Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Health Benefits of Yoga

Yoga increases flexibility and reduces stress, but the practice can do more than help you twist your body into pretzel shapes and find inner peace. These hidden benefits will help you in the kitchen, office and bedroom — and will give you five new reasons to show off your yoga skills (plus recommended poses for each one!).

1. Boost Immunity

A recent Norwegian study found that yoga practice results in changes in gene expression that boost immunity at a cellular level. And it doesn’t take long: The researchers believe the changes occurred while participants were still on the mat, and they were significantly greater than a control group who went on a nature hike while listening to soothing music. Yoga also helps to boost immunity by simply increasing overall health, says Mitchel Bleier, a yoga teacher of 18 years and owner of Yogapata in Connecticut. “As you breathe better, move better and circulate better, all the other organs function better.”
Strike a Pose: Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar)
This sequence of eight poses performed in a row can be found in almost any yoga class. It creates great circulation and tone, plus sweat, says Bleier.

2. Ease Migraines

Research shows that migraine sufferers have fewer and less painful migraines after three months of yoga practice. The cause of migraines isn’t fully understood, but Bleier says it could be a combination of mental stressors and physical misalignment that create migraines and other issues. Hunching over a computer or cell phone with your shoulders up and head forward causes overlifting of your trapezius and tightening of the neck. This pulls the head forward and creates muscle imbalances that can contribute to headaches and migraines.
Strike a Pose: Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet hip-distance apart on the floor. With your hands resting on the floor, begin to press down into your legs and draw your hips toward the sky. The key, Bleier says, is to keep your shoulders in line with the base of your neck, moving the back of the shoulders together so the shoulder blades are close. Lift your chest towards your chin and your chin away from your chest, so the upper trapezius muscles flow away from the head.

3. Boost Sexual Performance

Studies have found that 12 weeks of yoga can improve sexual desire, arousal, performance, confidence, orgasm and satisfaction for both men and women. How? Physically, yoga increases blood flow into the genital area, which is important for arousal and erections, says Bleier, and strengthens the “moola bandha,” or pelvic floor muscles. Mentally, the breathing and mind control involved with the practice can also improve performance.
Strike a Pose: Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana)
Sit with your feet together and your knees bent and reaching toward the floor. Slowly fold over your feet while trying to bring your knees closer to the ground while moving the groin back and engaging the pelvic floor muscles. “It’s a great hip opener, plus the pelvic floor engagement tones the muscles for orgasm,” says Bleier.

4. Sleep Better

Researchers from Harvard found that eight weeks of daily yoga significantly improved sleep quality for people with insomnia. And another study found that twice-weekly yoga sessions helped cancer survivors sleep better and feel less fatigued. This can be attributed to yoga’s ability to help people deal with stress, says Bleier. “Sleep issues are like anxiety. Your head can’t stop spinning, you don’t know how to relax,” he says. “Breathing and mental exercises allow the mind to slow down, so you’re going to start to see yourself sleep better.”
Strike a Pose: Corpse Pose (Savasana) with Diaphragmatic Breathing
Savasana is the final pose in a yoga class and is meant to restore the body. Lay on your back with your legs slightly apart and your arms extended at your side and your hands on your belly. Inhale and exhale through your nose, follow the breath and feel the belly rise and fall under your hands. The breath, muscles, and mind should be completely relaxed.

5. Fight Food Cravings

Researchers from the University of Washington found that regular yoga practice is associated with mindful eating, an awareness of physical and emotional sensations associated with eating. By causing breath awareness, regular yoga practice strengthens the mind-body connection, Bleier says. The awareness can help you tune in to emotions involved with certain cravings, and yoga breathing exercises can help you slow down and make better choices when cravings strike.
Strike a Pose: Meditation

Sit or lay in any comfortable position and bring attention to the natural breath moving in and out through your nose. Next, bring attention to the triangular area around the tip of your nose and upper lip, paying attention to your breath hitting this space as you exhale, the temperature of your breath, and which nostril you’re breathing through. Try this for two minutes, working up to five or more. “The key is to try and be still and focus just on the breath,” Bleier says. “No moving, no reacting, just stay present.”

8 Health Check Every Man Should Do

Don’t let your health suffer from neglect. Use these self-exams to uncover early warning signs of men’s health issues, from heart disease to testicular cancer.
According to a men’s health survey conducted by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), more than half of all men have not seen their primary care physician in the past year. “Neglecting men’s health is one reason why men have a higher age-adjusted death rate than women,” says Bruce B. Campbell, MD, a men’s health specialist at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass. If you are one of those men who need to pay more attention to their health, start by scheduling a regular physical with your doctor. You can also do these quick self-exams at home between check-ups — but they should supplement your professional care, not replace it.

1. Belly Fat Check

“Measuring the fat around your belly could be the most important self-exam for most men,” says Dr. Campbell. “More than other fat, belly fat produces hormones that increase men’s risk for heart disease and diabetes.” To do this self-check, simply wrap a tape measure around your waist at the level of your belly button. If you measure more than 37 inches, you’re at risk for potentially serious health problems. If you need to lose some inches around your middle, ask your doctor to help you come up with a plan to attack that belly fat. Repeat this exam about once a month.

2. Heart Rate Check

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States — and men may be even more at risk than women. Data from the CDC show that as many as 89 percent of sudden cardiac events (such as heart attacks) occur in men. One quick self-exam to gauge the health of your heart is to check your pulse when you’re at rest. Place the first two fingers of one hand on the area at the base of the wrist on your other hand. Count your pulse for 10 seconds and multiply by six. A normal pulse (heart rate) for a man should be between 60 and 100. Anything outside that range could be a sign of cardiovascular problems. You should also pay attention to the space between beats. An irregular pulse could be a sign of atrial fibrillation or other serious heart issues. Repeat this self-exam at least once every month.

3. Blood Pressure Check

According to research from the AAFP, about 28 percent of men have been diagnosed with high blood pressure. The National Stroke Association estimates, however, that as many as 32 percent of people who have it don’t know it. You should see your doctor for an official reading, but you may also want to keep tabs on your blood pressure at home between check-ups. “A good investment is to pick up an easy-to-use blood pressure monitor at the pharmacy and learn how to check your own pressure,” Campbell says. “Be sure to sit and rest for about five minutes before using it.” Blood pressure can change from day to day, so write down your readings and look at the average over about 10 readings. Let your doctor know if the high (systolic) number is consistently above 120 or the lower number is consistently above 80. Repeat this self-exam every few weeks.

4. Testicular Cancer Check

According to the National Cancer Institute, testicular cancer is the most common cancer among men ages 20 to 35. It affects some 8,290 people across all age groups, but fewer than 400 die of it. The American Cancer Society calls it “one of the most curable forms of cancer” — it has a five-year survival rate of 95 percent — but the earlier you find it, the better your prognosis is likely to be. “A self-exam of the testicles is a good way to find this cancer at an early stage when it is very treatable,” says Campbell. The best time to do a testicular self-exam is after a shower, when your scrotum is relaxed. Check your testicles for any lumps or changes in size, and let your doctor know if you find anything. Repeat this about once a month.

5. Oral Health Check

Oral cancer and gum disease are important men’s health issues. According to the American Cancer Society, 34,000 people will get oral cancer this year — the majority of whom will be men. Research shows that oral cancer is twice as common in men as in women, possibly because of cancer-causing HPV infections, which account for 72 percent of all oral and throat tumors. Cervical cancer is currently the most common cancer associated with the virus, but experts estimate that by 2020, the incidence of HPV-linked oral cancers in men may outnumber that of HPV-linked cervical cancers in women.
Oral cancer may show up as a sore or lump that doesn’t heal on the lips or in the mouth. To check for potential tumors, open wide and look and feel for any abnormalities, running a finger around and under your tongue. White or red patches in your mouth can be early warning signs of oral cancer. Always let your doctor or dentist know about these findings. Repeat this check monthly.

6. Gum Disease Check

Every time you brush and floss your teeth, be on the lookout for swollen, painful, bleeding gums or loose teeth. Also check for a receding gum line; it will make your teeth look longer. Gum disease, or periodontitis, is a serious risk to men’s health and also may be a warning for more serious health concerns. Studies show, for example that people with periodontitis double their risk for heart disease. If your oral self-exam suggests gum disease, get to your dentist soon.

7. Skin Cancer Check

Once a month, you should do a total body self-exam to look for new moles or changes in old moles. Skin cancer is the most common cancer among men and women, affecting millions of Americans every year. Approximately 2.2 million people are diagnosed with basal or squamous cell skin cancer annually, and an additional 70,000 are diagnosed with melanoma, according to the American Cancer Society. Men are twice as likely as women to have basal cell cancers and three times as likely to have squamous cell cancers — but they’re lesslikely to do monthly self-exams or go to the dermatologist, according to data from the American Academy of Dermatology. Partly because of this, they make up more than half of all melanoma deaths.
To do a self-check for skin cancer, look for moles that change size, shape, thickness, or color. Let your doctor know about any growths that bleed, itch, burn, or crust over. Get naked and look everywhere, including in your scalp and on the soles of your feet. “The back is a common area for melanoma,” Campbell says. “Have a partner help you check those areas that are hard to see.” Also examine your ears: Research from the Skin Cancer Foundation found that many skin cancers are found on sun-exposed areas where you often don’t think to put sunscreen. Ears are particularly vulnerable for men because of shorter hairstyles and poor sun protection.

8. Breast Cancer Check

That’s right: Men get breast cancer, too. It’s relatively rare — about 2,140 cases are diagnosed annually, compared with 230,480 cases among women — but because men don’t get mammograms, breast self-exams are a good idea after you turn 60. The best time to do one is after a shower. Look for any change in the size of your breast and feel each breast for lumps. Also squeeze both nipples to look for signs of discharge. You should do this about once a month.