Simple health resolutions for 2009

The best way to start the new year off right may be just simply living healthy and practicing a few health-conscience tips, like these:

• The flu shot is not only a preventative for contracting winter influenza, but it may also prevent a heart attack.

Heart attack rates rise about 30 percent during flu season, according to a recent Russian study in the European Heart Journal. The flu may trigger a heart attack by causing a generalized inflammatory response in the body, which can precipitate a blockage of a coronary artery. The study estimated that as many as 90,000 deaths from heart disease in the United States might be avoided each year if all people, especially those at high risk, got the flu vaccine.

• Don't stop eating fish because of recent reports of tainted Chinese imports - the benefits still outweigh the risk overall. But do vary seafood selections. Up to 80 percent of seafood consumed in the United States is imported - about 18 percent from China, as well as from other countries in Asia where food standards are more lax than here. The FDA inspects only a tiny fraction of the shipments, but has stepped up action against Chinese farm-raised shrimp, catfish and eel, which has been found to contain antibiotics and other drugs banned in the U.S. food supply.
The new Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) law, required in large grocery stores, can help identify where fish originates.

• Acne sufferers should avoid high-glycemic carbohydrates. While the role of diet in acne is controversial, emerging research suggests that such foods, which are quickly broken down into sugar in the blood, raise insulin levels, which in turn may increase production of hormones implicated in acne.

• Stretching regularly may make muscles stronger, suggests a new study. Performing regular hamstring stretches (the muscle at the back of the thigh), not only improved flexibility and increased range of motion in young people, it also strengthened their leg muscles.
Stronger leg muscles, in turn, can help prevent knee injuries. Stretching also relieves muscle tension and stiffness and often helps in recovery from injuries - although it does not prevent injuries, previous studies have found.

• It's increasingly important to wash hands and utensils before and after preparing poultry. Cook chicken thoroughly to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit internal temperature. Since 2000 the chances that raw chicken contains salmonella bacteria have increased more than fourfold, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report. Sometimes found in raw eggs, salmonella is a common cause of serious food poisoning.

• Forget about claims made for skin-beautifying foods and beverages, now sold at high-end cosmetics counters. There's no solid evidence to back up ingestible skin care, except occasionally rodent or test-tube studies, or small unpublished human studies.
Antioxidants may keep skin healthy, but the way to get them is from fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods.
The best anti-wrinkle, anti-aging program for skin is prevention: stay out of the sun, wear sunscreen, use moisturizer and don't smoke.

(The Barnwell County office of the Clemson University Extension Service periodically publish how-to and helpful articles in The People-Sentinel written by its staff.)