Q: Causes of sudden, persistent weight gain?

By Elizabeth Smoots, MD, FAAFP

A: Fluid retention is the most common cause of sudden weight gain. It usually comes as quickly as it goes. Persistent fluid retention can signal heart, liver or kidney disease.

Other conditions that may quickly pile on the pounds: Diabetes and low thyroid function are often associated with weight gain, usually along with muscle weakness and fatigue. People with Cushing’s syndrome make too much cortisol, resulting in fatty deposits in the face, neck, trunk and abdomen. Pregnancy may be a possibility in premenopausal women.

Medications linked to added weight: Certain hormone treatments, birth control pills or corticosteroids have weight gain as a side effect. The same for beta blockers taken for high blood pressure, or tamoxifen used for breast cancer. Other drugs associated with weight gain include antidepressants, antipsychotics, seizure drugs, and insulin or sulfonylureas for diabetes. See your health care provider if weight gain persists, no matter if it’s sudden or gradual.

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Indulge in Time for YOU

If life-work balance seems elusive, maybe you’re trying too hard. 

Tightly scheduling your work week can produce stress — but making room for unplanned leisure helps relieve stress.

Give yourself time to recharge and even improve mental health. You’ll likely boost creativity, too, according to INSEAD business school professor Manfred Kets de Vries.

Five me-time tips:

  1. Indulge in what rejuvenates. Whether it’s a hot bath, meditation or riding a bike, don’t feel guilty when you aren’t busy.
  2. Go for a walk. Walking is great exercise, but just taking a leisurely stroll can boost your mood, according to American Psychological Association research.
  3. Relax about family time. Be spontaneous and in the moment instead of always relying on formal plans for family activities. Cook a meal, visit a local park or play a game together. 
  4. Connect with nature. Take time to watch clouds, stars and birds in flight. Connecting with sights and sounds of nature increases the sense of well-being, according to University of California research. 
  5. Spend time with your pet. Relaxing with your pet can lower stress hormone levels. Pennsylvania State psychologists found simply being around a dog dampens stress responses. 
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Growing Teens into Healthy Adults

By Cara Rosenbloom, RD

Convincing teens to eat well, exercise and get enough sleep is not always easy, especially when parents are competing with junk food advertising and binge-worthy shows that keep kids on the sofa for hours. And there’s still peer pressure to deal with. 

Here are 5 tips to help you positively influence your teen’s lifestyle choices as they navigate puberty and growth spurts:

1. Trust them to know their appetite. They should eat when they are hungry and stop when full. Don’t berate them for wanting seconds, or for eating more 1 day than the next — that’s normal as they grow. 

2. Be a role model. Your teens learn by example. They will mirror your food choices and your commentary on your own body. Eat well and be positive about what you love about yourself. Don’t make negative comments about your shape — or theirs.

3. Teach moderation. Teens are independent and make many of their own food choices. That often means fast food, sugary beverages, salty snacks and candy. That’s okay sometimes. Explain it in terms they can understand, such as the 80/20 idea: Eat well 80% of the time, and enjoy treats 20% of the time.

4. Sleep matters. How tall your child will be is mostly determined by genetics, but factors such as eating well, getting enough sleep and being active also matter. Human growth hormone is mostly released while a child is asleep, so encourage a normal bedtime. 

5. Make healthy choices easy. Keep nutritious grab-and-go snacks on hand for busy teens. Include nuts, fruit, hummus, yogurt, whole-grain crackers, cheese and ready-to-eat vegetables. 

Remember: If teens learn healthy habits at home, they will know how to care for themselves as they blossom into young adults. 

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It’s Quitting Time for SITTING

The human body is designed to move. Yet, many Americans spend at least half their waking time sitting — in cars, on sofas and in front of phones, TVs and computers. Sitting too much is now a recognized health hazard. 

What’s too much? Sitting for 6 or more hours a day increases your risk of premature death by 19%, compared with people who sit fewer than 3 hours, according to research by the American Cancer Society last year. The 21-year study followed more than 127,000 people who had no major chronic diseases when they joined the group; during the study (1993-2014) nearly 49,000 died.

Those reporting the most leisure time sitting had higher risks of death from numerous medical conditions, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes; kidney, lung, liver and digestive diseases; Parkinson’s disease; Alzheimer’s disease; nervous disorders; and musculoskeletal disorders. 

The hunched position we assume while sitting at a desk or driving for long periods constricts the muscles, causing tension, fatigue and pain. To decrease the daily discomfort and long-term health risks of inactivity, loosen up: Take frequent, short movement breaks throughout your day.

Make a habit of standing up as often as possible — as you read, watch TV or talk or text on your phone, or to walk around. Learn to fit in simple core stretches at your desk. Here’s an example from ACE Fitness:

  1. Stand upright, fingers clasped behind your head; relax your neck.
  2. Turn your head toward your left elbow.
  3. Lean your upper body to the right; no bending forward or backward.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side. 
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How to Survive Family Road Trips

Whether you’re driving to a vacation destination or traveling cross-country to several locations, a summer road trip can be loaded with family fun and adventure. Planning ahead is key to ensuring a pleasant trip.

Think safety first. Pack a first-aid kit and any medications family members need. Have your car’s road worthiness checked. Make sure all seatbelts work properly and little ones have appropriately sized car seats, too.

Tips for a family road trip with more fun, less stress:

  • Pack plenty of refreshments. Keep them in reach so you don’t have to stop the car for a drink or snack. Pack wipes to clean hands.
  • Keep youngsters occupied. Bring small toys, but don’t forget old-fashioned participation games such as “I Spy” or family sing-alongs. Use books and brochures to share information about what you’ll see on your trip.
  • Stop for breaks about every 2 hours. Stretch your legs and supervise kids while they burn energy tossing a ball, jumping rope or playing tag in a safe rest area.
  • Bring along audio books and earplugs to avoid squabbles over movies; instead of screen time, encourage more scenery watching.
  • If an attraction is a dud, or you take a wrong turn, relax. Talk (and laugh) about it.
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Get in the Swim

Water exercise offers special rewards. First, no matter what the activity involves, doing it in chest-deep water takes added effort. And low-impact aqua workouts can leave you feeling calm and invigorated, not tired or achy.

Fitness benefits? Even the simplest pool exercise — walking forward and backward in waist-high water — can improve balance and flexibility and train your core muscles, all with help from the water’s resistance. Aqua aerobic routines will help you reduce body fat, lose weight and strengthen your cardiovascular health.

Pool classes offer a variety of exercise options. In addition to lap swimming, you can switch to shallow or deep-water activities that provide vigorous muscle workouts, especially by keeping your full range of motion under water.

Just starting or have limited mobility? Choose an introductory class and work with the instructor to identify your fitness goals and to learn proper form. If you don’t swim well, find a class that offers routines in the shallow end of the pool, such as water walking. As your strength grows, you can increase your pace for enhanced fitness.

Check with your health care provider first if you have chronic health problems (e.g., heart issues, arthritis, backache, injury and obesity), or pregnant.

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Get Savvy About Health Care

Understanding how your health care plan works is vital to protecting your well-being. Check your knowledge against these basic goals that help ensure quality coverage:

  • I have read my benefit plan description and know what’s required for copayments, deductibles and other fees.
  • I know how to access services, such as provider referrals, routine screenings or hospital admission.
  • I manage my basic health with a primary health care provider by asking questions, discussing treatment options and following self-care measures.
  • I maintain a strong, effective relationship with my provider, who listens, invites my questions and explains thoroughly.
  • I can exchange information with my provider using an online portal.
  • I usually offer my provider prepared, specific information about my health.
  • I use a current medical self-care guide.
  • I know when and where to get urgent care (other than my provider’s clinic or a hospital emergency room).

Once your provider has diagnosed your health condition or gives you a prescribed care plan, its success depends largely on you. Whether it’s taking medicine correctly, changing habits or watching for symptoms, do your best to stay in charge.

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Cancer Screening Guide for Guys

Busy men tend to put off checkups, especially if they feel fine. But that can be a serious mistake when it comes to health.

Men’s Health Month in June is an opportunity to learn more about the prevention, detection and treatment of diseases affecting men. Learning more can be lifesaving — especially when it comes to protection from cancer.

Case in point: Prostate cancer is the most common type of malignancy in men (besides skin cancer) and it’s the second leading cause of cancer deaths in American men after lung cancer. But there’s good news from the American Cancer Society (ACS): The 5-year survival rate for non-spreading prostate cancer is nearly 100%.

Prostate exams: Do men need regular prostate cancer screening if they have no symptoms or elevated risk for prostate cancer? The ACS advises all men to talk with their health care providers about prostate screening based on age and personal risks, if they’re in the following groups:

  • Men age 40 and at highest risk for the disease because they have more than 1 first-degree relative (a father or brother) who had prostate cancer at an early age;
  • Men age 45 and at elevated risk due to being African American and/or having a father, brother or son diagnosed with the disease when they were younger than 65;
  • Men age 50, at average risk of prostate cancer and who expect to live at least another decade.

The ACS emphasizes health status and age because prostate cancer usually grows slowly and, if a man is seriously ill and not expected to live for another 10 years, cancer screening and treatment may not be indicated.

Prostate cancer screening involves a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood
test and often a digital rectal exam. If no cancer is found, future screenings
may be scheduled depending on the results of the PSA test. For example,
a PSA of less than 2.5 ng/ML typically is repeated every 2 years, while a
higher PSA level should be tested yearly, according to the ACS.

What other cancer screenings do men need? Colorectal cancer is highly
preventable with regular exams, such as a colonoscopy or fecal DNA test,
to find and remove pre-cancerous polyps. The ACS recommends men begin
colorectal screening at age 45 or earlier if they have risks such as a family
history of colorectal cancer.

Talk to your provider about other cancer screenings, including skin
cancer checks. Lung cancer screening for smokers and others at high
risk increases the chances of effective treatment. Inform your provider
immediately if you have lung-related symptoms, including a persistent
cough, rust-colored sputum and pain with deep breaths.

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4 Tips for the Fourth

Fireworks can be dangerous, so it’s best to let the professionals handle the show. However, if you do plan to use fireworks, make sure they are legal in your area and follow these safety tips:

1.Never allow young children to play with, ignite or come close to fireworks — including sparklers.

2.Keep all body parts away from a firework when lighting a fuse. Only light 1 at a time and back up to a safe distance after lighting it.

3.Never pick up or try to re-light fireworks that have not ignited fully. 

4. Keep a bucket of water or hose nearby in case of fire. Douse all spent fireworks with plenty of water before discarding them.

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The Low-Tech Vacation

Yes, you can have a great vacation with minimal — or no — connection to smartphones, laptops or tablets. When traveling, carry a smartphone in case of an emergency or to check flights or weather information. But research shows taking a break from constant technology use may benefit your brain and refresh you physically and mentally. 

Tips for planning a (mostly) unplugged vacation:

Discuss what a tech-free vacation means with your family and how it can encourage togetherness.

Consider the great outdoors. From the Grand Canyon to Yosemite, state and national parks offer incredible sightseeing, hiking and camping if you
want — a great getaway from tech tools. 

Ask your travel agent about low-tech adventures. A growing number of unique resorts promote unplugging to de-stress, from Adirondack-inspired B&Bs on the edge of Wisconsin’s Chequamegon National Forest to tree-house accommodations suspended in an old-growth rain forest on Vancouver Island, B.C.

Or take a low-tech, budget-stretching staycation at home. Commit to unplugging and visit local art galleries, museums, the zoo, nearby beaches or lakes and other attractions. 

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