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Health Information The Top 5 Health Tips of 2013

Here’s a countdown of our favorite advice from experts at Rush this year — to keep you healthy in 2014 and beyond.

5. Stretching can protect your knees — whether or not you exercise.

"Many people often say there is no aerobic value in stretching, so they see it as a waste of time," says sports medicine specialist Charles Bush-Joseph, MD. "But a well-conditioned, flexible body is less likely to develop overuse problems in the knees."

Stretches that focus on the calf, hamstring and quadriceps muscles take pressure off of the knees and kneecaps. Some good stretches to protect the knees include step-ups, hamstring curls and straight-leg lifts (learn how to do these stretches). Additionally, stretches that focus on building flexibility in the hips can help alleviate knee pain.

People who do not like to stretch before a workout can still protect their knees by slowly ramping up to top speed rather than jumping full speed into their workout.

"Warming up the muscles helps prevent injury," says Bush-Joseph. "If you like to run but you don’t have the time to warm-up and stretch out, you should start your run with 10 to 15 minutes of walking or slow jogging before getting up to peak velocity."

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4. Condoms + vaccination = the best protection against HPV infection.

All it takes is one sexual encounter and one partner to get human papillomavirus (HPV) — and condoms are a good protective step for preventing HPV infection. But, says pediatrician Karen Lui, MD, condoms alone aren't enough: You should also get vaccinated for HPV.

"The vaccine and condoms are both excellent ways to prevent the spread of HPV, but neither one is 100 percent," Lui says. "They should go hand in hand."

While studies have shown that using a condom properly and consistently — meaning every single time you have sex — can reduce HPV transmission, any area of the penis not covered by the condom can be infected by the virus.

Plus, while the infection is most commonly passed by vaginal or anal sex, you can also transmit it during oral sex and skin-to-skin contact, and in those cases a condom isn't going to protect you at all. That's where the vaccine can help safeguard you.

"And if possible, get vaccinated before you become sexually active," Lui advises. "Because the vaccine can't treat HPV if you already have it."

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3. Avoid going to extremes — like eliminating carbs — in your diet.

"It’s become such a cliché — moderation and finding a balance. But when you look at all the components of both weight loss and weight maintenance, that's really what it's about: finding behaviors that you can stick with and that don't feel like deprivation," says dietitian Jennifer Ventrelle, MS, RD, of the Rush University Prevention Center.

Ventrelle also says that even when you're trying to lose weight, you shouldn't cut out all of the foods you love.

"People will say things like, 'I'm not going to eat cake ever again,' or 'I'm swearing off chips forever.' Well, that's probably not true. If you eat cake or chips every day now, it's unrealistic to think that you'll never have them again."

Instead of deprivation, look at making improvements. How often are sweets a part of your normal routine now? If it's every day, cutting back to two or three days a week is an improvement. If you eat chips with lunch every day, substituting a salad or moving to the smaller sized bag of chips will be more realistic than swearing them off for life.

"Think about it this way: If you're going to try to change something, ask yourself, 'Can I do this forever?' " Ventrelle says. "If the answer is no, you probably want to rethink what you're trying to do."

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2. Women with average breast cancer risk should start getting mammograms at 40.

In 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force revised its guidelines, recommending that women at average risk of developing cancer undergo screening mammograms every two years beginning at age 50. These guidelines were very controversial and came under attack from multiple fronts.

The American Cancer Society, the American College of Radiology and the Society of Breast Imaging, as well as various other groups, recommend that an average woman (a woman with no significant risk factors such as family history or testing positive for the BRCA gene mutation) should undergo annual screening mammograms starting at age 40.

"While cost, access issues and the perceived harms of mammography (e.g., unnecessary additional tests and anxiety) seemed to have informed the task force's recommendations, I recommend screening earlier and more often," says Peter Jokich, MD, director of the Rush Breast Imaging Center. "We know from our own practice how often cancers are detected in women in their 40s, so it just doesn't make sense to wait until 50."

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1. Don't skimp on sleep.

Aside from special occasions like New Year's Eve when you're likely to get little rest, making time for sleep should be your top resolution for 2014.

Why are those ZZZs so vital? Because getting too little sleep can have serious health effects. Research has shown that chronic sleep deprivation increases your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack and stroke. Sleep problems have also been linked to Alzheimer's disease, as well as increased risk of liver disease in heavy drinkers.

Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep a night — so you should go to bed early enough to get that much. If you regularly have trouble falling asleep, discuss it with your doctor.

One strategy for getting more sleep? Break the increasingly common bad habit of looking at a screen right before you go to bed.

"We think that light, especially from things like TVs, tablets and smartphones, can affect the hormones that help us to sleep," says primary care physician Johan Lane, MD. "So I recommend that people don't use these things within an hour or two of going to bed, especially if they have problems with sleep."

Learn about the many sleep research studies at Rush. And get tips for creating healthy sleep habits so you can avoid chronic sleep loss.

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Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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December 2013-January 2014

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