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The Guide to Health

All you really need to know about your health, that's right, you learned in kindergarten!

By Amanda Litvinov


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Barbara Ellicott had every reason to give up. After a vicious pit bull attack in 1994, the woman who had completed both the Boston and New York marathons was told she might never run again. “It was like a death sentence,” she says. A decade later, she was told she might not be able to even walk more than a mile due to complications of Lyme disease. So how did this retired New Jersey speech pathologist complete full marathons in 2007 and again in 2009, at the age of 68? “My daughters inspired me to keep trying,” she says. She credits them and her commitment to a vegan diet with “bringing me back to life.” Today she inspires others as a speaker at vegetarian and medical conferences.



When it comes to your health, you learned all the basics long before your feet touched the floor at the dinner table. But over the years, adults tend to rack up bad habits, and yes, make excuses for them that are about as lame as “the dog ate my homework.” Fortunately, your kindergarten colleagues are here to set you straight again.

TABLE MANNERS “You can’t say you don’t like something until you’ve tried it,” reminds Durham, North Carolina, teacher Jamie Barnhill. “And if it’s a new food, I ask them to try it three or four different ways before they write it off.” Not so hot on steamed broccoli? Try it fresh with a zesty low-fat dressing, or sautéed and served in a tortilla with lowfat cheese and salsa.

The point is to make sure there’s some color on your plate, says Barnhill. If your meals tend to come in shades of white and tan, you’re eating too many processed foods that aren’t as nutrient-rich as their more colorful cousins.

Check out a local farmers’ market or see if you can sign on to a local co-op to receive regular deliveries of locally grown produce. You won’t believe how tasty lettuce is when it hasn’t been shelved for weeks before landing in your salad.

NOT HUNGRY? Don’t eat. Beautiful in its simplicity, isn’t it? “I tell my kindergartners all the time, if you’re not hungry, stop eating,” says Washington, New Jersey, teacher Peggy Campbell Rush.

According to Mayo Clinic nutritionists, everything from prescription drugs to stressful days can make you feel like you need to eat. The key is to be honest with yourself about how many calories you’ve consumed, and keep small, smart snacks handy.

GO TO BED, ALREADY! “It’s disturbing to hear from your kindergartner that they watched the Tonight Show last night,” says Barnhill. And he has no problem sending a note home to parents. Maybe you need a reminder, too? If you regularly feel drowsy during the day, pay attention to your body. Chances are your body requires more sleep. Without it, you may feel depressed, suffer memory loss, and get sicker, faster. And, you may make the roads a little more dangerous: According to the National Sleep Foundation, drowsy drivers cause about 100,000 accidents yearly.

DON’T SKIP RECESS. Five-year-olds don’t need to be taught this one. So why, as an adult, do you think you can work through an eight-hour (if you’re lucky) day without moving your bod? Try a quick 20-minute walk to get your blood flowing.

Campbell Rush helps her kindergarteners learn about the mind-body connection through calisthenics that help clear the mind. “We do a lot of jumping jacks and push-ups,” she says.

Another simple activity works your arms and brain: Alternating criss-crossed arms held high in front of you can trigger a release of serotonin that allows you to concentrate, whether you’re behind a student’s desk or your own.

And here’s Barnhill’s advice for staying active outside: “Exercise like a kid,” he says, meaning, find a physical activity you love and indulge in it as often as possible.


3 Easy Ways to Make a Difference

Yes, school-year workloads can make it hard to plan meals. But remember, says Sharon Palmer, editor of Environmental Nutrition, diet is related to six of the top 10 killer diseases in the United States. Everyday choices add up, so here are three recommendations to get you on the right track.


Make quinoa your new side dish. Easily mistaken for a grain, quinoa (KEEN-wah) is actually a seed that provides protein, copper, and magnesium—an entire rainbow of nutrients that’s stripped from white rice, says Palmer. If you’re ready for more side dish experiments, try amaranth, spelt, or wheat berries.

Dark chocolate
Are you as happy as we are that chocolate is still on the good foods list? Remember, we’re talking dark chocolate—at least 70 percent cocoa, Palmer advises. And don’t do yourself wrong by eating the whole bar. A one-ounce portion gives the antioxidant benefit of polyphenols without excessive sugar and fat.

They’re packed with fat! But read on before you run the other way—Palmer explains that these are the monounsaturated kind that can reduce bad cholesterol. Slip slices into your sandwiches instead of mayo for a creamy richness that isn’t artery clogging, and skip the dressing when you put them in your salads.

Off to Class—Fitness Class, That Is

Why did we turn to a world languages instructor to get the skinny on today’s most popular exercise classes? Because Kerry Titone, who teaches at Northport High School in Northport, New York, is also a certified fitness instructor. She reminds us that no matter which form of exercise you choose, the ideal is to get 30–45 minutes of moderate activity, three to five times each week

Salsa Aerobics

What does it work?
“Everything! This cardio class is designed to get your heart rate up and torch calories,” says Titone, and all to a Latin beat.

Is it strenuous?
Not really. Instructors should demonstrate modifications.

Who should try it?
Anyone who loves to dance and wants to have fun during their workouts—it’s like a party! Beginner- friendly, says Titone.

Belly Dancing

What does it work?
Hip drops, figure eights, and shimmies work the abdominal core and oblique muscles, says Titone.

Is it strenuous?
No. Risk of injury is low, but you can still work up a sweat.

Who should try it?
People who like slower movements, colorful costumes, and a sense of history—belly dancing is estimated to be 2,000 years old.


What does it work?
Expect a full-body workout that lengthens and strengthens, with a non-stop focus on the core.

Is it strenuous?
Some moves are; expect to feel the burn.

Who should try it?
People who pay attention to detail—proper form is everything in this workout. Best for intermediates.

Boot Camp Fitness

What does it work?
All of the large muscle groups—arms, legs, chest, abs, and back—usually in intervals, with cardio.

Is it strenuous?
Yes, Titone warns. You’ll feel the burn before you get through that last set of reps.

Who should try it?
Advanced gym-goers will appreciate the challenge; beginners should work up to it. No matter how experienced you are, listen to your body, hydrate, and take breaks as needed.

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