedentary living, and noshing on French fries is going to do far more damage to your blood pressure than 20 years of unhealthy living.

    Fight Back: You can’t turn back the clock, so just focus on decreasing your other risk factors, he says. And made sure to get your blood pressure checked regularly. Most people should get theirs checked at every doctor visit, or at least every two years, according to the CDC. But if you have high blood pressure or are at risk for developing hypertension, you might benefit from taking even more regular readings at home

 

Energy Boosters 5 Morning Rituals to Make Every Day Your Healthiest Day

You’ve probably seen, heard, or even tried them before: tips about what do first thing in the morning to feel better and be better all day. There are 10 things to do to wake up metabolism, and 10 things to increase productivity, and 10 more things to ensure smart food choices that day—whew, that’s a lot to take care of right when you wake up (30 things before coffee?!), and now you’re definitely going to be late to work. Instead, we broke down the easiest tips, plus an upgrade for when you’re feeling ambitious. So you can have the best day ever without burning out by midmorning.

7 Trendy Teas You Should Start Drinking Now

  • Tea Benefits

    “I enjoy a variety of teas throughout the day, and love that I’m protecting my health without even trying. Here’s a look at the latest trends like fermentation and infusions, and their related benefits. These are my favorite antioxidant-rich teas that are delicious and fight aging.” – Judy Joo, Chef and author of Korean Food Made Simple.

    Matcha: The Antioxidant Green Tea

    Matcha is a special powdered green tea usually from Japan, Korea, or China. Because it is finely ground, the whole leaf is consumed rather than strained like other traditional teas. The highest-quality matcha can be pricey, but it is more potent—filled with antioxidants that lower blood pressure and decrease the risk for stroke. It can be prepared a variety of ways: Drink matcha cold by filling a bottle with purified water, adding matcha, and giving it a good shake. You can enjoy it all day long without jitters. Or whisk it into hot water for a traditional tea or add to smoothies and baked goods for a dose of vitamins, color, and flavor.

    Rooibos: The Essential Minerals Tea

    This naturally sweet herbal tisane is caffeine-free and loaded with antioxidants and vitamin C. You’ll find important minerals that protect bone and skin health, like calcium, potassium, magnesium, and zinc too. Rooibos leaves grow on bushes in South Africa, which is why some people call rooibos “red bush tea.” When I host people at home, I love to serve rooibos hot or cold for its deep gorgeous red hue that comes from the drying and natural fermentation process. It’s also delicious with shortbread cookies and other sweets.

    Pu-erh: The Weight-Loss Tea

    This fermented tea is more than 2,000 years old and originates from the Yunnan province of southwestern China. Pu-erh is made from a sun-dried green tea called saiqing mao cha. It’s becoming popular all over the world as a health tea that encourages weight loss by suppressing fatty acid synthesis and lowering cholesterol by producing natural statins. Pu-erh is a luxury item in the Chinese tea world due to its artisanal, labor-intensive production. It is sold in flat disks, wrapped in paper and is a wonderful (if expensive) gift—just be sure you buy from a reputable supplier as many imitations abound.

    Kombucha: The Detoxifying Tea

    Another fermented tea, kombucha is a sweetened tea processed with good bacteria and yeast to create a beverage rich in vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. Kombucha is a natural detoxifier that protects the liver thanks to glucuronic acid. It eliminates toxins from the body through the kidneys and keeps inner digestive organs healthy. Kombucha also contains glucosamine, which combats arthritis by stimulating the production of hyaluronic acid to increase cartilage and joint health. You can ferment kombucha at home, but now it is widely available sold in bottles in the refrigerated drinks section at health food and natural grocery stores. It’s a live drink, so must be kept refrigerated. I love grabbing one to go after a tough yoga class.

    White Tea: The Cancer-Fighting Tea

    White tea is the least processed tea, followed by green and black tea, so it retains the highest level of phytochemicals. High levels of polyphenols coupled with flavonoids and tannins in the tea improve oral health and prevent tooth decay by fighting bad bacteria and reducing plaque. The antioxidants in white tea also reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. This is the tea I always serve to my parents when I’m at home. It’s the perfect cup to drink multiple times a day with mild flavor and not much caffeine.

    Ginseng: The Energy Herbal Tea

    Ginseng, a staple of Korean herbal medicine, is often dried and boiled into an herbal tea that serves as an ultimate health tonic. You can find it in health food stores—and if you’re lucky you can try to make tea with the fresh ginseng root, which I love to do. Ginseng tea increases the power of leukocytes (white blood cells) that destroy viruses and bacteria, relieves anxiety and boosts mood, and even benefits reproductive health. For menopausal women, it even decreases hot flashes. When I’m extra tired in the mornings, I’ll drink ginseng tea for an energy boost without the caffeine crash later in the day.

    Hibiscus: The Digestive Herbal Tea

    Hibiscus is a bushy annual plant with flowers that are used to flavor food and drink, and it is also used medicinally. The fruit acids in hibiscus have a natural laxative effect for healthy digestion that encourages stomach and intestine function and even decreases high blood pressure. In the summer, I love making tacos and a Mexican hibiscus agua fresca (fresh water punch)—with an added Asian-inspired kick of fresh ginger for extra flavor and health benefits.

 

Can We Officially Ban the Tanning Bed, Please?

It’s hard to believe, but there are still people dying (and I mean this quite literally) for a tan. Tanning booths, unaffectionately referred to as cancer booths by fellow dermatologists, are a thriving source of bronzed—and damaged—skin.

Nevermind that the United States Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization’s International Agency of Research on Cancer panel have declared ultraviolet radiation from the sun, and artificial sources—think tanning beds and sun lamps—to be a known carcinogen. Or that the Skin Cancer Foundation found that people who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by a whopping 75 percent. Or even that a study in JAMA Dermatology revealed that the number of skin cancer cases due to tanning is higher than the number of lung cancer cases due to smoking.

In spite of these frightening facts, people still use tanning beds. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 35 percent of American adults, 59 percent of college students, and 17 percent of teens have reported using a tanning bed in their lifetime. Doctors, those affected by skin cancer, and concerned citizens have lobbied with some great success to restrict these cancer-causing machines. Some victories:

  • California, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Texas, and Vermont have passed laws that prohibit minors under the age of 18 from indoor tanning.
  • Oregon and Washington have passed laws prohibiting minors under the age of 18 from using indoor tanning devices, unless a prescription is provided.
  • Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania have passed legislation banning minors under the age of 17 from using tanning devices.
  • By 2015, more than 40 U.S. states had introduced stricter regulations to limit indoor tanning, especially among minors.

That being said, we still have a long way to go. A recent study in the journal Translational Behavioral Medicine: Practice, Policy, Research showed that when 365 non-Hispanic women between the ages of 18 and 30 were surveyed in Washington D.C., most were not in favor of completely banning the tan. Yes, the majority were proponents of laws which prevent children younger than 18 years from indoor tanning. The majority (77.6 percent) were also in favor of stronger health warnings being placed on the tanning devices themselves—but only a low number wanted to see the complete eradication of tanning booths.

But here’s the thing: All the participants had used a tanning booth at least once in the past year. So…there may be a little bias. Had the researchers asked dermatologists, oncologists, or mourning family members who have lost their loved ones to skin cancer, the outcome would likely be quite different.

Even one indoor tanning session can increase users’ risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by 67 percent and basal cell carcinoma by 29 percent. All it takes is one time.That’s why the American Academy of Dermatology opposes indoor tanning and supports a ban on the production and sale of indoor tanning equipment for nonmedical purposes.

12 Totally Delicious Foods That Lower Cholesterol

  • Red Grapefruit

    One study from Israel found that participants who ate a grapefruit with their regular balanced meals for 30 consecutive days decreased their blood lipid levels, while the patients who didn’t eat a grapefruit saw no change. And red grapefruit was more effective than white in lowering blood triglycerides, another form of fat in the blood stream that’s associated with type 2 diabetes. According to study leader Shela Gorinstein, PhD, chief scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the antioxidants in the grapefruits are responsible for their health benefits, adding that the red variety has higher antioxidants than white. Gorinstein says while the fruit and juice are equally beneficial, one fresh grapefruit added to your daily diet is preferred.

     

    Oatmeal

    In general, foods that lower cholesterol are usually high in fiber. But it’s the soluble fiber in particular that reduces the absorption of cholesterol, says Pam Peeke, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland and author of Body for Life for Women. You want at least 5 to 10 grams of soluble fiber and 30 grams of total fiber a day. One cup of cooked oatmeal will get you about 6 grams of fiber, but add a whole banana to your oatmeal and tack on another 4 grams of fiber. Or add a cup of blueberries for an extra 3 grams.

    Walnuts

    Speaking of oatmeal toppings, you can also add a handful of walnuts or almonds. Both destroy bad cholesterol with their polyunsaturated fats, but walnuts especially keep your blood vessels healthy, says Peeke. Just keep your serving to about a dozen nuts.

    Olive Oil

    Look for the extra-virgin variety, which comes less processed and packed with more LDL-lowering antioxidants, says Peeke. About 2 tablespoons a day lowers bad cholesterol, while leaving your HDL undisturbed. Replace any cooking fats like vegetable oil or butter with olive oil to get the heart-healthy benefits.

    Fatty Fish

    Choose fish high in omegas—try mackerel, trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, salmon, and halibut, says Peeke. Replace LDL-boosting saturated fats like red meat with a 3- to 4-ounce serving of fatty fish, two to three times a week. You’ll not only eliminate foods that raise bad cholesterol, but you’ll lower the fatty compounds called triglycerides, she says.

    Plant Sterols and Plant Stanols

    Some margarines, orange juices, and yogurt drinks come fortified with plant stanols and sterols. These plant-based chemicals are found naturally in foods and block cholesterol absorption in the gut. Consuming about 1.5 to 2.5 grams a day has been shown to reduce cholesterol by 7 to 10 percent over two to three weeks, says Peeke. But she prefers you get sterols and stanols in whole foods like seeds, olive oil, nuts, and whole grains. If you’re eating at least three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit a day, there’s no need to add fortified foods to your diet, she says.

    Dark Chocolate

    The flavonoids in dark chocolate decrease blood pressure, lower blood sugar levels, and lower cholesterol, says Peeke. Have an ounce of dark chocolate every day, choosing one that is at least 70 percent cacao. “The higher percentage the less sugar, the more antioxidants, and the more anti-inflammatory properties,” says Peeke.

    Artichokes

    Artichokes have one of the highest levels of soluble fiber among all veggie varieties. This type of fiber not only lowers your LDL levels, but it helps keep your GI tract healthy, leaves you feeling full for longer, and keeps your blood sugar levels balanced, says Eugenia Gianos, MD, assistant professor of cardiology at NYU Langone Medical Center. Add one medium artichoke to your diet and you’ll get almost 5 grams of soluble fiber and 10 grams of total fiber.

    Okra

    Okra is high in fiber and protein, and low in fat. “But it also has the mineral magnesium, which may prevent heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure,” says Gianos. She recommends one cup of okra, which contains about 50 to 70 mg of magnesium. “The daily recommendation is between 300 and 400 mg, which can be obtained by having a variety of vegetables high in magnesium such as broccoli, spinach, and squash.”

    Flaxseed

    Sprinkle a tablespoon onto cereal or mix it into yogurt or smoothies for fiber and healthy fats. “The omega-3s in flaxseed, a type of polyunsaturated fat, improve blood vessel function, decrease inflammation, prevent arrhythmias, and lower triglyceride levels,” says Gianos.

    Collard Greens

    Dark leafy greens, especially collard greens, have been shown to lower cholesterol, says Kate Weiler, author of Real Fit Kitchen, co-founder of DRINKmaple, and certified holistic health coach. “The greens bind to bile acids, which are made from cholesterol, and are excreted through the body,” says Weiler. She recommends a serving of leafy greens a day, or 1 cup raw collard greens (1/3 cup cooked).

    Edamame

    Edamame’s balance of good fats, soy protein, and fiber not only lowers bad cholesterol, but it keeps you full and energized, making this snack a good choice for weight loss, says Gianos. By replacing animal protein with soy protein, you’re avoiding foods with saturated fat, which has been directly linked to cardiovascular disease. Edamame also contains two forms of polyunsaturated fats, omega-3s and omega-6s. But it’s the omega-3s that are associated with the greatest health benefits and reductions in heart disease for their LDL-lowering abilities, says Gianos. One cup of whole edamame will do the trick.

 

Clear the Way to Better Health: Your Medical Test Guide


8 Medical Tests Every Woman Needs

Make a mental checklist of all the things you do to keep yourself healthy. It’s a good bet you thought of your workouts, your good-for-you diet and maybe even a daily vitamin. Great! But if keeping up with medical tests isn’t on your list of healthy behaviors, you’re falling into the mistake that many fit women make: thinking regular exercise plus smart nutrition exempts you from getting routine exams. To truly keep your body healthy, here’s what you need to know.

TEST: Pap Smear

WHO TO SEE: Gynecologist

WHY: Collecting cells from the cervix during a pelvic exam is the best way to tell if your cervix is healthy — cell changes can lead to cervical cancer.

HOW OFTEN: Starting at age 21, most women need to be screened every other year or less, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Once you turn 30 — and you’ve had three consecutive negative tests and no abnormal history — you can get it done once every three years.

TEST: Clinical Breast Exam

WHO TO SEE: Gyno or general practitioner (GP)

WHY: She can feel or see abnormalities in breast tissue, skin and nipples that can indicate cancer.

HOW OFTEN: At least once every three years in your twenties and thirties. But if you want to be checked more frequently, simply ask. After age 40, go yearly.

TEST: Skin Cancer Screening

WHO TO SEE: Dermatologist

WHY: She can ID weirdly shaped moles or other growths that might be cancerous or precancerous.

HOW OFTEN: Get new or changed growths assessed ASAP. If you’re a current or recovering tanning-bed or sun lover, are fair or dotted with moles or freckles or have a family history of skin cancer, see the derm twice a year. If not, go annually.

FAST FACT: Derms are better at diagnosing melanomas than primary-care docs, finds a recent study. The result of better screening? Higher survival rates.

TEST: Hearing Test

WHO TO SEE: Audiologist or certified speech-language pathologist

WHY: Peppering conversations with “Say that again?” is a real problem for the more than 12 percent of people in their twenties and thirties who already have some form of hearing loss, according to a recent study.

HOW OFTEN: Once every 10 years until age 50, then every three years.

TEST: Immunization Check

WHO TO SEE: Your GP

WHY: Up-to-date vaccinations protect you from all sorts of diseases, including some you thought went the way of the dinosaur, such as whooping cough.

HOW OFTEN: At your next physical, have your M.D. review your vaccination history. Some inoculations become less effective over time, so you may need a booster. For example, tetanus shots are vital every 10 years, no rusty nails required.

FAST FACT: One in eight U.S. adults surveyed say they are too busy to get a vaccination, reports the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

TEST: Blood Pressure

WHO TO SEE: Your GP

WHY: The higher it is, the greater your chance of having heart disease, a stroke or kidney damage.

HOW OFTEN: Once every two years if it’s 120/80 or below. If you’ve already been diagnosed with hypertension — or your doc says you’re at risk — measure your BP at home regularly, too. (We like digital cuffs that do all the work for you, like those from omronhealthcare.com.)

FAST FACT: In the U.S., about one in eight women ages 20 to 44 has high blood pressure. Taking the Pill, pregnancy and being overweight can up your risk.

TEST: Cholesterol Panel

WHO TO SEE: Your GP

WHY: High cholesterol means higher risk for heart disease. You want total cholesterol under 200 mg/dL; LDL (bad cholesterol) under 100 mg/dL; HDL (good stuff) 60 mg/dL or more; and triglycerides under 150 mg/dL.

HOW OFTEN: At least once every five years, starting at age 20.

TEST: BMI / Weight

WHO TO SEE: Your GP

WHY: Pick a disease, any disease: Chances are, being overweight puts you at an elevated risk. Your M.D. should weigh you and calculate your body-mass index, the measurement of your weight relative to your height.

HOW OFTEN: Yearly. And if you’re looking to shed pounds, weigh yourself once a week at home and visit your physician monthly to help track your progress.

Age-Specific Tests

In Your 20’s

TEST: Eye Exam

WHO TO SEE: Ophthalmologist

WHY: Many eye problems, such as glaucoma and retinopathy, are detected only via exam. Plus, checkups can help pinpoint related health concerns, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

HOW OFTEN: At least once between the ages of 20 and 29 and twice between ages 30 and 39. Wear glasses or contacts? Take meds that affect your vision? Got diabetes? Go annually.

TEST: STD Screening

WHO TO SEE: Your gyno or GP

WHY: Chlamydia and gonorrhea, which can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, are on the rise, as is syphilis.

HOW OFTEN: Annually if you’re 24 or younger, or if you’ve had sex with multiple or new partners in the past year, regardless of age. Pregnant? Get screened ASAP.

In Your 30’s

TEST: Thyroid Check

WHO TO SEE: Your GP

WHY: Hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid, affects women as much as seven times more than men. Undetected, it can lead to weight gain, joint pain, infertility and even heart disease.

HOW OFTEN: Once every five years starting at age 35.

FAST FACT: Up to 12 million people in the U.S. who have thyroid disease go undiagnosed, notes the American Thyroid Association.

TEST: HPV Test

WHO TO SEE: Gyno

WHY: Two types of HPV cause about 70 percent of all cervical cancers. After age 30, women are less likely to clear the cancer-causing infections.

HOW OFTEN: Request an HPV test with your Pap. If both results are normal, you may not need to be screened for another three years. But no matter how old you are, if your Pap comes back abnormal, ask your doc about getting tested.

In Your 40’s

TEST: Mammogram

WHO TO SEE: Radiologist

WHY: This X-ray helps detect changes in breast tissue that can signal breast cancer.

HOW OFTEN: Annually. While a government task force recently changed their recommendation to yearly screenings starting at age 50, the American Cancer Society still urges women to get started at 40.

FAST FACT: Get a mammogram when your breasts are less tender, usually during the week right after your period.

TEST: Blood Sugar Check

WHO TO SEE: Your GP

WHY: Fasting glucose levels shouldn’t exceed 100 to 125 mg/dL. Higher? Could be diabetes.

HOW OFTEN: Once every three years starting at age 45.

When You Should Get Tested More Often

If you have a family history of heart disease…

Go for regular cholesterol checks. (Your M.D. will determine the best schedule.) Also, if you’re experiencing symptoms, ask if certain screening methods, such as an electrocardiogram or an exercise treadmill test, are right for you.

If you have a family history of breast, ovarian or colorectal cancer…

Find out how old each first-degree relative was when diagnosed. Some docs recommend beginning screening 10 years earlier than the age of the diagnosis of the youngest affected relative. Have multiple first-degree relatives who’ve had ovarian or breast cancer? Perhaps talk to a genetic counselor to assess your risk.

If you are overweight or obese…

In addition to regular blood-pressure checks, keep close tabs on your glucose levels. (Shedding 5 to 10 percent of your weight can neutralize your diabetes risk.) Thyroid problems can also cause weight gain, so ask your M.D. for a test.

Because there is no single set of universally recognized guidelines for medical screenings, FITNESS consulted numerous experts and national agencies to come up with recommendations. These include: Mary Barton, M.D., scientific director of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force; Robert Smith, Ph.D., director of cancer screening at the American Cancer Society; Emily Chew, M.D., deputy director of the Division of Epidemiology and Clinical Applications at the National Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health; Christine Laine, M.D., senior deputy editor of Annals of Internal Medicine; Pamela Peeke, M.D., FITNESS advisory board member and author of Body for Life for Women; the American Heart Association; Gail Royal, M.D., clinical correspondent for the American Academy of Ophthalmology; the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; Jeffrey Garber, M.D., president-elect of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists; the CDC; the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases; the FDA Office of Women’s Health; the American Thyroid Association; Jeanine Downie, M.D., director of Image Dermatology P.C.; Archives of Internal Medicine; the American Academy of Ophthalmology

Find Your Stress Sweet Spot

7 Signs It’s Time to See a Therapist

Everyone has to deal with serious problems from time to time—whether it’s work concerns, family troubles or heartbreak. Sometimes, time heals all wounds and you’re able to handle the situation on your own, while other times, it’s necessary to get a little help. That’s why many individuals turn to a therapist to help them work through their troubles or for “tune-ups.”

“The point of therapy is to give you clarity and guidance to go out and live a rich and meaningful life,” says Dr. Paul Hokemeyer marriage and family therapist. “As such, it should be structured in such a way that has a beginning, middle and end. Each stage should have clearly articulated goals. So the first stage involves getting to your vulnerability. This takes time and the feeling of trust and respect for your therapist. The middle stage involves coming up with a plan of action and the final stage involves implementing the action plan into your life.”

Dr. Hokemeyer says most therapists see clients once per week for 50 minutes, but notes that he’ll see clients twice per week if they are “in crisis or [want] to make quicker progress in their treatment.”

So now that you know what therapy actually entails, how do you know if you’re ready to make the leap? Read ahead for some signs that you may be ready to see a therapist.

Your coping skills aren’t working effectively

“There are many reasons why someone may choose to seek a therapist,” says Mallory Grimste, LCSW, a mental health therapist. “One of the common reasons people choose to see a therapist is their usual coping skills are no longer working as effectively, or their stress levels are so high, that they end up going into a crisis.” If you used to be able to handle work stress easily, but now find that your anxiety is stretching far beyond the 9-5 hours, then working with a therapist is something to consider.

You’re willing to do the work

Psychotherapist Diane Lang, M.A., points out that therapy isn’t a quick fix. “People go into it with this instant gratification mentality,” she says. “It’s actually really tough work. It’s going to be really tough, especially in the beginning.” This is due to spending time reliving or going over older emotions. Lang describes the process as a slope that dips down, before going back up. “If you look at the big picture, [therapy] will help you heal or grieve.”

You’re looking for a safe space

Marital therapist Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D. says two of the main struggles that bring clients into his office are conflict and a sense of feeling “stuck” in some way. “The first involves not being able to resolve some major conflict in your life,” he says. “Typically, it’s a conflict between the externals of your life and your internal feeling state. So the guy you are dating looks great on paper, but emotionally you feel something’s not right. Or, from the outside you look like you have it all but internally you’re riddled with self-doubt and fear. The second is closely related. You feel like you’re running on the hamster wheel of life. You’re frustrated with your behavior and no matter how much will power you throw at it, you can’t change your patterns. Therapy provides you with a frame to sort our these issues. It’s a safe, contained and guided space that enables you put your issues out to the world, analyze and come up with a plan of action to resolve them.”

Grimste notes that therapy is a singular experience where you can pretty much be, say and do whatever you want sans judgment. “You make the decision what to share and what to work on in your sessions,” she says. “If something isn’t working, you can talk with your therapist about it and they will listen to your thoughts and concerns. More and more people are open about the fact they see a therapist for a variety of issues. And the thing is, it’s more common than people realize. However, it’s up to you if you want to share your experience because it’s the therapist’s duty to keep that experience and confidential.”

You’re self-medicating

Self-medicating can take a lot of forms, according to Lang, including overindulging in food, gambling, alcohol or drugs.  If you find that you’re turning to these or other self-medication techniques to make yourself feel better, you may want to go to therapy to get to the root of the problem.

You can’t shake a bad feeling

Of course traumatic events like a death or divorce are also events that motivate you to seek a therapist, but other unexpected events could have the same effect. “If you’re having intense feelings that are chronic for weeks at a time, it’s definitely a red flag,” Lang says. If something that you didn’t think would affect you deeply—like a demotion or a breakup—may have had more of an effect on you than you think, and you can’t move past it, you may want to seek help. Other signs that you’re internalizing a problem, according to Lang, are displaying physical symptoms like experiencing headaches or stomachaches.

Your friends are suggesting it

If you’re starting to get indications from your friends or family that you’re acting differently or unable to control your emotions, therapy may be something to consider, according to Lang. “If you’re starting to get feedback from others that are noticing a change in you, that could be a sign,” she says. “People can often stay in denial.” Bottom line: If many of the people closest to you are worried, it’s time to take a good look at yourself.

You want to go for ‘maintenance’

Experts say that individuals can also turn to therapy for “maintenance”—basically working out your mind, just like you hit the gym three times per week. “It’s interesting that in major metropolitan areas people will pay their personal trainers $200 an hour for a good physical workout and yet dismiss the importance of training their emotions,” Dr. Hokemeyer says. “We live in a relational- and information-based world. To be successful in this space, we must be clear and intentional in our emotional life. Therapy is an investment in our success as productive and relevant human beings.”

6 Surprising Benefits of Sleeping Naked

You know how amazingly free you feel in your birthday suit—especially when you’re cheek-to-cheek with soft, high-thread-count sheets topped with a warm, thick comforter. But, surprisingly, only a mere 8 percent of us are down to clock some z’s in the nude.

Sure, some might say it’s gross—you are rubbing your body and all the sweat, oil, and dirt its acquired throughout the day all over a surface you sleep on every night. But it feels amazing and—even better—it’s surprisingly good for you. Check out all of the benefits to sleeping in the buff:

You’ll actually sleep better

You know how crucial a good-working air conditioner is in the hot summer months. But sleeping in colder temperatures is not only comfortable, it can also increase your ability to fall into a deeper sleep and reduce the number of times you wake up throughout the night, reports a study from the University of Amsterdam. Optimal temperatures for restorative sleep hover around 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, so if you’re snoozing in a room that’s any warmer, your body is not able to reach these optimal temperatures, leading to restlessness and even insomnia.

It might help you lose weight

Not that you need it—especially when you’re signing up for workout classes left and right—but as we cool down at night our body’s growth hormone increases while cortisol, the hormone that causes stress, decreases.

On nights we don’t sleep as well, our cortisol levels become higher, which can trigger our appetite, especially for sugary foods like muffins and cookies. And it’s not just overeating that can cause weight —it’s also the stress we feel from the increase in cortisol. This means that if sleeping naked keeps our body cooler, thus leading to a better night’s sleep, we’ll look better, feel better, and be more energized to kick things into high gear in our workout classes.

It’s one less thing for you to think about

You’re busy—we get it. Between balancing life at work, spending time with your friends and family, signing up for and crushing fitness classes, and spending time relaxing every now and then, you’ve got a ton going on. Why add even one more thing to have to think about at the end of the day. Sleeping naked lets you totally cross the question, “What am I going to wear to bed” off your to-do list. Bonus: You have less clothes to wash every time you do laundry!

It’s better for your below-the-belt area

Male or female, it makes no difference. Snoozing without PJs lets your private parts breathe, which is especially important when they’ve been cooped up in clothing all day. It also allows blood flow to travel more freely throughout the body when there’s no restraining clothing pressing down on certain areas. This means your muscles will be more oxygenated for your early-morning bootcamp! Just don’t forget to continue the habit, as after a long day of working out and clocking in your 9 to 5, your body needs a continued release from the tight clothing that can fester bacteria throughout the day and can lead to a variety of infections.

You might even look younger

Another hormone that’s released while you sleep at night is melatonin—that stuff that you can take supplements of to actually help you sleep even better. Melatonin contributes to anti-aging and healthy skin and is released naturally in the body when its temperature is lowered. So if you want to keep those wrinkles and fine lines at bay, your best bet is to strip down to nothing before sneaking between the sheets.

It boosts your love life

Hey, who isn’t willing to welcome this benefit into their day-to-day? Turns out, people who sleep naked have a happier love life, reports one British survey. To get specific, 57 percent of nude sleepers were happy with the quality of their relationship compared to 48 percent of folks strutting pajamas. Fascinating, right? Plus, skin-to-skin contact is known to increase sexual tension and release feel-good hormones that promote intimacy, one being oxytocin. So next time you hit the sheets with your partner, slip out of those PJs into something more comfortable—aka nada.