Monday, 30 July 2007

Soldiers exposed to Agent Orange may have higher blood pressure

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The chemicals used for various purposes in history's wars are generally scrutinized long after for the possible affects they have on soldiers - from both sides.

As such, the infamous Agent Orange chemical that was used to deforest jungles in Vietnam decades ago is now being linked to a rising of blood pressure in veterans that were exposed to it during the Vietnam War.

This won't be the last, of course. Are chemicals used to try and assist military efforts in many wars worth it when they come back to actually harm the soldiers they were initially used to help? That's a discussion best left to veterans that now are seeing effects from chemicals like these, and they're the only ones qualified to have a voice here in my opinion.

Why skinny people don't like fat people: It's evolutionary

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As I sit down to work in the afternoon, I often have the TV blaring away in the background, and while most people would find it impossible to work in such conditions, I don't really like TV (especially daytime TV) so I find it easy to tune out. Over the past few weeks, I've listened with mild amusement some old episodes of 'The Dr. Phil House', where opposites are pitted against one another in a blatant attempt at ratings. If you haven't seen it, it's a reality TV-style house which contains a fat guy who hates skinny people and a skinny girl who hates fat people, plus an array of other colourful combination.

I do have a point here. A study shows that the skinny girl who hates fat people might not just be prejudiced -- it might be an evolved response. According to The Independent in Britain, when a slim person sees an obese person, their immune system is triggered because the brain relates site of the obese person to a fear of infection. Moreover, in a series of questions given to subjects, the people who exhibited disgust towards germs and bad hygiene were more likely to discriminate against someone based on their weight.

But regardless of whether it's a 'natural' reaction, discrimination is still wrong, and I think being prejudiced is ultimately a learned behaviour. What do you think?

Exercise is a must. Here's why

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I know so many people who will do anything to avoid exercise, whether they're losing weight or not. I don't really understand it -- I love exercise and I'd rather work out lots than have to cut out certain foods, but to each their own, right? I'm glad I love exercise because it is so, so good for you. Here are just some highlights of the ways exercise can improve your life:
  • It increases your energy level
  • It helps you sleep better
  • It reduces tension in both your mind and body
  • It improves concentration and decision-making skills
  • It boosts self-confidence
  • It helps clean waste from your body
  • It reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • It improves your sex life
It sounds like some sort of snake-oil 'miracle' drug that's being marketed on late-night TV but exercise does all this and more. Since I established a regular routine, I've experienced all of these benefits. For example, I used to be an insomniac, but since I started working out, I haven't had a sleepless night in a year at least. I feel better than ever and I know you will too if you get off the couch and start getting active. So what are you waiting for?

Heal your feet from the pain of heels

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As a tomboy of sorts, I rarely wear high (or even moderately elevated) heals. I prefer my converse sneakers and my flip flops. But there's no denying that when I put them on, I feel pretty good about myself-- they're an instant confidence booster. There's also no denying that after a few hours of teetering above my wedges, my feet hurt. A lot. What's a girl to do?

This article has some helpful suggestions, including:
  • Save heels for special occasions
  • Avoid backless heals as they cause your toes to clench, which leads to muscle strain
  • Some calf stretches can do wonders for your legs.
  • Vary the height of your heals and don't wear ones higher than 4cm for daily use.
  • Visit a chiropodist or podiatrist
  • Also? Use a tennis ball to massage sore feet.
  • Get your significant other to massage your feet .... if you can!
What do you for your aching feet?

August is National Sandwich Month!

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It's almost August and guess what? August is National Sandwich Month! So celebrate the sandwich by enjoying a few. They're delicious and nutritious ... well, mostly anyway. Here are some tips for building a healthy sandwich:
  • Use only 100% whole grain bread. If you're cutting carbs, halve them by having an open-faced sandwich. And toasted is better.
  • Cheese can be your friend if you don't use too much. Choose a flavourful variety like goat cheese
  • Mustard is perhaps the perfect sandwich spread -- it's low-cal and low-fat. Avocado makes another good spread. Avoid the mayo.
  • If tuna salad sandwiches are your thing, skip the mayo and instead mix your ingredients together with some olive oil and lemon juice, or a bit low-fat cream cheese. Yummy!
  • Stay away from that high-fat bacon meatball sub--go for lean protein like turkey breast or, if you're treating yourself, smoked salmon.
  • Load your sandwich with healthy veggies.
  • If you're bringing your sandwich to work, bring the ingredients and put it all together there to avoid the soggy-sandwich situation.
My favourite sandwich is a grilled cheese, but that's a rare treat for me. What's your sandwich?

Rx for energy

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Finding the energy to get through the day is something I know a lot of us struggle with -- I know I do. Energy has a lot to do with your diet and so it shouldn't come as a surprise that there are certain foods that will leave you peppy for hours and certain others (like sugar) that will cause you to crash. Energy-friendly foods are ones that slowly release glucose into your bloodstream, giving you sustained energy for hours. These include items like whole wheat pasta, nuts, lean proteins and anything high in fiber.

For a quick energy fix, avoid foods high in refined sugar and instead opt for things that have natural sugars and carbs, like veggies and fruit. Whole-grain cereal and coffee will also give you an instant perk-up, though be sure to enjoy them without sugar.

Other energy tips? Drink lots of water, and not surprisingly, get lots of sleep -- at least 8 hours a night. And you'll be amazed at how much a walk around the block can wake you up.

Don't be caught committing these diet crimes

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According to this article from eDiets, there are a number of diet sins you should be wary of committing, including:
  • Murdering your veggies by overcooking them. It takes away the nutrient value
  • Slandering thin people because of how they look. You're just jealous, aren't you?
  • Endangering your children by feeding them high-fat, high-sugar junk food, making them finish what's on their plate and giving them an unhealthy role model (you!)
  • Plagiarizing someone's healthy recipe or tip, and insisting it's your own
  • Kidnapping high-fat food from the fridge and devouring it
  • Fraudulently using high-cal, high-fat ingredients and insisting your dish is low fat (You're only hurting yourself)
  • Embezzling ingredients from a recipe you're cooking into your mouth
  • Speeding through dinner. Slow down and enjoy your food!
I am definitely guilty of that last one. I'm usually the first one done dinner and it leads to overeating because I graze from items on the table while I wait for everyone else to finish eating. Yikes! Which ones are you guilty of?

This scale might not help you lose weight but it might make you laugh

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Forget the number on the scale -- measure your weight compared to celebrities and historical figures with the Celebrity Weighing Scale. Are you the size of the Karate Kid, or are you teetering on the size of Mr. Ed? Maybe you're on par with Jay Leno's head. Whatever the case, the goal is to stop you from dreading the scale and the number on it -- instead, the makers want you to be laughing at what you see. You can still make goals, but instead of aiming for a number, you'll aim for, say, Woody Allen.

What do you think ... interesting idea or waste of space?

Parents as fitness role models

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Are you physically fit? If so, do you lead by example when it comes to teaching those healthy habits to your younger kids? With kids being incredibly impressionable at younger ages, the younger good habits are taught, the better -- right?

There are many ways to get your children into a fulfilling fitness lifestyle without overdoing it. Paying close attention to nutrition and diet (and setting a good example) as well as adding physical activity to each day (in increasing amounts) are great ways to set up your youngster for a fit life.

Is this a priority in many families? Judging from the so many obese kids I see these days, probably not - but it's never too late to start. The Diet Channel has a decent mix of ideas on how to propagate this attitude further, and it's easily worth a read.

Cool back-to-school lunch ideas

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I had a bit of a panic attack when I went to the department store last week and saw the back-to-school signs advertising great deals on pens and binders. Yes, it's almost that time if year again. While I'm sure it's a relief for parents of school-age kids, back-to-school time is downright depressing for me, an indicator that sweaters and jeans and shivering my way through the winter is not far off. I despise winter.

But time marches on and as we enter August, parents will be scrambling for school supplies, new clothes and new healthy lunch ideas to pack their children. It can be difficult finding stuff that's both good and good for them, but with a little planning, you should be able to give them something that they will actually eat. For some suggestions on what to send along with your kiddies this year, check out this article from eDiets.

What do you give your kids for lunch?

Take your workout with you

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When I travel, I take full advantage of the word 'vacation'. Basically, I use my away-from-home status as an excuse to skip my daily exercise and eat whatever I want. Then I get a cruel wake-up call when I arrive home to find that my jeans are too tight. But now I have a much more flexible schedule, which means more travel for me. I have to find a way to work the workouts and healthy eating into my trips.

So here's a tip we received this morning from reader Shelley. It's called the Workout that Travels with You and it appears in this month's Men Health. It's an easy plan that you can do from your hotel room, or even the guest room at Aunt Mary's. You don't need any equipment but you could pack your exercise band for some added resistance.

How do you stay fit on the road?

Play the Nintendo Wii in the gym

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A gym in Vancouver is being credited as the first gym in North America to officially incorporate the Nintendo Wii into its physical fitness offerings. Set up as a workout station in a 400 sq ft room with a projection TV, club members are encouraged to use the game console for everything from warm-ups and cool-downs to entire workouts. One session of boxing, tennis, or bowling on the Wii is thought to be equal to a brisk walk and burns 75-125 calories, so depending on what you're looking for it can definitely be a fun part of an overall fitness plan. Sounds more interesting than the treadmill to me!

Via Wii fanboy

Salad spinner saves the day

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lettuceRemember my post a while back about dirty organic produce? I ranted, yes I did, about how organic produce always seems to be dirtier than conventional when you buy it in the store.

Well, speaking of dirty . . .

We joined a CSA farm this year, which we couldn't love more, but it brings the definition of dirty produce to a whole new level. We are spoiled in the stores when things have been pre-washed for us. There is literally dirt caked in-between the lettuce leaves when we get our bounty each week..

So how do we wash it?

Continue reading Salad spinner saves the day

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So finally, is Avandia good or bad?

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There seems to be quite a bit of news about the negative side effects of many prescription drugs these days, but do these drugs help more people than they hurt?

Avandia, a diabetes drug that has received quite a bit of attention from the media since May, has reportedly helped many patients battle the oft-debilitating conditions that come along with having diabetes. Additionally, the drug has been linked to heart problems like many other prescription drugs before it.

Some will say that a single death caused (or partially caused) by the side effects of a prescription drug is worth it if the drug helps hundreds of thousands at the same time. What do you think? Do the possible benefits of certain drugs outweigh the possible or actual death numbers caused by those same drugs?

Sticking to your fitness routine: seven secrets

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I am notoriously inconsistent with my workouts. The only one I do manage to do consistently is walking, but when it comes to strength training, stretching, or other types of exercise I usually manage to drop the ball in pretty short order only to pick it up again somewhere down the road (and then drop it again). That's why I was pleased to come across this post from FitList that outlines seven excellent secrets to sticking to your fitness routine.

Consistency is key when it comes to fitness and most health experts agree that at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise is crucial to maintaining good health. That's why these secrets are so important -- finding a fitness buddy, doing shortened workouts instead of skipping exercise when your schedule fills up, and remembering that fitness is made up of more than cardio (urp), are important parts of keeping your fitness routine alive.

I've been enlightened and plan to put some of these ideas to work. What do you do to stay motivated when the going gets tough? Share your ideas with us!

New genetic links to Multiple Sclerosis found

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The state of genetic research as it applies to disease treatment continues to increase every year from what the media reports. Will there one day be some kind of "cure" for conditions like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and perhaps Multiple Sclerosis?

When it comes to MS, two new genes have been identified that may raise the risk of MS, giving medical researchers possible views into the actual causes of the disease itself.

It's been two decades of dead ends for scientists when it came to studying MS; at least, until now. The exhaustive study revealed two genes responsible for autoimmune disease after scanning the entire human genome of more than 12,000 MS sufferers for possible causes.

10 tips for flatter abs

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Bikini season is in full swing and if you still don't have those abs you've been dreaming of, it's not too late. David Zinczenko, who wrote The Abs Diet for Women recently shared his favorite belly-busting tips with the Today Show. Though you'll recognize much of the advice -- such as eating smaller, more frequent meals and never skipping breakfast -- he also had some new and interesting things to add, such as wearing comfortable clothing (and burn up to 8% more calories a day), and eating blended shakes that you mix, interestingly, until they double in volume.

Don't be disappointed if your dream abs won't become a reality this summer; trimming your waistline is a year-round activity that has to do more with health than with looks anyway. Work hard this year and by next summer you'll be fit, healthy, and the hottest thing on the beach!

Meal ideas for reduced calorie diets

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It seems there's a new diet fad every other week -- all of which claim that they have the "secret" to helping you lose weight. Of course, the truth is that everyone knows the secret to losing weight, and it's increasing your physical activity while reducing your calorie intake.

But how do you reduce calories and still feel like you're eating enough?

Putting together the right foods can be tricky, which is why this post from the Diet Blog is so helpful. It outlines 10 easy meals that you can eat -- all of which contain less than 350 calories. The options include baked potato, soup, chicken, scrambled eggs -- and, despite what you might think, these "low cal" meals will not only help you lose weight, they look pretty tasty, too!

Sticking to a diet: the ultimate mind game

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Is dieting -- long term -- more of a mind game that a battle against hunger? Sure it is. One of the most toughest things to get over when planning to diet for a long time (in an effort to make a nutritionally permanent lifestyle change) is the lingering memory of all those delicious foods that taste so good, but are so very bad for you.

In essence, mental preoccupation with possibly decades of food-titillating memories is quite a bit more powerful than your physical body actually hungering for those kinds of foods (and beverages, too). can you flip between strong and weak periods of healthy behavior? Sure -- and it can happen many times a week and even many times within a single day.

Let's put it this way: say you're eating lunch in your office or cubicle -- let's pretend a salad and water with lemon -- and you smell that cheeseburger and fries scent wafting from down the hall. What do you do?

Complimentary hair bands

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I was just met with the nicest treat today. I arrived at the gym and at the front desk was a basket of complimentary hair bands. Brand new, of course. This isn't the most expensive or extravagant thing a business could do, but it is truly thoughtful and really appreciated.

I frequent the gym about five days a week. I'm normally prepared with all of my clothing, shoes, hair stuff, magazines, mp3 player, etc. Unfortunately, on occasion I forget something. The headphones I can do without. It sucks, but I can survive without them. Forgetting my socks leaves me uncomfortable, but I can go barefoot in my sneakers. My hair though, is another thing all together. I have long straight hair. Not fun to have whipping in my face while running, jumping rope, strength training or anything!

Of course I try to be organized, but nobody's perfect. On occasion, I've had to ask the front desk for office rubber bands to use. They've been generous to provide the few I've needed. Once I even used a deflated balloon I found in my purse (I have two little ones) to tie around my hair. But now I won't have to. Of course I'll continue to make an effort to bring my own hair bands, but if I forget....I'll be grateful to know they'll be at the front desk waiting to make my life easier. The gym I attend, Gainesville Health and Fitness Center is already considered one of the nicest in the world, now they can list themselves as one of the most thoughtful too.

Continue reading Complimentary hair bands

Daily Fit Tip: Stretch while at your desk

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Many of us spend hours (and more hours) sitting at a desk day after day. Without a lot of movement beyond attending silly meetings, those muscles get hard and rigid (and worse sometimes). What can you do?

Every 30 minutes or so, do simple muscle stretching exercises right at your desk. You can stand up or remain sitting down (standing is preferable), but the point is to regularly work those muscles and try to get some extension and flexibility there as well.

Try is this week, and see if you can walk down the hall and into the parking lot where your car may be and after a week of office stretching, see if you can tell a difference.

Jumpstart Your Fitness: Breaking through a plateau

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There are a million and one ways to kink up a perfectly good exercise plan, most of which somehow involve you losing your motivation to workout and/or stick to a healthy eating plan. The worst kinks, however, are when a plateau hits right in the middle of all your hard work. When right at your most motivated all of your weight loss progress stops for some unknown reason and your work seems to suddenly have no effect, no matter what you do.

It's called a plateau and it happens to everybody! There are usually a couple of reasons why, 1) being that your body has become used to the workouts you're doing and it's time to switch things up, or 2) you're actually working too hard and your body is tired and needs more rest between workouts. Breaking through a plateau takes effort and planning but shouldn't be an impossible thing to do. Follow these simple steps to kick it back into gear and start seeing results again from your efforts:

Continue reading Jumpstart Your Fitness: Breaking through a plateau

How to figure out if a product is actually green

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It's hip to be green and marketers know it. That's why when you walk down the aisles of your grocery store, more and more products boast labels that say things like "all natural" and "made with organic ingredients." But how do you know if the product you're buying really is an eco-conscious choice?

Here's a list of four trustworthy labels that you can look for to help assure you that the product you're buying really is what the label claims it is. They include:
  1. Energy Star: Found on home electronics products, this label means the product uses less energy than similar unlabeled products.
  2. USDA Organic: To earn this label, the product must be made up of at least 95% organic ingredients, or in the case of animal products no growth hormones or antibiotics are allowed to be used.
  3. Fair Trade Certified: This label means that strict guidelines were followed that protect farmers socially and economically. In the U.S. it's found on items like coffee and chocolate, among others.
  4. Forest Stewardship Council: Found on wood products, this label assures customers that the piece they are buying came from sustainably managed forests.
Remember, if the product qualifies, it will be labeled. On a recent shopping trip to buy a home appliance, I had a salesperson swear to me that the item I was looking at was Energy Star rated, but when he couldn't produce a label anywhere on the appliance or in the packaging, I had to walk away.

Vioxx trials next yeat to focus on strokes

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The absolute blitzkrieg of lawsuits set to come on full force next year regarding the Vioxx painkiller product is staggering.

Over 8,500 lawsuits are expected, and with such a volume of activity, the judge assigned to the federal trials stated this past week that patients who had strokes while taking the drug will be the main focus of each trial. What that means is only cases where strokes were involved may be tried.

Does this seem particularly bothersome to you? Vioxx was involved in possible heart complications, and although Merck (the manufacturer) has won four of five court cases dealing with heart problems related to Vioxx so far, are the rest simply going to vanish? Weird.

Wear glasses? Makeup tips from Bobbi Brown

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Have you ever wondered if you were wearing the best makeup with your glasses in mind? I wear them pretty regularly but had never really thought about how they specifically affect my makeup, so it was interesting to read this article from Prevention where famous makeup artist Bobbi Brown specifically addresses it in a Q&A. Tips she gives include "less is more" when wearing glasses and eye makeup, and keeping your brows neatly plucked and groomed since glasses often draw extra attention to that area.

She also mentions ideas for nearsighted and farsighted situations, and tips for different skin tones. Now, if I can only get her advice on picking out the glasses themselves! For me, that's the hardest part.

How to find whole grains in the grocery store

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It seems like the more health-conscious we all get the more confusing grocery shopping becomes because food manufacturers keep coming up with new gimmicks and catch phrases to try and trick us into buying their not-so-healthy products. One area that can be especially confusing is whole grains. Whole grains are great for you because of all the nutrients, fiber, and antioxidants that are left intact due to less processing, but finding them can be tricky due to terms like 'wheat' and 'multigrain' that are intended to be misleading.

The best way to get around all the hype is to go straight for the ingredient list, and in the case of whole grains you'll want to see 'whole wheat flour' at the top as the #1 ingredient (as opposed to'wheat flour' and 'unbleached enriched wheat flour' which are the refined versions). Of course you can also look to the nutrition label and get a fiber reading -- whole grain foods will have at least 2.5 grams of fiber per serving in most cases.

Can gray hair help cure skin cancer?

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We wash it, condition it, style it, sometimes hide it under a hat. We twirl it, lose it, color it, and cut it in all manners of styles and shapes. It's our hair and sometimes it can make or break our day, but did you know it can also tell us a lot about the state of our health?

This article has a lot of interesting facts about hair and what hair health can say about a person. In fact, research about how hair grays has led to some interesting findings about melanoma. When a hair grays, it's because stem cells in the hair follicle die off and cells that color hair get confused and put the pigment in the wrong places. In melanoma, the opposite takes place and these same cells grow out of control. Researchers are looking into ways to create drugs that mimic the dying off that happens with graying hair in hopes that it may "turn off" quickly growing cancer cells.

Read more interesting facts about that hair that lives on the top of your head here.

Homes to become "medically smarter?"

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It sounds like the near future -- your fridge ordering groceries over the Internet unattended and wireless smart devices that notify your doctor of possible health complications without an actual visit. Oddly, both of these technologies exist today, but are not yet that popular.

But at least with medical notifications, they soon may be. The University of Florida and IBM are trying to make newer technology that facilitates information exchange between patient and doctor commonplace -- all without visiting (and waiting for) your doctor.

Is this invasion of privacy or a complete convenience? A little of both I say, but I'm sure the voluntary nature of such technology makes it just right for some, allowing doctors to determine who needs to be seen first.

In the kitchen: urban myths debunked

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Is it safe to microwave plastic? What's the scoop on non-stick cookware? Can reusing plastic water bottles be dangerous? There are a lot of opinions on these topics, and Women's Health Magazine recently wrote an article that tries to set the record straight on five rumors that may be circulating in your kitchen.

For instance, Teflon's got a bad rap lately because people fear that non-stick cookware can leach chemicals into their food during cooking. (I replaced my own non-stick with stainless a couple of years ago.) According to the most recent research, there probably isn't anything to worry about, but you should make sure to never let an empty pan on the burner, because in a situation like that, it can get hot enough to cause trouble.

More of your most burning questions are answered, such as: Is it ok to eat cookie dough from the tube? (No.) And should you wash that bagged lettuce one more time, even though it says it's ready to eat? (Yes.) You may not agree with their verdicts, but it's an interesting read nonetheless.

Diesel exhaust harmful to human arteries?

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Are the fumes put out by 18-wheelers dangerous? Along with those large vehicles and regular diesel trucks and cars, the fumes sent out of all those exhaust pipes could be causing damage to the arteries of people regularly exposed to them.

A new study out of UCLA reports that the ultra-small particles from diesel fumes combine with "bad" cholesterol inside the human body that can result in blood vessel inflammation.

Ultimately, this could lead to complete vessel blockage, causing various cardiovascular detriments. And we thought fuel fumes were just bad for the environment; guess not.

Protect your toddler from lead

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Living in a old home has its perks -- lofty ceilings and plenty of charm. But since becoming a parent, and since my children are still so young, I've learned that living in an older home means being diligent about lead exposure.

Homes built before the 1970s are likely to have been painted with lead paint, and window wells are a notorious place for toddlers to find paint chips and dust to stick in their mouths. Children who live in older homes often have a blood test done at age one to screen for lead exposure. Gary at DIY Life has an excellent post about ways to keep your toddler safe from lead in your home, including keeping window wells and doorways clean and washing hands before eating.

If you live in an older home, or if you child frequent visits or stays in a home built before 1970, learn more about lead poisoning and how to prevent it here.

Are you eating the right kind of salt?

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Salt has a bad reputation but in truth it's necessary for the healthy function of the human body. The problem comes in how much salt we all eat, and what kind -- because not all salts are created equal. The common table salt we see everywhere has little to no nutritional value, other than the fact that it's usually iodine fortified. But sea salt, on the other hand, provides many trace minerals such as iodine, iron, copper, zinc, manganese, cobalt, and selenium. And some forms of sea salt even contain significantly less sodium than table salt, and that's always a good thing!

Get fit in style: Ferrari Unica Home Gym

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Ferrari does everything in style, so it makes sense that their Unica home gym would not only be top of the line, but a stylish piece of equipment as well, right? They don't disappoint; the $17,000 home gym comes complete with classic Ferrari coloring and style and the ability to do 25 different exercises. Not only that, it also has an individualized training plan programmed in upon arrival for the new owner to use.

Like any piece of exercise equipment, however, it only works if you use it. Otherwise, it's just a very, very expensive place to hang your laundry.

Taking a look at double depression

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The term "depression" does not evoke happy times for many. From light to heavy depression, those who suffer from it generally have a lower quality of life -- for a while or even for extended periods of time.

Sure, there are prescription drugs that help many, but what if you suffer from "double depression?" If you have recurring (chronic) depression considered "light depression" that ends up turning into major depression, then you may be familiar with the term. Or, maybe not.

A new study states that increased levels of hopelessness were present in patients with double depression above and beyond those hopeless levels from people suffering from light or major depression alone. This sounds like an obvious conclusion, but it puts the focus on those with a double dose of depression. After all, top levels of hopelessness in anyone is never a good cloud to have hanging over you day after day. If you've been there, I hope you received some kind of help.