Sitting in Traffic is Bad for Your Health

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If you’ll be driving on busy roads this holiday weekend, you might want to take note of a new study about traffic and air pollution: The research, conducted by the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom, suggests that keeping car windows closed and fans switched off while stuck in slow-moving traffic jams can reduce your risk of exposure to toxic fumes by up to 76 percent.

Using the fan’s or air conditioner’s “recirculate” option ranked second best when researchers tested five different ventilation settings, and they say that this can also be a good choice for reducing exposure to pollutants.

The findings aren’t just applicable to weekend or vacation driving; in their paper, the study authors note that daily commuting time has increased over the years in Britain, where people spent about an hour each day driving to and from work in 2013. The numbers are similar in the United States: Americans spend an average of nearly 52 minutes on their round-trip commutes, according to 2013 government data.

RELATED: The Psychology of Road Rage

Air pollution is considered among the top 10 health risks faced by humans by the World Health Organization, which attributes it to 7 million premature deaths a year. It’s an especially big problem in urban cities, the study authors write, where traffic-light intersections are known as “pollution hotspots that contribute disproportionately higher to overall commuting exposure.” Last year, the same researchers showed that drivers stuck at traffic lights were exposed to up to 29 times more harmful pollution particles than those driving in free-flowing traffic.

In London, they note, air pollution is estimated to kill more than 10 times the amount of people as automobile accidents.  And in the United States, exposure to ambient particulate matter is the eighth leading cause of death.

The researchers wanted to study the effects of different vehicle ventilation systems on a driver’s or passenger’s exposure to both fine and coarse particulate matter—two types of pollution consisting of vehicle exhaust, ozone, and other toxins prevalent the air. So they performed readings both inside and outside a 2002 Ford Fiesta in Guildford, a “typical UK town” of about 137,000 residents, at busy three- and four-way traffic intersections during winter-season rush hours.

RELATED: 15 Small Changes for a Leaner, Healthier You

Five scenarios were studied, with different combinations of windows (open or closed), fan (off, partial speed, or full speed), and heat (off, low temperature, or high temperature). When it came to pollution exposure, results varied widely depending on the ventilation.

When driving with the windows open, particulate matter readings in the car were equal to those outside of the car. When the windows were rolled up and the fan was switched off, however, exposure to particulate matter was reduced by up to 76 percent.

"Where possible and with weather conditions allowing, it is one of the best ways to limit your exposure by keeping windows shut, fans turned off and to try and increase the distance between you and the car in front while in traffic jams or stationary at traffic lights,” said lead author Prashant Kumar, Ph.D., in a press release. “If the fan or heater needs to be on, the best setting would be to have the air re-circulating within the car without drawing in air from outdoors."

RELATED: How to (Safely) Share the Road With Bad Drivers

Kumar’s study isn’t the first to suggest that hitting the recirculate button is a good option while stuck in traffic; a 2013 study from University of California researchers also came to similar conclusions. This was, however one of the first studies to test several different ventilation options head-to-head at busy urban intersections, specifically.


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A New Survey Reveals the Most Popular Workouts in Major Cities 

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If you find workout waitlists truly infuriating (do you want to wake up at 5 AM to check if you made a class?) and you happen to live in New York City, you may want to stay away from cycling. Why, you may ask? Well, it turns out that this is the most popular workout class in the Big Apple, according to new data from ClassPass which broke down the trendiest exercise routines in major cities.

RELATED: The Hottest Workouts in New York City

Curious what other types of classes were booking the fastest across the country? Well, in Miami, barre happens to be the most popular class. This sunshine-y destination was also dubbed "the most spontaneous city," with 57 percent of classes booked on the same day. Serious props to those of you who can fit gym clothes in your handbag. 

Turns out, barre is getting some serious lovin' across the U.S., as the workout is also the number one class in Seattle, Atlanta, and Baltimore. The California cities apparently have a thing for Pilates—the brand's research showed it's the buzziest workout in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego! 

And if you're ever in Austin, you might want to bust out those LuLu leggings, as yoga tops the charts. 

Another interesting tidbit, ClassPass found that Tuesday is the most popular day of the week to workout, and while the Southeast prefers early morning exercise (early bird gets the worm?), people in the Northeast workout the latest in the evening—around 6:30 pm. 




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First Look: The New Fitbit Charge 2 and Flex 2

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For all of you tracker fanatics out there, I have great news: Fitbit just announced the second generation to their Charge and  Flex (Charge 2 and Flex 2 respectively) that is bound to make keeping tabs on your daily movement even easier. Lucky me, I got my hands on both wearables last week, ahead of their release, kicking off a week-long testing period with a 20-minute circuit workout from non other than former pro volleyball player Gabrielle “Gabby” Reece. (For the record, she was intense, and the workout was no joke!).  Soreness-inducing circuit aside, here is what you should know if you are in the market for a new activity monitor:

Fitbit Charge 2, $150 ($180 for the limited edition model);

The look: Right away, you’ll notice that this model’s display is four times larger than its predecessor (the easier to see you with my dear!). And you can choose from seven clock faces for a more customized look. Band wise, you can go classic with the rubber one or opt for the more stylish leather version—for a price, of course.

New standout features: GPS-enabled, this device not only has multi-sport modes, allowing for the ability to track up to 19 different activities (think running, biking, tennis, weight-lifting), but if you are engaging in one of these activities for 15 minutes (the default time, but you can change this), this wearable will automatically recognize that you are exercising. This is a pretty big deal considering I, like may others I suspect, often forget to put their current wearables into exercise mode. (And if you didn't track it, didn't it really happen?) Also handy: an interval timer will make HIIT lovers happy. And for the more mindful folks, or those who need an extra nudge to get grounded, there is a guided breathing functionality. Choose from two- or five-minute get-zen sessions.

The most intriguing feature for me is this tracker's ability to use your heart rate and exercise stats to give you a cardio fitness score (which you can view on the app). This score shows how you compare to others of your same gender and age range. (Mine said, I was average… I’m not buying that!)

The bottom line: The water-resistant Charge 2 has all of the features you know and love from the original Charge HR plus a few extra bells and whistles that the more tech savvy crowd (read: those who want to go beyond fitness tracking) will enjoy, such as call, text and calendar notifications on your wrist.

Fitbit Flex 2, $100;

The look: While the Charge 2 got bigger, the Flex 2 seems to have gotten much slimmer and sleeker. For those of you who like your wearables to be as discreet as possible, you can pop the tracker out of your classic rubber band (there are seven colors) and into one of the more luxe options: a silver, gold, or rose gold bangle or a silver or gold pendant.  Not to mention the designer collections—Tory Burch, Public School, and Vera Wang for Kohl’s—which also offer much more modern takes on tracker holders.

New standout features: First of all the big win for this model, in my opinion, is that it is swim-proof up to 50 meters. And while I haven’t jumped into the pool or ocean with it just yet, at the unveiling event, I did watch several synchronized swimmers sport the device while wading through a rather complicated water routine.  I was impressed—with how well the Flex 2 handled the water and how easy those women made synchronized swimming. (FYI: It’s not, I tried it once). Like the Charge 2, the Flex 2 also has auto exercise notification (even for swimming!) as well as call and text notification, which you’ll be alerted to by various color patterns on the LED display.

The bottom line: As someone who like to always wear a tracker, I appreciate the more stylish carriers for this version. Seriously, who wants to be the girl in a cocktail dress sporting an obvious fitness tracker? (I have been known to try and stuff one in my evening bag, so I can still rack up steps on the dance floor. Hey, leave no step behind!)

I do have a bit of bad news about the Flex 2: You’ll have to wait until October to get your hands on it. I do, however, think it's worth the wait, especially for those of you who want a functional device with a bit of fashionable flair. You can preorder both now at at the links above. 


Here’s What Happens to Your Body During an Aerial Yoga Class

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It is well-documented that I'm a huge fan of Savasana, the final resting pose at the end of yoga class. So when I heard that aerial yoga classes offer particularly relaxing Savasana sessions, I signed up for what I thought was a restorative class at Christopher Harrison's AntiGravity Fitness Lab in New York City. Gently rocking back and forth in a hammock? That's a Savasana lover's dream.

Once the class started however, I quickly realized I'd accidentally registered for an open level session. In other words, I was going to have to do some pretty intimidating hanging-upside-down poses in order to earn that glorious Savasana. As someone who has never—not once, not even almost—done any kind of inversion in a regular yoga class, this was a big deal. Cue panic mode. Can I escape without the teacher noticing? I wondered frantically. (It was a six-person class, so that was a no.)

But after my initial fear, I found that moving into an aerial handstand with the support of the very encouraging instructor was surprisingly easy—and awesome. I left class feeling extra-stretchy and accomplished. I thought my skin even looked a little glowy, maybe thanks to all the blood that had rushed to my face. I was so impressed by my experience that I convinced the team to film a Facebook Live video at AntiGravity Fitness Lab a few weeks later. (You can check it out here.)

While yoga in general offers a slew of health benefits, I wondered if aerial yoga could provide its own unique perks. To find out whether hanging upside down is especially good for you, I called Allan Stewart, MD, director of aortic surgery and co-director of the Valve Center at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

RELATED: Can Yoga Prevent—Even Reverse—an Osteoporosis-Related Hunchback?

The answer, he said, is yes and no. There are plenty of reasons to love yoga in general: It can increase flexibility, improve your blood pressure and cholesterol, even whittle your waist. You'll reap all these benefits during an aerial yoga class. And if you suffer from back spasms, scoliosis, or a herniated disc, hanging upside down may ease painful symptoms. "It can lengthen your ligaments, and at least temporarily relax your muscles," Dr. Stewart explains.

You may also notice temporary changes in your skin, such as an improvement in varicose veins, a subtle reduction in fine lines, and more color in your face, says Dr. Stewart. (Hence my #glow.) But the claim that hanging upside down can somehow improve overall circulation is simply untrue, he says. 

That's because your circulation system knows how to direct the flow of blood; it doesn't need gravity to help it do its job. When you're upright, oxygenated blood gets pumped to your entire body (including your brain), and deoxygenated blood returns to your heart. Hanging upside down sends more blood to your head, but both oxygen-rich and oxygen-poor blood. "You're not increasing the amount of nutrients in the blood going to your brain," Dr. Stewart says, "and you're actually reducing the flow of 'good' blood." This explains that lightheaded feeling you get when you're inverted. 

RELATED: How Yoga Can Relieve Back Pain

"I'm not saying that hanging upside down is necessarily bad," he says. But any positive effects, like a flushed face, are transient. If you're specifically hoping to ease back pain, you may be better off using an inversion table, which is designed for therapeutic use, says Dr. Stewart. "A few studies suggest [inversion tables] can reduce the need for back surgery if you have a herniated disc," he adds. But you should consult your doctor before using one, he cautions, "and make sure there's someone nearby who can help you get out of it should you become stuck."

It's also important to note that some people should skip aerial yoga and inversion tables (and avoid going upside down entirely), says Dr. Stewart, including "anyone with heart failure, defined spinal problems, or glaucoma."


My Ovary-Free Life

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I was 48 hours away from surgery, obsessed with wondering how my life and my body would change, when I was crudely reminded of why having my ovaries removed could be a really good thing. I got my period with the works—bloating, pimples, and cramps. As usual, I subsisted on ibuprofen every three hours. It was strange thinking this would be the last time Id feel this way.

Then the profound moment evaporated, and the inevitable complications popped up. Some tests turned up a little blood in my urine—and the two days til I was eggless in Manhattan turned into six weeks. Fortunately, the follow-ups on my blood were negative, but another life-changing event came along. My beloved dad died of brain cancer, and I needed time to grieve before I rebooked my surgery. Then, finally, the date was set: I was about to give away a huge part of me in hopes of outsmarting the breast cancer (BRCA) genes—passed down from mom and her sister—that greatly increase my risks of ovarian and breast cancer. I was sure I was ready.



Next Page: The prep aint pretty

[ pagebreak ]The prep aint pretty
The day before, the calls from the hospital start coming in at 11 a.m. Im asked things like: Whats your primary language? Are you planning on bringing any valuables? And then: Theres a chance you may stay overnight. You know—if they find something (like cancer). Oh, and no sex or baths or straining for a month afterward. Help! This is before Ive even begun … the bowel prep.

All I have to say is that anyone who says a bowel prep is easy has never done one. But once youve done it, its like youre in a secret club. Before any of this business even started, I did ask a dear friend (and colonoscopy veteran) to detail it for me. “Is it like you read a novel on the toilet? I asked naively. “Um,” she replied, “you kind of dont really feel like reading.” Enough said—but saying just isnt the same as doing.

At the stroke of 4 p.m., I start sipping magnesium citrate “tonic” (diluted with ginger ale) through a straw before quickly realizing that the only way to get through this 10-ounce treat is to chug. I think its going to be an explosive evening, but that turns out to be the understatement of the year. Its the nastiest evening Ive spent in a long time.

When my alarm rings at 5:45 a.m., its not that much of a shock since Id only catnapped. In the cab with my mom by my side, I silently pray my stomach will cooperate during the pitch-black half-hour ride to the hospital. Soon we check in, and there are more questions, including, when was your last period? Odd that this is going to be the last time Im asked this. Im parched and manage to get the nurse to smuggle me four ice chips. Ive never tasted anything more delicious. I then change into a gown and wrap myself in the chenille throw my mom was smart enough to pack. We cry softly as we imagine how my dad would have taken charge. That pain dulls the pain of being an hour away from a voluntary—but necessary—laparoscopic surgery. My ovaries are about to be removed through my navel and two small incisions at my bikini line. Lets go.

Going under…and going home
A few minutes before I head into the operating room, colleagues of my doctor, New York University (NYU) cancer expert David A. Fishman, MD, arrive with a stack of CDs and a release form listing all the unpleasant things that could happen during surgery. I sign and pick Sheryl Crow over Creed, figuring thats better karma. Soon I hear the sweet sounds of the music and someone saying: “She has chubby hands. Getting an IV line in will be easy.” I lift my hand, as if to say, “Watch it, Im still awake,” and thats all I remember.

I wake up a few hours later, and all is fuzzy. A nurse is offering me cranberry juice, asking how much pain Im in on a scale of one to ten. I say six. My husband runs off to fill my prescriptions—Im getting Percocet, stool softeners, and an estrogen pack to go. I summon up the energy to leave the recovery unit and walk—slowly, like an old woman—out and back into the world again. Once I get home, I snuggle under my sheets, kiss my sons head, take my first estrogen tab, and pass out.



Next Page: Why am I so sad?

[ pagebreak ]Why am I so sad?
I have a dull headache when I wake up, and my stomach feels like a painful balloon. (Im told itll take six weeks for my stomach to deflate—nice!) I peek under my bandages, and its not too scary. Plus, the ibuprofen seems strong enough to control my pain … but then the crying jags start.

Lying in bed, my thoughts race. Ive lost a part of myself thats so personal. Im over the fact that I wont bear another child; its more that from this moment on Im staying young synthetically. Thats disturbing. And the cruelest trick of all: My period starts. I realize Im 24 days into my cycle. Its worlds colliding: Im taking estrogen from what looks like a birth control pack, I have my period, and Ive lost my ovaries. I cant even put what Im feeling into words.

In a few days Im moving sluggishly, not a bad thing. I observe more, I appreciate more. Im tired but happy the whole thing is behind me, especially since my pathology report came back all clear. And, though Im sad that I cant scoop up my son, Ill be tickling him in just a few weeks. I look at him, my one and only biological child, and the husband I love now more than ever, with pure wonder and joy.

Meet the new me
My breast-cancer risk has now dropped 50 percent since I had my ovaries removed before I turned 40 (my birthday is in August), but my breasts remain a constant worry since my mom and aunt are breast-cancer survivors and Im BRCA positive. That means vigilant monitoring, and I get the red-carpet treatment. Women who have found something suspicious and dont have my genetic legacy often have to wait weeks to get a mammogram. I make just one call, and Im squeezed in on even the busiest of days. This special treatment seems unfair. So the new me—the one who can now worry a little less about getting cancer—decides to use my BRCA status to tell the world my story.

A week after surgery Im due back at NYU, but nothings wrong. Im going to be the “real woman” in a video news story featuring my surgeon and his studies on early detection of ovarian cancer. I feel grateful as I head up to the familiar fourth floor. The waiting room is packed. I gaze at the faces, the scarves, the women of all backgrounds gathered for the fight of their lives. I realize that for the past two years, I avoided looking at the other faces in this room. Now I really look and see unbridled bravery. I am this brave woman, too. I got rid of a body part before it had the power to kill. Sure, this was a huge ordeal, and there will always be a hole in my center, where my fertility, my innocence, once lay nestled somewhere within. But Im not a gambler. Not when it comes to my life, anyway. I have too much to share with the world. And now I can.


You May Need to Replace Your Sunglasses More Often Than You Think

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Even if you love your current sunglasses, you still might need a new pair of shades. It seems sunglasses’ UV protection may deteriorate over time, and current industry tests are not sufficient for determining how long it’s safe to wear them, according to a study from Brazil.

Most Brazilians wear the same pair every day for about two years, the study notes, yet it has not been proven that lenses maintain the same level of protection after that type of exposure to ultraviolet radiation. The findings may have implications for the sunglass industry in the United States, as well. There is no current recommendation for when, exactly, people should retire their old pairs—and protecting eyes from the sun is important anywhere in the world, as UV exposure can lead to cataracts, retina damage, and other long-term eye problems and vision loss.

The new research focuses on Brazil’s system for classifying sunglasses by category, based on lens darkness and the level of UV protection offered. To be certified in one of these categories, lenses must pass a test in which they are exposed to a 450-watt sun simulator lamp for 50 hours at a distance of 30 centimeters. This is equal to two full days of average summer sun exposure, or four days of average winter sun exposure, the study authors write. However, because of Brazil’s proximity to the equator, the sun there is stronger than average. So in actuality, this test is only equivalent to 23.5 hours of sun exposure in the city of São Paulo, for example.

A previous survey found that Brazilians wear their sunglasses for an average of two hours a day for two years straight. The aging tests, the authors argue, should also be revised to reflect this.

RELATED: The Best Sunglasses for Healthy Eyes

In order to represent average consumer use throughout the country, they calculate that both the time and distance of exposure in the sun-simulator test needs to change to 134.6 hours at 5 centimeters. These calculations are specific to Brazil, the authors say, but may also be helpful for other countries at similar latitudes. (Other countries around the world have similar requirements for sunglasses.)

“It's still too soon to confirm that UV protection deteriorates over sun exposure,” study author Liliane Ventura, PhD, a professor at the University of São Paulo, wrote in an email. “If the aging test performed by sun simulator with current exposure parameters is not revised, then there are no means to guarantee that UV protection does not change over time.”

The report, published in Biomedical Engineering OnLine, suggests that in addition to UV protection, lenses’ shatterproof qualities may degrade as well.

Although the same aging standards are not used in the United States, Jeff Pettey, MD, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), says that the new research does make important points that could be relevant to Americans.

RELATED: 6 Mistakes You're Making With Your Contacts

“They’re suggesting that the way the industry currently tests sunglasses may not be adequate,” says Dr. Pettey. “There’s a lot we may be unaware of that happens over time—so while there is no official recommendation right now, it might make sense to consider looking for a new pair if you’ve worn the same ones regularly for a couple of years.”

If you’re really curious about whether it’s still safe to wear a pair of old favorites, adds Dr. Pettey, many eyeglass retailers can test lenses’ UV protection levels.

Until more is known, consumers can protect themselves by making sure they buy good glasses in the first place, by purchasing lenses that are labeled "100% UV protection" or "UV400." Most pairs sold in the United States offer this level of protection, Dr. Pettey says, but it’s still a good idea to confirm before purchasing. (According to a 2014 AAO survey, almost half of people shopping for sunglasses don’t think to check for this language.)

Don’t take into account factors like cost, polarization, lens color or darkness, either; these don’t necessarily make a difference in UV blockage. “Even clear lenses you’d wear with a prescription can have protection, as well; it’s not necessarily about how dark they are," says Dr. Pettey.

RELATED: 9 Worst Eye Care Mistakes You're Making

Size and fit, however, do matter. “Bigger is better if you’re outdoors doing activities for longer periods of time,” Dr. Pettey says. “If you’re skiing or out on the ocean and getting reflected UV light from all directions, larger wrap-around eyewear will certainly offer more protection.”

Ventura says that while there’s no way to know how often sunglasses should be replaced, she does recommend against buying them from locations where they’ve already been exposed to sunlight—from an outdoor stand on the boardwalk or beach, for example.

For now, Ventura and her team are conducting further tests on how sunglass lenses hold up over time, and hopes to report more definitive findings in the near future. “We are willing (and have proposed an effective method) to know how long UV protection lasts,” she says. “It's a wake-up call for the sunglasses standards to be revised.”


Katie Seaver: Having Trouble Losing Weight? You’re Probably Doing This.

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Here’s my secret clue: If your actions don’t match your supposed “prioritization,” you’re probably lying to yourself.

Read more: Weight Loss, Weight Loss Tips, How to Lose Weight, Clean Eating, Healthy Living, Healthy Eating, Intuitive Eating, Body Positivity, Healthy Living News


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