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Ditch the Diet Sodas
Synthetic sweeteners like sucralose, saccharin, and aspartame are under fire again. A recent study concluded, "Artificial sweeteners may contribute to the obesity and diabetes epidemics by altering bacteria in the gut," says Lisa Lefferts, senior scientist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. This disruption is believed to harm glucose metabolism, leading to glucose intolerance, an early marker of diabetes. "Cancer is also a concern," Lefferts says.
You're Not Getting Enough Sun
Widespread panic over skin cancer has left us dangerously sun-deprived. Experts estimate that some 40 to 60 percent of us are vitamin D deficient, and research has revealed that having a deficiency can harm your brain and raise cancer and heart attack risks. Studies have also shown that without adequate sunlight, your circadian rhythms can fall out of whack, affecting everything from digestion to mood to immunity. That's why doctors now say it's not the sun you should avoid — it's sunburn. "Sunburn is what increases cancer risk, not sun exposure," says Dr. Michael Holick, a vitamin D expert at Boston University School of Medicine. Short stints of sunshine without sunscreen are not only safe, they're necessary, he says. "Sunblock reduces your body's ability to make vitamin D up to 97 percent," Holick explains.
Sugar: Worse Than We Thought
More than 35 percent of Americans are obese, and more people than ever are dying from heart disease. One big reason why? Sugar. A new study found that 71 percent of adults get more than 10 percent of their daily calories from sweeteners alone. “Added sugars increase risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure, chronic inflammation, and unhealthy blood lipids,” says Rachel Johnson, a professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont and American Heart Association spokesperson. Avoiding sweetened foods is tough, too. “Added sugars are pervasive in foods you might not expect, such as salad dressings, soups, granola, and barbecue and spaghetti sauces.”
Workout Hard or Take It Easy
One of the year’s biggest fitness discoveries: You probably need to push harder during speed work and interval training, and ease up more during longer sessions. “Most people, whether endurance athletes or regular exercisers, unconsciously do a majority of their cardio at moderate intensity,” says running coach Matt Fitzgerald, author of 80/20 Running. “This middle gear stresses the body almost as much as high intensity but isn’t nearly as beneficial for getting better speed or endurance.”
A Final Verdict on Fat
New research confirmed that not only are dietary fats not responsible for the obesity and heart disease epidemics but their absence may be causing them. “We’ve made people fat with nonfat foods,” says Dr. Richard Stein of New York University’s Langone Medical Center. “The high amount of carbohydrates used to substitute for fat in foods means we’re getting much more sugar, triggering a variety of metabolic issues.”
Lifestyle Trumps Drugs
One reinforced research finding was that a healthy lifestyle plays a gigantic role in staving off disease. Prime example: You slash heart attack risk 86 percent if you exercise, eat a balanced diet, stay lean, drink in moderation, and don't smoke. And for each of those healthy habits you pick up in your 30s and 40s, you reduce your heart attack odds 15 percent.
The Rise of Bulletproof Coffee
Bulletproof creator Dave Asprey brought an ancient Himalayan tradition (yak-butter tea) to the states and gave it his own twist – coffee blended with butter and coconut oil. His smooth, frothy energy-concoction caught on this year amidst claims it boosts your brain function and with science supporting the intake of good fats and oils.
The LeBron James Diet
Photos of a leaner, stronger LeBron James blew up social media this August. The MVP had shed an estimated 15 pounds during the offseason, causing fans and experts to wonder: How’d he do it? Turns out, like many other dieters, he cut carbs and ate only lean protein, veggies and fruit for weeks on end.
The World Goes Gluten-Free…
These days, if you aren’t gluten-free, you know someone who is (or who is trying to be). About a third of Americans say that they’re trying to cut down on gluten, according to new reports. And new this year, the FDA implemented strict standards for labeling foods as gluten-free.
…And the Gluten-Free Backlash Begins
Of course, the gluten-free diet has its share of pitfalls. For one, many foods labeled gluten-free are packed with sugar and preservatives. And new research has called gluten sensitivity into question. Even the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness admits that gluten may not be the only cause of symptoms associated with gluten sensitivity.
You (Probably) Don't Need Low-T Drugs
Past research has shown that Low T drugs may cause blood clots. Then this year a big study found that these overprescribed pills, gels, and creams can increase the risk of heart attacks in younger men who really don’t need them. “This is a warning that testosterone therapy shouldn’t be prescribed cavalierly,” says Dr. Bradley Anawalt, a testosterone researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle. “Men with borderline low testosterone but without testicular or pituitary disease should be very cautious. These drugs are not a magic potion to restore youth, and there are risks.” Pharmaceutical companies would have you think otherwise, though—even though there’s no science to show that these drugs even work for guys in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and even 50s who don’t have an underlying medical condition. If you’re looking to boost your mood or get your swagger back, you’ll likely have better luck by de-stressing, sticking to a workout routine, and eating more vegetables.
Hazards of Scented Products
Whether it’s your car air freshener, laundry detergent, cologne, or “pine fresh” aftershave, if it’s scented, it’s likely laden with phthalates. These hormone-disrupting chemicals can cause a host of health issues. “Studies have linked chronic phthalate exposure to allergies, sperm damage, and decreased testosterone levels,” says Caroline Cox, research director at the Center for Environmental Health. More disturbing, companies aren’t required to list phthalates on labels. “You’ll usually just see the generic term ‘fragrance’ to describe a proprietary mixture of chemicals,” says Heather Patisaul, a phthalate researcher at North Carolina State University.
Marijuana Becomes a Training Supplement
With the legalization of marijuana in fitness-savvy Colorado, it was just a matter of time before someone baked energy bars laced with THC. But there are real benefits, especially for endurance athletes: Pain relief, decreased nausea, and (contrary to the stereotype) better focus.
Sitting is the Quiet Killer
Studies showed that inactivity hikes blood sugar, impairs blood vessel function, increases risk of colon and lung cancers, and chips away at fitness gains, even if you’re fit.
Turn Down Your Thermostat
Allow yourself to feel just a little cold, and your body converts unhealthy white fat into calorie-burning brown fat. “Data suggest that activation of brown fat by exposure to mild cold may prove to be a significant aid in regulating body weight and preventing type 2 diabetes,” adds Labros Sidossis, director of metabolic research at the Shriners Hospitals for Children, Galveston.
Organic Really is Worth It
It’s well established that organic foods are better for the environment, but whether they’re healthier than conventional food has been a fierce debate. Last year, evidence backed up the claim that organic produce has superior health benefits, including more disease-fighting antioxidants, and no toxic chemicals from fertilizers and pesticides. Studies showed that organic milk has more heart-healthy omega-3s than conventional milk.
Bacon is Still Bad
Saturated animal fats have been proven to be ok for your health, and it’s not a bad idea for many to incorporate more red meat into your diet. But you should still stay away from bacon, sausage, salami, ham, and other processed meats. Since they’re chockfull of sodium, nitrates, and preservatives and have way more saturated fat than you should eat in one sitting, it takes a shockingly small amount of these meat products to hurt your heart. This year, one study found that eating just three strips of bacon, one bratwurst, or three thin slices of deli meat a day can raise your risk of heart failure by 28 percent. That much can also double your odds of dying from cardiovascular issues.
However, the study found no increase in heart problems or mortality linked to unprocessed red meat. “Choose fresh, lean cuts of beef, pork, lamb, or veal, and stick to a 3- to 5-ounce serving no more than four times a week,” says Linda Van Horn, RD, professor of preventative medicine at Northwestern University and spokesperson for the American Heart Association.”But that’s only if the rest of your diet is high quality, with lots of fruits, veggies, and whole grains.”
It's Ok to Exercise at Night
Saving your cardio workouts for the evening may help you exercise longer and harder — and without disrupting your sleep. One study from this year found that elite athletes performed worse during morning workouts because their melatonin levels were eight times higher right after waking up. This made it so the athletes were less “physiologically awake,” according to the researchers, meaning their bodies were more sluggish. Here’s another reason to try a p.m. workout: A second study showed that people who exercise within four hours of hitting the sack sleep just as soundly as those who just sit around in the evenings. That contradicts the common belief that busting a sweat in the evening will cause you to toss and turn all night. “I don’t believe there is good research to suggest that exercise should be avoided at night, especially given all the other health benefits that exercise confers,” says lead researcher Matthew Buman, professor of exercise and wellness at Arizona State University. “However, you should always pay attention to your own body. If you notice that you tend to sleep worse following late-night exercise, then look for another time to work out.”
ALS Gets Its Due with the Ice Bucket Challenge
Love it or hate it, the Ice Bucket Challenge was perhaps one of the most ingenious fundraising tactics to storm social media this year. Watching your friends and celebrities’ gasping reactions to being soaked was entertaining, and it raised $115 million for the ALS Association in record time.
Healthy Men Keep Their Friends
Plenty of research shows that solid friendships are key to living a long, healthy, happy life. Having even just one true friend (your wife and your dog don't count) can increase your life expectancy. On the flip side, loneliness can be as bad for your health as smoking cigarettes or getting sloshed every night. And yet, research also suggests that men too often let work, family, distance, and the everyday grind get in the way of maintaining old friendships and forging new ones. So make a new year's resolution to call up an old buddy or make plans with that former coworker you never see anymore. Or ask that guy you always yak with at the gym to grab a beer sometime. You'll be healthier for it.
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