Tag Archives: health and wellness

Tips for Fighting Seasonal Allergies

By Tracey Dowdy

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S. costing Americans over $18 billion every year. That number may seem high, but more than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies, some year round.

Anyone is susceptible to allergies, and they can develop with little or no warning throughout your lifetime. I had no allergies until my first pregnancy, then developed seasonal allergies as well as an allergy to cats. Over the past couple of years, I’ve added wheat, barley, and squash to the list.

So what is an allergy? It’s merely an overreaction of your immune system to materials that generally don’t affect others. Your body can react in many different ways, including sneezing, hives, rashes, or coughing, and the severity can run from irritating to deadly.

If you or someone in your household is battling seasonal allergies, along with over-the-counter or prescription medication, there are steps you can take to mitigate your symptoms.

  • Change your routine. Especially helpful this time of year when Spring allergies are at their peak, a shower when you walk in the door after school or work rinses the pollen off your skin and hair, eliminating much of the irritants you picked up even if you’ were only outdoors for a short time. Leaving outdoor clothing like jackets and shoes near the door or in the mudroom can help reduce symptoms, as will changing clothes as soon as you get home.
  • Keep the outdoors, well, outdoors. Although it’s tempting to fling open the windows and doors after a long winter, keeping them shut will go a long way towards reducing symptoms. That breeze not only brings pollen and mold spores into your home, but it also kicks up allergens already present. Dust or wipe down surfaces, and be sure to replace or clean your homes furnace filter to further reduce indoor allergens.
  • Pay Attention to Weather Conditions. Alan Reppert, an AccuWeather senior meteorologist, says, “Spring allergies are driven by trees and grass pollen, and different people will have their own reactions. If you do suffer from spring allergens, a cold front passing through can bring some relief. But even when the weather seems quiet, allergens can be present and contribute to illness. For example, when rain begins and washes pollen out of the air, mold spores can climb and cause allergy problems.”  AccuWeather has a daily allergy index, you can find at AccuWeather.com or on their free AccuWeather app available for iOS and Android.
  • Finally, take advantage of apps that will help you track and hopefully reduce the impact of seasonal allergies. Web MD has an excellent app specifically targeted to allergy sufferers. Get personalized allergy and weather forecasts, pollen and mold levels for your area, and tips from doctors to help reduce symptoms. Zyrtec’s AllergyCast app offers daily allergy impact and pollen counts, 10-day forecasts so you know ahead of time what to expect and how to prepare, a log to help you track your allergies, and customizable alerts for when allergens are particularly high. And of course, it’s a smart idea to have The Red Cross First Aid app downloaded in case of an emergency. The app offers videos and step-by-step advice for a wide range of medical emergencies, including allergies and anaphylaxis. All four apps are available in Apple’s App Store and Google Play. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.


Fitness Tracker Tips to Achieve Your Goals

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who received a fitness tracker for Christmas, you’ve no doubt already unwrapped it and put it to use. Fitbit alone has 24.5 million users, a mere 9.5% of the global fitness tracker market.

Statistically, about 30% of users abandon their tracker within six months, no matter how much was spent on the device. The reasons vary among users, but according to Deborah Lupton, Centenary Research Professor at the University of Canberra, those least likely to abandon their tracker are “People who were actively using Fitbits and had incorporated them into their daily routines… really did enjoy things like badges and the buzzes and the flashing lights. Those features of wearables like Fitbit were very motivating for these people.” Those most committed to their fitness trackers were the super-competitive, people who would actually march around their kitchen at night just to hit their required number of steps for the day.

But, for the rest of the world, the less-competitive shall we say, it takes being intentional if you want to incorporate your tracker into your lifestyle. You need to make it a habit. According to research, it takes sixty-six days to create a good habit. The same study found that if you miss a day, you haven’t completely gone off the rails, so don’t despair.

Follow these suggestions to make the most of your device so your health and fitness become a long-term, sustainable lifestyle.

It may seem obvious but start with reading the manual. Since many of us consider ourselves somewhat tech-savvy, you may be tempted to jump in and figure things out through trial and error. Not only is that a waste of time, but you’re also likely to miss out on many of the device’s features. Unfortunately, many times the manual is printed in a near microscopic font, so a better option is to go to the manufacturer’s website and download the manual there.

Another “Well, obviously!” is to remember to wear it. Charge it near your phone, place it by something you grab every morning like your car keys or toothbrush, or if you only wear it when you exercise, put it in your gym bag or running shoes so you don’t forget to track your work out.

Once you’ve read through the manual and nailed down the basics, set your goals. Decide if you’re counting steps, calorie, active minutes, or whatever other numbers your device tracks.

Most trackers have a goal function that can be personalized based on current fitness level and where you’d like to be in a set time frame. Once you’ve set your goal, pay attention to your progress and adjust accordingly. If you’ve aimed too high and are frustrated that you consistently fall short, consider setting a more reasonable goal. On the other hand, if you’re hitting your milestones with ease, step up your game and make it more challenging. You’re more likely to stick with your goals and make it a habit if you’re consistently meeting those milestones.

The key to it all is routine. Make putting on your tracker as much a part of your morning routine as brushing your teeth. Set reminders to check your progress throughout the day, and give yourself non-sabotaging rewards like a coffee break, walk outside, or a few minutes goofing off online.

Sixty-six days is just a little over two months – you can do it!

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Apps to Encourage Health and Fitness

By Tracey Dowdy

Commuting to work last Friday, I listened to an interview with a personal trainer lamenting all the newbies in the gym come January 2nd. Apparently they are all there to kick start their New Year resolutions to lose weight and get fit but instead they mostly get in the way of the “real clients.”

Not sure she had a job come Monday morning, nor do I think that’s the attitude of the majority of personal trainers, but it reminded me of all the fantastic apps that are available to help us with our health and fitness goals without having to commit to a gym membership. Accessible anytime, anywhere, it’s like having your own personal trainer – minus the judging.

Food Journaling

A big part of meeting those health and fitness goals is making the choice to eat well. It’s not just a matter of what you eat, but when and how often. Food journaling can help you manage meals and snacks and use food as fuel instead of just taking on those extra calories.

Noom Coach is a weight loss app designed to encourage life-long healthy eating habits. Instead of simply counting calories, Noom Coach offers weight loss tips, a pedometer, a color coded calorie counter (red, yellow and green, like a stop light), recipes and nutritional information to help you make wise choices. The food database includes popular restaurants to make eating out less stressful, and there’s community support through user forums. (Free – iOS, Android)

Lose It! is one of the most successful comprehensive weight loss apps to date. When you download the app, Lose It! asks for your basic information like gender, height, current weight and weight loss goal. From there, the app creates a custom plan for you. Record your food intake and activity and Lose It tracks your progress. Find recipes, search the database for exercise and nutrition information, and even use the barcode scanner to determine whether that granola is really worth it. (Free – iOS, Android, Kindle)

Nutrition Menu is available offline so you can search its database of over 100,000 foods and 149 exercises no matter where you are. Track exercise, water intake, weight loss and, if you’re counting calories or carbs, use the “Food Score” or simply record your meals and snacks in the journal. With so many valuable resources, no wonder Nutrition Menu is recommended by Fitness and Women’s Health magazines. ($1.99 – iOS, Android)

Exercise Apps

Obviously diet alone isn’t enough to maintain a healthy lifestyle. If your wellness goals include a little exercise, these apps are a great place to start.

Couch to 5k promises if you’ll commit 30 minutes, 3 times a week for 9 weeks, you’ll be 5k ready. You can choose from four coaches and import your own playlist to keep you motivated. Couch to 5K tracks your progress and includes many other features like counting time on the treadmill to eliminate the “it’s too cold/hot/rainy/sunny” excuse on days you don’t feel like exercising. Because each day builds on the last workout, new runners are less likely to injure themselves. ($1.99 – iOS, Android)

Pocket Yoga is another app that functions offline so you can complete your workout even without an internet connection. Choose from 27 different workouts divided by level of difficulty and duration, so whether you’re a beginner or more advanced you can find a workout that meets your needs. Pocket Yoga maintains a log of all your practices to keep track of progress. ($2.99 – iOS, Android, Windows)

30 Day Fitness Challenges offers 20 different challenges focused on arms, legs, core and strength. Each challenge lasts between 1-5 minutes, which can feel like a very long time if you’re doing planks or burpees! With 30 Day Fitness Challenges you can access tutorials, learn different exercise techniques through videos, track your progress, and get regular reminders when it’s time to work out. ($2.99 – iOS, $1.99 – Android)

If you have a gym membership and simply want help with overall health and wellness, apps like MyFitnessPal, MyDietCoach, and MyNetDiary, can help you stay on track and maintain those healthy lifestyle choices. So whether you were naughty or nice over the holidays, getting back on track and reaching those fitness and wellness goals is well within your reach!

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Microsoft Band Sets a New Standard for Wearable Tech

Microsoft caught many people by surprise yesterday when it jumped into the wearable technology arena with the launch of Microsoft Band, a health and productivity device, which is worn around the wrist like a watch. Microsoft joins a crowded field, which includes the likes of Jawbone (UP24) and Fitbit (Flex and Zip), and which will soon see the arrival of Apple Watch.

Although heavier than most of the existing tech-inspired wristbands, Microsoft Band is sleek-looking and stylish, blending a heavy-duty rubberized strap with a black horizontal screen that lights up with a full-color display when activated. Although Microsoft Band is currently only available in black, there are three different sizes to fit even the largest or smallest of wrists.

Microsoft Band comes pre-charged, so you can use it right out of the box, but there is also a charging cable that snaps onto connectors on the inside of the wristband and plugs into a standard USB adaptor. When fully charged, Microsoft Band will last 48 hours with normal use, although activating features like GPS will inevitably cut into the battery life.

Once Microsoft Band is turned on, you can customize the color of the screen and also the background wallpaper. If you have one, you can sign in to your Microsoft account to populate your profile fields or you can enter them manually.

Microsoft Band is compatible with iOS 7.1 and 8, Windows Phone 8.1, and Android devices running 4.3 or later. I had a few problems pairing Microsoft Band with my Droid MAXX, as both devices wanted me to input different PINs, but they got on the same page after a few tries. As with most other Bluetooth devices, once you connect the first time they recognize each other and pair automatically after that.

Microsoft Band offers an impressive set of features, including built-in GPS, call-screening, the ability to read incoming e-mails and texts, a fully-synced calendar, a heart rate monitor, and more. But the key to making the most of Microsoft Band is Microsoft Health, an ambitious and superbly organized wellness app, which offers a wide selection of health and fitness tools.

With Microsoft Health you can set activity goals, monitor performance, track your heart rate and sleep patterns, choose from a wide range of different workouts, and even map your outdoor runs. The developers of Microsoft Health have clearly paid close attention to all the popular sports apps and have produced a winning combination of all the best features.

At $199, Microsoft Band is considerably more expensive than Jawbone’s UP24, the Fitbit Flex, or Nike’s Fuelband, but none of those devices can really compare with the style and functionality of this excellent new device. Microsoft may have been a late and unexpected arrival in the world of wearable technology, but now they are here they have undoubtedly raised the bar for everyone else!