With winter finally on its deathbed, it's time to say goodbye to frigid commutes and icy sidewalks, and hello to singing birds, budding flowers...and seasonal allergies.
According to the folks at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, pollen from trees, weeds, and grasses can start kicking as early as February. And that's when symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, congestion, and watery eyes kick in, transforming up to 40 million of us happy-go-lucky human beings into miserable mucus monsters.
"An allergy is an immune system reaction to something that is normally not harmful, but the body thinks is harmful," says Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, and author of The Great Cholesterol Myth. "Seasonal allergies are triggered by substances that are more common at particular times of the year, like pollen. Your body reacts with some kind of inflammation, which produces a lot of annoying symptoms."
In addition to nonstop sneezing, you might experience shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing—all of which significantly decrease the odds that you'll want to work out—much less get in a good session.
Recently, the Food and Drug Administration approved a pill that treats grass pollen allergies. But if you're not interested in being a guinea pig for the FDA, here are 6 tips to keep those spring allergies at bay…
Along with incredible use of alliteration, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology (AAAAI) provides a helpful National Allergy Bureau (NAB) map that reports pollen and mold levels in your area. You can also sign up for personalized daily updates.
Vacuum and dust your place thoroughly, paying close attention to crevices where dust bunnies and cobwebs can hide. Then move on to your carpets, pillows, curtains, upholstered furniture, and under the bed. Oh, and don't forget to wipe down the fan blades. Picking up an Unger duster to get between vents is another bright idea.
Don't just do this routine once and call it quits for the season; do it on the regular. Remember that whenever you crack a window or keep the door open to let in fresh air you're also inviting allergens to make themselves at home.
On high-pollen, windy days, keep your windows shut. But if you need to cool your place down, doing so with a grungy AC filter is a bad idea. Not only will it make your AC unit less efficient, it'll also circulate tainted air throughout your home. When purchasing a new filter, pay attention to the minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) or High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) rating. The type and rating you need depends on your unit. So you're going to do have to do your homework to find the right fit. Basically that means you'll have to ask Google for the answer.
Whether you're running errands or from the cops, if you're doing it outside on a windy day you're probably exacerbating your allergy symptoms by huffing and puffing mold and pollen. Keep the windows and doors shut between 5 AM and 10 AM on blustery days. This can help shield you from allergy symptoms.
If you're not staying in, you do have options to mitigate your suffering. "I prefer starting with the least damaging, safest substances, such as the Similasan remedies, which are homeopathic and basically have no negative side effects," explains Bowden, referring to a Swiss brand of natural eye drops, ear drops, and other remedies. "However, if I were suffering a lot and nothing else was working, I'd try a nasal spray. [But] some OTC drugs have a number of side effects that aren't fun, like sleepiness and the jitters."
"Building up your immune system won't stave off allergies any more than reinforcing your home will stave off hurricanes, but reinforcing your home may make it more likely your home will survive a hurricane," says Bowden. He recommends stocking up on immune-friendly foods and supplements like olive leaf complex, onions, apples, coconut oil, and honey.
"Honey (raw, organic) is soothing for the throat, which is one of the areas most affected by inflammation and irritation," he adds. "Green tea has many healing compounds like catechins. However, how much these things help depends on the severity of the reaction and the sensitivity of the individual."
Two other supplements Bowden recommends are quercetin and stinging nettle. Quercetin is "highly anti-inflammatory and particularly good for allergies," he says. Stinging nettle may help combat the sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes.
We know…it's finally warm outside. But, use the AC in your car instead of rolling the windows down. And while this doesn't let you enjoy the balmy weather or subject the world to John Legend's "All of Me" at an absurdly high volume, it does keep the pollen and mold on the outside of your car instead of inside your body.
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"Go, go, go!" sums up a lot of my fitness advice. If you want to feel your best, look your best—be your best—it's important to get off the couch and start movin' that thang!
That said, staying healthy is all about balance. It's great when you're motivated and taking care of business, but sometimes you need to give yourself a break. That's why today's fitness tip is "Stop, stop, stop!"
If you don't take downtime, sooner or later you're going to crash. That's why in my new book The Big Picture: 11 Laws That Will Change Your Life, law #11 is all about my three Rs: Recharge, Recover, and Relax. Whether your goals include a firmer butt, world domination, or just keeping your kids from blowing up the house, these three Rs will help you accomplish them.
This basically means sleep. Sleeping serves a number of functions. It "reboots" your brain, making room for more knowledge. It facilitates healing—and that includes your sore abs from that killer Yoga X session. And it balances hormones like ghrelin and leptin, two chemicals that help regulate hunger.
Shoot for at least seven or eight hours a night—more if you need it—and make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary. Keep it dark, cozy, comfortable, and free of unnecessary electronics and blinking LED lights. (Unless you live in an air traffic control tower, then the lights are okay.)
Let yourself heal! Exercise creates microtrauma in muscles—little tears in the fibers. Recovery allows them not just to heal, but also to grow back stronger. There's a reason P90X®, P90X2®, and P90X3® all feature recovery weeks. But it's up to you to explore other options beyond light workouts if you want to make the most of your downtime. Massages, stretching, and mineral baths are all worth considering.
And if all that recovery isn't doing the trick, don't be afraid to consult a specialist such as a physical therapist who can assess potential injuries and help you develop a proper recovery program.
Kick back, dude! We're living through one of the most stress-inducing points in human history. Thanks to smartphones and other assorted Internet goodies, it seems like the 40-hour workweek has turned into the 24-hour workday.
Sometimes you just need to put that phone in silent mode, hide it in the back of your closet, and relax. Watch a movie, listen to some music, or curl up with a good book (mine, for example). Not only does it feel great, but giving your brain a break from all the Internet chatter can help you untangle the day's issues and solve problems from angles that might not have occurred to you otherwise.
So don't be afraid to take five. (Heck, take ten if you need it.) If you're fighting the good fight the rest of the time, some quality downtime will do you good.
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Breathing is an essential part of yoga—so essential that Pranayama—a specific yogic breathing technique—is one of the practice's key pillars. While we know that the physical practice of yoga can do wonders to calm our minds, it's often the breathing that accompanies it that really seals the deal.
To relieve anxiety and stress, here are some basic breathing exercises that have been around for thousands of years. With that kind of history, it can't hurt to see if one of them works for you, right?
This technique is one of the most commonly used (and ancient) yogic breathing exercises. It has been used to calm the sympathetic nervous system and to lower the heart rate, which makes it a wonderful technique to use if you are feeling frantic and anxious. It's also a great one to do in the spring because it can help clear out any congestion from seasonal allergies.
Start by finding a comfortable place to sit and breathe naturally through your nose. Then take your right hand to your face and place your index and middle finger between your eyebrows. Let your thumb rest on your right nostril and very gently "close" it off. Breathe in through the left nostril and hold for a moment while your lungs are full of air. Release the right nostril and close the left. Exhale.
Repeat this process for as long as you like, alternating between nostrils. Remember to keep your shoulders relaxed and your breathing light and even. If you have trouble breathing through one nostril at first, stick with it. A few cycles of this exercise should clear that up in no time.
Alternate nostril breathing is all about creating balance between the right and left sides of your body. In yoga, the right side corresponds with the autonomic nervous system and is responsible for regulating essential body functions as well as giving you energy, creativity, and stamina. The left side of the body is considered to be calmer and more passive. It's traditional to start alternate nostril breathing on the left side to encourage a more peaceful mind-set at the start of the practice.
This is one you'll want to practice in a private place, but it's very effective in releasing anger, frustration, and anxiety. If you're feeling a lot of tightness and tension in your chest, neck, and shoulders, definitely give this one a go.
To begin, sit comfortably, and breathe evenly in and out through your nose. Close your eyes and take your index fingers and gently plug your ears (you might want to use that little flap of cartilage at the front of ear to do so).
This is where it gets a little weird. With the ears plugged, inhale and start humming strongly during your exhale. Keep humming until you need to inhale again and then repeat. When you're finished, take a few breaths to breathe evenly and comfortably just as you are.
You might feel silly doing this, but see if you can focus your attention on the sensation inside your body. Do you notice any tingling or vibration in your head and throat? Pay attention to the length of each exhale. You might find that they start to get longer and longer as you practice, and that your stress, anger, and anxiety are melting away.
Nothing fancy here. Sometimes all you need is a minute to sit where you are, close your eyes, and notice your breath to bring mindfulness into the present moment. Try setting alarms for yourself throughout the day to remind yourself to set aside the time to do this. This breathing technique is so simple that you can do it at your desk, but it might be a good chance to step outside and get a change of scenery.
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†Results may vary. Exercise and proper diet are necessary to achieve and maintain weight loss and muscle definition.
Please consult with a physician before beginning any exercise program.
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