Health Tip: Some Cake Decorations Shouldn’t Be Eaten

Some decorations sold for use on birthday cakes may not be what parents wish for, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

Some decorative glitters and dusts may contain ingredients that shouldn’t be eaten, the agency says. They’re marketed as luster dust, disco dust, twinkle dust, sparkle dust highlighter, shimmer powder, pearl dust and petal dust.

The FDA offers these suggestions before deciding on how to decorate a cake:

  • Carefully check the label of any decorative product. Edible glitters and dusts are required by law to include a full list of ingredients on the label.
  • Look for ingredients such as sugar, acacia, maltodextrinornstarch and color additives specifically approved for food use.
  • Most edible glitters and dusts state “edible” on the label. If the label simply says “non-toxic” or “for decorative purposes only” and does not include an ingredients list, you should not use the product on foods.

As You Age, Alcohol May Be Harder to Handle

Seniors may be more vulnerable to alcoholism, a psychologist warns.

“As we age, it takes longer for the body to break down alcohol. It stays in the system longer. Tolerance also decreases. Excessive drinking can compromise your immune system and can lead to some forms of cancer,” said Brad Lander, an addiction medicine specialist at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

As you age, your drinking habits may change. Social drinking when you’re young may turn to drinking to relieve boredom, loneliness and grief, which are common with aging. The risk of becoming an alcoholic is greater for women than men, Lander noted.

Also, according to the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, even after you stop drinking, alcohol continues to enter the bloodstream, resulting in impaired judgment and coordination for hours.

“It also can decrease the effectiveness of some medications and highly accelerate others, including over-the-counter medications such as aspirin, acetaminophen, sleeping pills and others,” Lander added in a center news release.

Alcohol abuse can also cause problems with balance and reaction times, increasing the chances of accidents and falls.

Moreover, alcohol can worsen health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, osteoporosis and liver disease.

Excessive drinking can also increase the odds of dementia, depression, suicide and impaired sexual functioning, Lander said.

However, the differences between safe, moderate and heavy drinking is different for everyone.

“But the general rule of thumb is to take a close look and honestly assess if drinking is causing any life problems. If it’s causing difficulties with your health, relationships, daily functioning or emotions, then it’s too much,” Lander said.

The average senior should drink no more than seven drinks in a week and no more than three drinks in one day.

Research has shown that only about 2 percent of people who drink within these limits develop an alcohol problem, Lander explained.

He recommends that seniors drink in moderation at social gatherings and eat to slow the absorption of alcohol and lower the peak level of alcohol in the body.

“A lot of drinking is ‘thoughtless,’ so simply ask yourself, ‘Do I really want a [or another] drink?’ Remember, you don’t have to drink,” Lander said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has more on alcohol abuse.

Working Out Your Exercise Schedule

The number of weekly recommended workout sessions can really add up.

With five or more periods of cardio, and two or three each of strength training, flexibility and motor skills for balance and agility, it’s inevitable that you’ll need to do more than one type of exercise on any given day.

To make the most of every session, know the right sequence to follow. A Western Colorado University study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) tested the variables and found definitive results.

First, on days when you’re doing cardio, you should typically start with this workout, whatever aerobic activity you choose. You’ll not only get the maximum benefits by doing it first, but you’ll also warm up your body for the second exercise.

If strength training is also part of that day’s plan, do it next. If you’re piggy-backing all types of exercise, flexibility and motor skills should follow strength training, in whatever order you like.

The research found that this sequence had psychological as well as physical benefits.

However, experts add that it’s fine to personalize these findings based on individual goals. For instance, if you need to focus on one type of exercise in particular, like flexibility to help with low back pain, start a multi-discipline session with that workout so that you’re fresh when doing it. Or if building muscle is your top goal, start with strength training.

Another approach is to devote certain days of the week to your primary area of focus, and then double or triple up on the other fitness disciplines on different days. Here are two sample plans.

Plan A:

  • Monday and Thursday: Strength-training.
  • Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday: Cardio, flexibility and motor skills.
  • Sunday: Swimming laps at a community pool.

Plan B:

  • Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday: Cardio.
  • Wednesday and Saturday: Strength-training, flexibility and motor skills.
  • Sunday: Family cycling trip.

As you progress in one area, it’s easy to move around the various exercise blocks to suit your changing needs.

More information

Read more about the sequencing study along with additional ways to optimize exercise results on the ACE website.

Catching Up on News About Catch-Up Sleep

Missing out on needed sleep can bring a host of health woes, including diabetes because a lack of sleep affects insulin levels.

It also leaves you less alert and less able to focus.

And get only four or five hours of sleep a night, and problems can develop even if your sleep loss is short-term.

A number of studies have been done to evaluate the benefits of “catch-up” sleep — sleeping late on weekends to make up for missing sleep during the week.

Research at the University of Chicago found that two nights of extra sleep reversed the insulin changes seen in participants, a small group of healthy young men who were sleep deprived for a few nights. But because the men went through this process only once, it’s not known if the results would be the same over a long-term “loss and catch-up” pattern.

Meanwhile, a study of 447 people done at the University of Pittsburgh found that differences in sleep between weekdays and weekends on a regular basis resulted in higher cholesterol levels, greater insulin resistance, weight gain around the middle and a higher body mass index. And such problems can occur even if the day-to-day sleep imbalances aren’t extreme.

Another study found that these changes can occur in teens, too, putting them at greater risk for diabetes at a young age.

On a positive note, a much larger study of 2,000 participants of all ages and both genders found that every hour of weekend makeup sleep helped reduce the risk for obesity, which has also been seen as a negative consequence of being sleep deprived. The findings were published in the journal Sleep.

Until more is learned about catch-up sleep, it’s important to heed the warnings about chronic sleep loss and get 7 to 8 hours a night every night.

Make it a goal to go to bed at roughly the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. But when that’s not possible, it probably can’t hurt to sleep-in on weekend mornings.

More information

The National Sleep Foundation has tips for getting better sleep.

The Skinny on Schools’ Efforts to Promote Healthy Eating

Schools that promote healthy eating may reduce kids’ risk of obesity, new research finds.

Their study of nearly 600 middle schoolers in New Haven, Conn., found that such efforts limited increases in kids’ body mass index (BMI — an estimate of body fat based on height and weight).

The efforts included nutrition newsletters for students and families; making sure school-based meals met federal nutrition guidelines; limiting sugary drinks and encouraging water consumption; limiting the use of food or drink as rewards for good grades and behavior.

By the end of the five-year study, the average BMI increase was 1 percent among kids in schools with nutritional programs and policies, compared with 3 percent to 4 percent elsewhere.

The study was recently published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“These findings can guide future school and community interventions. Childhood obesity is a serious health threat, and schools are a vital way to reach children and their families to reduce risks and promote health,” said lead author Jeannette Ickovics.

Ickovics is a professor of social and behavioral sciences at Yale University.

“These findings strongly support previous administration policies that provided healthier food for all children in public schools,” she added in a university news release.

Those policies were recently rolled back by the Trump administration.

“This is some of the strongest evidence we have to date that nutrition education and promoting healthy eating behaviors in the classroom and cafeteria can have a meaningful impact on children’s health,” said study senior author Marlene Schwartz.

She is director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.

“These findings can inform how we approach federal wellness policy requirements and implementation in schools to help mitigate childhood obesity,” Schwartz said in the news release.

More than 1 in 5 American teenagers are obese, and as many as half are overweight or obese, according to the researchers.

More information

The U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion outlines how to keep children at a healthy weight.

Snacking for Diet Success

Restrictive diets are hard to stick with, especially when you must eliminate most of your favorite foods.

Research has also found that cutting out a particular food can cause cravings and may lead to overindulgence — and weight regain — when you allow yourself to enjoy it again.

Since permanent weight loss really involves a forever approach, learning how to work in your favorites, especially sweets, is a must even during the weight-loss phase.

Penn State University researchers set out to test whether purposefully including a favorite snack in a diet could help people stick with their eating plan and achieve weight loss success. They conducted a small study in which all the participants followed a low-calorie, high-nutrient diet of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, non-fat milk and lean protein with a small number of daily calories going to a sweet treat.

For one group of participants the treat was one small square of chocolate twice a day plus a sugar-free cocoa drink. For the other group, the treat was red licorice, plus the cocoa drink.

After 18 weeks, both groups lost inches and pounds, with the chocolate group achieving slightly better results. The researchers also found that participants didn’t overindulge in their treats — they kept within the overall calorie-range of their diet — and that the snacks kept cravings under control.

To try this approach on your own, you must practice portion control. Make sure most of your intake is from nutrient-rich foods. And allot no more than 150 calories a day to your preferred snack — that’s about one ounce of dark chocolate.

More information

You can search for the calorie counts of more than 1,000 types of chocolate on the website of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

AHA: The Pros and Cons of Weighing Yourself Every Day

This is the year you’ve vowed to lose weight. You step on the scale to mark the starting point toward your goal.

Now how often should you hop back on to check your progress?

The answer isn’t always so simple. Perhaps every day, perhaps every week,
with the qualifier that the scale isn’t the only way to gauge whether you’re
headed in the right direction.

“Our philosophy here is that no one size fits all,” said Meridan Zerner, a
dietitian, nutritionist and wellness coach at Cooper Clinic in Dallas. “The
majority of research would say weigh daily. But if there’s any negative fallout from weighing every day in terms of outlook, self-esteem or your positive momentum, I would say we can check in once or twice a week.”

A study presented at the American Heart Association’s recent Scientific
Sessions conference concluded that daily weigh-ins might be beneficial. Researchers tracked 1,042 adults over a year and found that people who weighed themselves once a week or less did not lose weight, while people who weighed themselves six or seven times a week averaged a 1.7 percent weight loss.

“That’s an action we call self-monitoring, which is an evidence-based
strategy that we use with all kinds of behavior change,” said Amy Walters, a
psychologist and director of behavioral services at St. Luke’s Health System
Humphreys Diabetes Center in Boise, Idaho. “Tracking your behavior gives people some accountability, it can create some natural feedback, and it can serve as a source of motivation. They see, ‘Gosh, if I really follow my plan, I start to see some changes.'”

But there can be drawbacks to spending too much time on that scale.

“You can get obsessive about it,” Walters said. “We want to focus on trends and not get hung up on today’s number. Weighing daily may be distressing if you don’t see the scale change, or have a negative impact on motivation.”

Dr. Pamela Peeke, a Maryland-based physician who has written four books on
healthy living and weight loss, concurred.

“Keeping tabs on your progress is important to help achieve your weight loss goals,” said Peeke, who chairs the Science Advisory Board for the Jenny Craig weight loss centers. However, she added, “If daily weighing causes you more anxiety than motivation, then it’s not right for you.”

Several factors can affect anxiety and motivation. Different scales can yield different results at different times of day, which is why experts recommend using the same scale at the same time. “First thing in the morning is the best,” Zerner said.

Even on the same scale, Walters said, “your weight can fluctuate because of different things: your fluid intake, your hormone levels, your activity level. We don’t want to get too hung up on the number.”

That number, Zerner said, isn’t always a true indication of progress. “If somebody loses a pound of fat and gains a pound of muscle, that’s two full pounds of change and that’s meaningful,” she said.

Nor is the scale the only measure of success.

“How’s your energy level?” Walters said. “How are you feeling physically? Are your clothes fitting better? Are you sleeping well? There are other biometrics like blood pressure or blood glucose levels, besides just your weight.”

Zerner advises her clients to also monitor their body fat percentage and
waist measurement. Men are advised to have a waist circumference the distance around the natural waist of less than 40 inches, while women should aim for a waist that measures less than 35 inches.

“(The scale is) just one of many tools,” Zerner said. “But it’s giving you feedback, awareness, accountability and just being mindful of how your body is doing.”

Mindfulness Can Help Tame Everyday Stress

Being in tune with the present moment — called mindfulness — can relieve stress and make you an actor rather than a reactor, a wellness expert says.

Focusing on what’s happening right now allows people to notice things they might otherwise miss, said Dr. Timothy Riley. He is an assistant professor in the family and community medicine department at Penn State Health.

That might sound simple enough. But being engaged in the present moment, on purpose and non-judgmentally, can be a challenge, he said.

“Being aware of physical sensations, thoughts and emotions — both pleasant and unpleasant — can help us choose how to respond, rather than simply react,” Riley said in a Penn State news release.

Each individual’s upbringing and genes have programmed how they approach situations, he explained. A person’s automatic reactions can be spot on — or not.

“You walk by Starbucks, see a cookie and you have an emotional response,” he said. “You want the cookie. Then may come guilt for wanting a cookie.”

If you’re mindful, you see the cookie, are aware of your emotional response, and you can let it be without judgment, Riley added.

“It puts you in this observer stance where we can witness what is happening without getting wrapped up in it,” he said. “It gives you a bit of space.”

That moment can help you decide if buying the cookie is wise and if you really need it now, he said.

Many studies have shown how mindfulness and related interventions can help reduce stress and chronic health problems, such as anxiety, depression, pain and high blood pressure.

“Being focused on the present moment has a number of positive effects on our everyday life. Usually, whatever is happening right now isn’t really that bad, and realizing that can put us in a more positive frame of mind. Then, our next interaction is better,” Riley explained.

Mindfulness also enhances activity in the part of the brain that helps quell your inner child who wants to scream, yell, cry, hit or throw a fit, he noted.

“The more we practice mindfulness, the more we are flexing this muscle of emotional regulation,” Riley said. “When automatic emotions come up, we can choose whether or not to engage them.”

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about mindfulness.

Building Passion When You’re Not in Love With Your Job

Here’s some career advice for the new year.

Experts often suggest that people follow their passion when looking for work that they’ll feel enriched by. But sometimes you don’t have a choice and have to take a job that you’re not quite wild about, to put it mildly.

But rather than feel resentful and unhappy every day, over time you can learn to love the job — or at least like it.

There are two different mindsets when it comes to finding job satisfaction: the “fit theory” and the “develop theory,” according to researchers from the University of Michigan and the University of Southern California.

For people with the “fit theory” mindset, the priority is finding work that they can be passionate about from day one. People with the “develop theory” mindset aren’t as concerned with finding the perfect job. They focus more on the practical, like having a paycheck and believing they’ll develop an inner passion on the job as they master the position.

After numerous studies, the researchers discovered that people are actually more flexible than they might think and can change their approach to fit the situation. So if you find yourself in a job that you only feel lukewarm about, there are steps you can take to feel more connected sooner.

To create more passion at work:

  • Search out tasks that allow you to use your greatest strengths and skills.
  • Find deeper meaning by taking on a responsibility that will spell success for the company and, in turn, reflect well on you.
  • Challenge yourself to become an expert at something new, which will create a greater sense of self-worth.

This isn’t to say that these steps will turn an imperfect job into an ideal one, but you’ll feel more positive as you greet each day.

More information

The Live Your Legend website has more ideas for getting the most out of a job you’re not wild about.

Staying Young at Heart

You’re only as old as you feel.

It’s a common expression that has some science behind it, thanks to a study from University College London in England.

The researchers set out to learn if people who feel younger than their chronological age actually live longer. They looked at information from about 6,500 participants. The info included the participants’ “self-perceived age” — how old they feel compared to their actual age, which is typically a reflection of health, physical abilities and well-being.

At the start of the study, 70 percent of the respondents said they felt at least three years younger than they were. In fact, the average was nine years younger. Twenty-five percent felt their age, while just 5 percent felt older.

Eight years later, the researchers looked at the group’s mortality rate and found a greater mortality risk in the people who felt older than their age — 75 percent of those who felt older than their age were still alive compared to 82 percent who felt their age and 86 percent of those who felt younger.

It may be more than mind over matter — feeling younger could lead to better health habits that can make people feel and be healthier.

It’s never too soon (or too late!) to adopt a younger mindset. Stay adventurous, try new things, develop new skills, and take up hobbies you’re passionate about.

Live in the moment: Don’t waste time on the “what if’s” about the future or be stymied by regrets over the past. Get involved in the world around you to connect with others in positive ways, whether it’s volunteering or deepening friendships — these are relationships that can make you feel good about yourself while benefiting others.

More information

The Center on Aging and Work at Boston College has more on the importance of staying engaged at work and at play.