Relaxing in a hot sauna may not only feel good — it might affect your heart and blood vessels in ways that are similar to moderate exercise. That’s the finding of a new study that tested the effects of a 30-minute sauna session. The researchers say their results may help explain why people who regularly use saunas tend to have a decreased risk for heart disease and even dementia. On average, the study found, sauna users saw a drop in blood pressure and artery “stiffness” immediately after their heat bath. They also showed an increase in heart rate that was similar to the effect from moderate exercise. It’s not fully clear why, but the sauna heat is “one major factor,” said researcher Tanjaniina Laukkanen, of the University of Eastern Finland, in Kuopio. For one, heat generates sweating: “That’s like a natural diuretic effect — lowering blood pressure and decreasing the work load of the heart,” Laukkanen explained. On top of that, the researcher added, saunas simply help people relax. The study, which involved 102 middle-aged adults, was conducted in Finland — where “sauna bathing” originated and remains ubiquitous. In a study last year, Laukkanen’s team found that men who often used saunas had lower rates of heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease than did those who used saunas less often. But that did not prove the…  read on >

Though healthy eating is good for everyone, those who have genes that put them at high risk for obesity might benefit the most. A new study suggests that even those who carry an inherited predisposition to pack on excess pounds are not destined to become obese. In fact, researchers say it can be avoided over time by adopting a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables and unencumbered by salt, sugar, alcohol and red meat. The finding stems from a new analysis of diet, lifestyle and medical data on about 14,000 men and women that had been collected for two earlier studies. “We found that eating healthy foods — high intake of vegetable, fruits, whole grain, long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, and low intakes of trans fat, fried foods and sugary drinks — lowers the risk of obesity and promotes weight loss for all populations,” said study author Dr. Lu Qi. “Interestingly, the protective effects appear to be more evident among those at higher genetic risk,” he said. Qi serves as director of the Obesity Research Center at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, in New Orleans. The study was published Jan. 10 in The BMJ. Qi and his colleagues stressed that obesity risk is driven by a complex brew of genetic and environmental factors. Also, although DNA analyses can easily spot…  read on >

Wine and spirits are tallied in the “empty calories” column because they lack any nutritional benefits. Add cream or soda to make a mixed drink and you can more than double the caloric damage. So how can you enjoy a cocktail without wrecking your diet? Here are some options. Choose your alcoholic drinks wisely. A light beer has about a third less calories than regular beer. A shot of vodka, whiskey or gin — that’s 1.5 fluid ounces — has about 100 calories or less; so does a 4-ounce glass of wine or champagne. When you want a mixed drink, make your own lighter version of classics by limiting the amount of alcohol you put in. For instance, for a Bloody Mary, mix half the amount of vodka with extra tomato juice and spices. If you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll want to skip some drinks, especially those made with cream liqueurs, like those flavored with chocolate and coconut, as well as drinks with cream or creamy ingredients like Egg Nog, Pina Coladas and White Russians. Some of these indulgences have more than 400 calories — the amount in an entire meal of wholesome ingredients. Prepackaged drink mixers might be convenient, but they’re also very high in sugar. Make your own flavored frozen daiquiris and margaritas by blending a shot of liquor with unsweetened frozen…  read on >

Cutting down on fat is a big part of any weight-loss diet. Fat has twice the calories of protein and carbs — so ounce for ounce, you can replace fat with twice the amount of those foods for the same calories. You do need some fat in your diet, but you want to lower the amount of saturated fat you eat. These are the fats in meat and dairy, and they contribute to high cholesterol. Cutting out saturated fat when you want to lose weight helps rein in calories, too. Use milk or yogurt rather than cream in recipes. Select low- or non-fat varieties when buying these dairy products. To adopt this healthy habit, reset your taste buds gradually. For instance, go from whole milk to 2 percent to 1 percent to fat-free in stages. Choose lean cuts of meat. If you can see any solid white fat, trim it off before cooking. You can cook poultry with the skin on to keep it moist — just remove and discard it before eating. Replace butter, lard and shortening with healthier plant-based oils, like olive, canola and nut-based oils. Limit calories by using just small amounts for flavor. Be careful with coconut and palm oils, which are higher in saturated fat than other plant oils. Although the cholesterol in eggs isn’t as dangerous as once thought,…  read on >

(HealthDay News) — If you’ve got celiac disease or have another reason to go gluten-free, there are lots of ways to avoid dietary wheat, rye and barley. The American Diabetes Association says healthier gluten-free options include: Amaranth. Arrowroot. Beans (kidney, black, soy, navy, pinto). Buckwheat. Corn. Flax. Gluten-free baked products (made from corn, rice, soy, nut, teff or potato flour). Kasha. Millet. Polenta. Potatoes. Quinoa. Rice. Sorghum. Soy. Tapioca.

(HealthDay News) — Fido can become quite sick from unsafe treats, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns. Your dog may have a bone to pick with you if a bad treat leads to stomach or bowel obstruction, choking, mouth wounds, vomiting, diarrhea or internal bleeding, the FDA says. In some cases, a bad treat can lead to death. The FDA suggests how to keep your dog safe: Some bones from the kitchen table, chicken bones in particular, are relatively soft and can break with sharp edges. So keep platters out of your pet’s reach when you’re cooking or the family is eating. Be careful about what you throw away. Dogs are notorious for digging into trash. Ask your veterinarian about treats that are safe and appropriate for your dog.