8 Fall Tips for Healthy Living

There's no need to pack on pounds or fall ill this autumn.

From the WebMD Archives

A nip is in the air, as summer eases into the fall season. Football season starts, and so does school. The holidays are right around the corner. So is the flu season. To help keep you healthy over the next few months, we've got these tips:

1. Take a Tailgate Time-out

It's an all-American past-time -- the tailgate party! Tailgating today has progressed far beyond burgers and chips. You'll find everything from cheese dip to spicy chicken wings.

Don't despair: Your tailgate spread doesn't have to sideline your weight loss plan. Grilled kabobs are great fare on the field. Just skewer veggies, fruits, and lean meat, and soak in your favorite marinade. Seafood, salsas, wraps, and stews are good eating, too. A Crock-Pot of chili -- loaded with high-fiber, high-protein beans -- is a classic tailgate dish (don't forget the Beano).

Just remember, alcohol is packed with calories. Enjoy your favorite brew, but switch it out for zero-calorie beverages as the party rolls along. It's all in how you play the game!

2. Sleep Tips to Help Kids' Weight

Does your child get enough sleep? If not, it could affect more than sleepiness at school. Studies suggest there may be a link between skimping on sleep and being overweight. Sleep shortfalls may increase hunger hormones -- so kids eat more. Also, kids are less likely to get exercise (and burn off calories) when they're tired.

To help kids and teens get a good night's sleep:

  • Remove TVs, computers, and gadgets from kids' bedrooms.
  • Avoid large meals before bedtime.
  • Develop a regular bedtime routine.
  • Set firm bedtimes and wake times.
  • Make sure the bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing -- and not too hot or cold.
  • Help kids quiet down a few hours before bedtime.
  • Heavy studying, text messaging, or video games should end in early evening.

How much sleep do schoolkids need? It depends on the child. But here are some general guidelines from the National Sleep Foundation:

  • Ages 3-5: 11-13 hours
  • Ages 5-12: 10-11 hours
  • Ages 11-17: 9.5-9.25 hours

3. Quit Smoking: You Won't Gain Weight

If you've finally decided to kick the habit, there's good news: Quitting smoking won't make you gain weight over the long term. Some people pick up 4 or 5 pounds early on, but that's only temporary.

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To quit successfully, experts agree, get help and support from your doctor, family, friends, and co-workers. A doctor or mental health professional can help you tailor an approach that best suits you. There are many FDA-approved medications to help people quit smoking.

Combine medication with other quit strategies -- like avoiding your smoking triggers or changing your daily routine -- and you greatly increase your odds of quitting for good.

Another tip: Some foods and drinks make cigarettes taste better; some make them taste worse. Try eating more vegetables and less meat -- and swap that coffee (or alcohol) for a glass of milk. Let your taste buds stifle those cravings!

4. Flu Vaccine? Who? You.

As temperatures get chillier and people spend more time indoors, flu season sneaks in. Because the flu virus can infect the lungs, it can cause a serious complication like pneumonia -- which can require hospitalization, even lead to death. That's why certain people must get a flu shot.

October or November is the best time to get vaccinated, but you can still get vaccinated in December or later. Flu season can start as early as October and last as late as May.

If you live with or care for a child under 2 years old, you are in a priority group for flu shots.

There are two types of flu vaccines: flu shots and nasal sprays. The flu shot vaccine is recommended for:

  • Children aged 6 months to 19 years.
  • Pregnant women.
  • People age 50 and older.
  • People of any age with chronic medical conditions such as asthma.
  • People living in nursing homes or other long-term facilities.

Others who could get Flu Mist nasal spray include healthy people 2-49 years old who are not pregnant.

Also, protect yourself and your child from catching or spreading viruses:

  • Cover nose and mouth with a tissue when you sneeze or cough. Throw it away afterward.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water -- especially important after you cough or sneeze on them. Use an alcohol-based hand cleaner if necessary.
  • Keep you and your baby away from people who are coughing or sneezing.
  • Try not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth -- since that's how germs are spread

In 2009, the H1N1 swine flu, a new flu virus, emerged. This virus spreads from person to person like seasonal flu, mainly through coughing or sneezing or sometimes by touching something that became infected with the virus. A vaccine for swine flu is in production.

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5. Holiday Game Plan: No Weight Gain

The challenges of holiday feasting are only too obvious -- wonderful smells and fabulous tastes. We do love our comfort food! But the traditional holiday weight gain is another matter. If it's a real problem for you, here's good news. With a few simple changes, you can enjoy the feast without gaining the extra 1 to 3 pounds that tend to become permanent baggage.

Here's your plan:

  • Don't arrive starving. Eat something small and healthy, like oatmeal or a whole-grain sandwich, before the big meal. That will keep you full until dinner.
  • Exercise every day. This means big holidays, too. Get the family out with you. Start a new holiday tradition that involves activity.
  • Establish ground rules with yourself. Eat dessert, but only a sliver, for example.
  • Keep track. Write down everything you eat. If you put it in writing, you're less tempted to overeat.
  • Eat smaller portions of high-calorie dishes. Enjoy, but don't pig out.
  • Save calories for the foods you love. Don't eat something just because it's there.
  • Chat more, eat less. Shun those high-fat appetizers at holiday parties.

If you know you'll have trouble resisting those favorite foods, plan for it. Cut back on eating early in the week. Get more exercise before and after the holidays. You can do this!

6. Sweet Potatoes: Winter Superfood

It's one of the sweetest ways to make a healthful change -- get hot about sweet potatoes. These luscious orange tubers boast a wealth of antioxidants; phytochemicals including beta-carotene; vitamins C and E; folate; calcium; copper; iron; and potassium. The fiber in sweet potatoes promotes a healthy digestive tract, and the antioxidants may play a role in preventing heart disease and cancer.

The natural sweetness of a roasted sweet potato is delicious without any additional fats or flavor enhancers.

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7. Exercise Your Brain: Go Dancing

You know your heart benefits from exercise. Your brain does, too. Studies show that regular, moderate exercise -- 30 minutes of walking or a light one-mile run -- helps fight the effects of aging on the brain. No grueling workouts required!

All types of exercise count, including walking, bicycling, hiking, swimming, aerobics, and weight training. Ballroom dancing is another good one, especially fun on chilly evenings.

How does exercise work to prevent mental decline? Researchers believe exercise may stimulate the body to fight stress that's normally occurring in the brain -- stress that causes oxidative damage. All that good stuff from a little exercise!

8. Curl Up With Hot Coffee

That wonderfully warming cup of morning coffee may have health benefits. The caffeine in coffee stimulates the brain and nervous system, and may lower your risk of diabetes, Parkinson's disease, mood problems, headaches, and even cavities.

Scientists have discovered coffee's many beneficial substances, including chlorogenic acid, a compound in the antioxidant family that may improve glucose (sugar) metabolism. Another perk is that coffee contains magnesium, a mineral that can also improve insulin sensitivity and enhance glucose tolerance -- thumbs up for preventing diabetes.

Another plus is that coffee is naturally calorie-free. Just don't load it up with extra calories from cream, sugar, whipped cream, and/or flavored syrup.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on September 29, 2009

Sources

SOURCES: WebMD Expert Column: "Tips for Terrific Tailgating," "5 Surprisingly Healthy Foods." Tailgating.com. WebMD Medical News: "14 Sleep Tips May Help Kids' Weight," "Quit-Smoking Diet: Veggies, Milk," "Quitting Smoking Doesn't Add Pounds," "Exercise Keeps the Brain Fit," "Regular Exercise May Delay Alzheimer's," Regular Exercise Keeps Brain Young," "Coffee's Health Perks Get Attention." WebMD Medical Reference in collaboration with Healthwise: "Strategies and Skills for Quitting." CDC: "Caregivers of Young Children: Get Flu Shots." WebMD Medical Reference: "Top 10 Questions About the Flu." WebMD Feature: "Avoiding Thanksgiving Weight Gain." WebMD Medical Reference with MedicineNet: "Dementia Prevention: Brain Exercise."

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