Friendship: The Key to Happiness?

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It can be difficult to maintain friendships or make new friends as we get older. Family, work, and other responsibilities take time away from nurturing both new and old friends, but we’re given an invaluable reward when we do make the effort to spend time with people—and that’s the gift of happiness.

August 3rd is National Friendship Day, so let’s take a look at the role that friendship plays in enriching our lives and making us happy.

The Dangers of Loneliness

Loneliness is a serious problem in the U.S. that can have a significant impact on health and overall happiness. John Cacioppo, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, has been studying the effects of loneliness for more than two decades, and he believes that isolation can alter the brain as well as behavior.

“Lonely people don’t know it, but they lose the ability to control their impulses, which also happens in isolated nonhuman animals,” says Cacioppo. “It really is a brain state.”

Loneliness can take a toll on the body in many ways. For example, perceived loneliness can:

  • Raise blood pressure
  • Make the heart work harder to pump more blood
  • Interrupt sleep
  • Increase the stress hormone, cortisol
  • Increase the risk of depression
  • Heighten the body’s inflammatory response

Can Money Buy Happiness?

Money can’t buy happiness, as the saying goes, but it can if you spend it the right way. Michael Norton, a professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, says you can buy happiness when you spend money on other people rather than on yourself, and this paradigm is universally holding true in other countries as well.

In a happiness study conducted at the University of British Columbia, for example, two groups of undergraduate students were given money with specific instructions on how to spend it—some were instructed to buy something for themselves while others were asked to spend this money on someone else. At the end of the study, the students that bought something for other people reported feeling happier than the group that spent the money on items for themselves.

Norton concluded that there is a positive correlation between happiness and giving money—that is, donating money for the benefit of helping others makes people feel happier. Additionally, researchers found that giving inexpensive or trivial gifts (e.g. a $5 cup of coffee) made them feel equally as happy as buying more expensive gifts (e.g. a $20 stuffed animal).

Tips for Making Better Friends

Cacioppo estimates that 20 percent of Americans (roughly 60 million people) struggle with feelings of chronic loneliness. To treat these feelings of isolation, Cacioppo recommends reaching out to people around you by volunteering and saying hello to someone when you’re in a public place. Over time, this will lead to finding more compatible friends that enrich your life and bring you happiness.

If you’re looking to make better friends, here are some things you can do:

  • Join a club or a group
  • Attend social events (e.g. an art gallery or a trade show)
  • Seek out people whom you share a common interest with and talk to them
  • Laugh and smile often
  • Maintain a positive attitude
  • Be helpful, kind, and grateful
  • Make yourself available to talk when someone you know is in need
  • Establish criteria that will guide your search for compatible friends
  • Use social media to reach out to new people
  • Ask questions, listen carefully, and give compliments

Boost your Productivity: How to Take a break

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Break time concept, on time

It doesn’t matter if you work at an office, from home, or have a full-time job watching the kids – personal productivity is the key differentiator between conquering your to-do list and always feeling behind. Sure, procrastination and apathy can play a part, but when you cut to the core the simple fact is that many of us aren’t effectively organizing our day and are losing valuable time that could be spent crossing items off your list.

Step Away from the Screen(s)

While it may seem counterintuitive to stop working on the task you’re trying to complete, regular breaks are scientifically proven to boost focus and productivity. After concentrating on a task for an extended period, [CA1] our brains lose attention resources – significantly hindering our performance and focus. However, after a brief hiatus we’re able to recharge and pick up the task with more fervor and motivation than if we’d tried to power through. There is one caveat – you actually have to take a break. No emails, Facebook, texting – try to turn your brain off and actually give it a break. Think along these lines: short walks, read a chapter in your book, or just look out the window. Whatever you do, make sure it’s away from your workstation and free of as many devices/screens as possible.

The Pomodoro Technique

One method to help remind you to take regular breaks is the Pomodoro Technique. Created in the 1980’s, Pomodoro is one of the most popular time-management tactics used today. It aims to provide the user with maximum focus and creative freshness, thereby allowing you to complete projects faster with less mental fatigue. For every project throughout the day, you budget your time into short increments and take breaks periodically. You work for 25 minutes, and then take a break for 5 minutes. Each 30-minute period is called a Pomodoro, named after the Italian word for tomato. After four Pomodoros have elapsed, you then earn a 20-minute break.

Seriously, Stop Checking Your Email

Keyboard and Coffee Break button, work conceptUnless your industry requires immediate response via email, stop checking it every 20 minutes – especially during your breaks. Turn off email notifications on your computer and phone and try to make a point of checking it only 3 to 4 times a day (I know, this will be hard at first). Every time you take a second to check or a minute to peck out a quick message, you’re getting distracted and making it that much harder to dive back into the task at hand. If you have to, use your breaks to “flag” emails that require attention later, and then go in a few times a day and get to all of them – in bulk.

Maybe Take a Nap?

Napping has been shown to improve learning and memory, increase creativity and productivity, and boost mental alertness, among other physical and mental health benefits. In fact, a 30-minute nap can prove to be crucial for those who frequently don’t get enough sleep during the night and feel constantly tired throughout the day. Be careful not to go past about 30 minutes, though. Anything longer and your body will enter a deep sleep and you risk waking up feeling even more tired.

Is Laughter the Best Medicine?

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A phrase like that calls to mind similar adage, such as “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

Laughing Friends

Laughter has a profound effect on the body—it can improve memory, reduce stress, and even protect you from illnesses. Studies have also shown that the health benefits of laugher are similar to those of a workout, as laughter increases blood flow, exercises muscles and improves sleep.

You don’t need to read this to know that laughing is fun and helps us feel better. But did you know that research has proven that a little chuckle can improve memory, reduce stress, and even help protect you from illness?

It’s true! Laughing is comparable to a mild workout. Laughing exercises muscles, decreases blood pressure, improves sleep patterns, boosts the immune system, and gets the blood flowing. While researchers don’t know exactly how laughter positively affects health, they do know that when you are laughing, you’re providing healthy stimulation for your heart and blood vessels.

 “We don’t know why laughing protects the heart, but we know that mental stress is associated with impairment of the endothelium, the protective barrier lining of our blood vessels. This can cause a series of inflammatory reactions that lead to fat and cholesterol build-up in the coronary arteries and ultimately to a heart attack,”

- Dr. Michael Miller, director of the Center for Preventative Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Yet despite laughter’s benefits, most of us go days, maybe weeks, without a hearty cackle.

What happens when we laugh?

Interestingly, studies have shown that the benefits of laughter are the same in different countries and cultures, even though what’s thought of as funny can vary greatly. Researchers across the world are urging that doctors ask patients about their “laugh history” because humor is so vital to maintaining a high quality of life.

Immune System

Some studies have shown that the ability to use humor in stressful situations may raise the level of infection-fighting antibodies in the body and boost immune cell levels.

Blood Flow

A minute of laughter causes our pulse to elevate; we breathe faster, which in turn sends more oxygen to our tissues.

Relaxation and Sleep

A group of Japanese researchers found that laughing in the evening causes the body to produce more melatonin—the hormone released by the brain when we’re about to fall asleep.

Blood Sugar Levels

A study forced 19 people with diabetes to attend a wearying lecture for two hours after eating. The next day, the group ate the same meal and watched a two-hour comedy. After the movie, the group had significantly lower blood sugar levels than they did following the lecture.

Social Impact

Neuroscientist, Robert Provine, PhD., concluded, “Uniquely human, laughter is, first and foremost, a social signal—it disappears when there is no audience, which may be as small as one other person—and it binds people together. It synchronizes the brains of speaker and listener so that they are emotionally attuned.”

Diet Tips for a Healthy Pregnancy

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Pregnant Woman Eating a Salad

It can be easy to eat whatever is most convenient when you’re in a hurry. Sometimes you settle for going to a MacDonald’s drive-through or perhaps you grab a bag of potato chips from the vending machine at work, but these eating habits are not exactly nutritious, especially if you’re pregnant.

When you’re expecting, it’s important to eat right to ensure that you’re providing the appropriate nutrients for your baby’s health. This doesn’t mean you have to eat for two—in fact, this can be unhealthy—but it does mean that you may have to change your diet and avoid foods that you normally eat.

Here are some important diet tips and things to keep in mind if you have a baby on the way.

How many extra calories should I eat?

For pregnant women who have a healthy body weight, you don’t need to add any additional calories to your diet in the first trimester. During the second trimester, however, you should generally eat about 300 extra calories per day, and about 450 extra calories once you reach the third trimester.

If you’re overweight or underweight, then you may need to add or subtract calories depending on age, fetal development, and your current health. The daily caloric intake for an optimal pregnancy can vary for each person, so be sure to ask your doctor how many extra calories you should consume. In general, it’s healthy to pack on between 20 to 35 pounds when you’re pregnant.

What to Eat During Pregnancy

Eating a balanced diet is the best way to promote the health of both the mother and the baby during pregnancy. This means eating the right number of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vegetables, and fruits. It’s also important to eat foods with fiber, calcium, zinc, folic acid, and iron.

Here are some healthy foods that are safe to eat when you’re pregnant:

  • Avocados
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Edamame
  • Lentils
  • Mangoes
  • Nuts
  • Oatmeal
  • Red pepper
  • Spinach
  • Yogurt

Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

For expecting mothers, it’s best to avoid eating empty calories (e.g. cake, candy, cookies, etc.) as these provide little nutritional value. You should also avoid raw or undercooked foods since they can increase the risk of listeria, a dangerous infection that can lead to premature birth or death of the mother and/or baby. Of course, alcohol is especially dangerous to unborn children because their livers are underdeveloped, and studies suggest that caffeine may increase your risk for a miscarriage.

If you’re expecting a baby, here are some foods you might want to give up:

  • Deli meat
  • High-mercury fishSushi Rolls on a Plate
  • Perishable foods (e.g. potato or pasta salad)
  • Pre-stuffed chicken or turkey
  • Rare meat
  • Raw shellfish
  • Runny eggs
  • Smoked seafood
  • Soft cheese (e.g. feta, goat cheese, blue cheese, etc.)
  • Sushi
  • Unpasteurized milk

A Cure for the Itch: Mosquito Bite Treatment & Prevention

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Mosquito Bug On Finger

A mosquito can be quite the nuisance on a hot summer day at the beach. Your intense game of sand volleyball can seem more like a fight against flying, blood-hungry pests than a game of friendly sport competition. And then there are those itchy bites that cause inflammation, redness, and soreness. In most cases, mosquitoes are nothing to worry about, but for some people they can cause a severe allergic reaction (a condition known as “skeeter syndrome”) and they can also transmit diseases.

With summer in full swing, here are some important things you should know about mosquitoes.

Why does a mosquito bite itch?

Female mosquitoes have an elongated mouthpart known as a “proboscis” that is used to penetrate skin and suck out blood for protein. When a mosquito bites you, she injects saliva into your body as an anti-coagulant, which keeps your blood from solidifying for quick extraction. The itchiness and mild irritation you feel is caused by an allergic reaction from the proteins in the mosquito’s saliva.

Although it can be difficult to ignore the itch, it’s best not to scratch it. This only provides temporary relief and it can actually make the bite feel itchier. Excessive itching can increase inflammation around the bite area and prolong the healing process, leaving you with an itchy bump or welt that lasts for days.

Treating Mosquito Bites

Most mosquito bites will eventually stop itching and heal on their own, but you can use over-the-counter creams to help reduce your symptoms. For example, hydrocortisone and antihistamine creams work well to cure the itch and reduce swelling. As always, be sure to check the warning label before applying a mosquito bite solution, especially if you have allergies.

If you don’t have hydrocortisone or antihistamine creams in your medicine cabinet, then you can try a few home remedies instead. Here are some things you can use on a mosquito bite to help relieve the itch and accelerate the healing process:

  • An ice pack or ice cubes
  • Baking soda
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Oatmeal or saltwater
  • Cooled tea
  • Alcohol
  • Lavender oil
  • Aloe vera
  • Basil
  • Hot or cold water

Protecting Against Mosquitoes

The best way to keep mosquitoes from swarming your yard is to limit the source that attracts these pesky insects in the first place. For example, mosquitoes breed near water, so it’s a good idea to drain buckets, flowerpots, inflatable pools, or any other areas that collect rainwater from your yard. Unfortunately, if you live near a stream or a lake, then you will likely always battle with mosquito problems.

Insect repellent is another way you can protect yourself from mosquitoes. This works well to discourage them from landing on your skin, but it only provides temporary protection. The most effective insect repellents contain DEET, picaridin (or KBR 3023), and lemon eucalyptus. For an additional layer of protection, you can also use permethrin on your clothes and personal belongings to ward off hungry mosquitoes.

It’s also important to note that there are certain behaviors that can attract mosquitoes as well. For instance, carbon dioxide from heavy breathing and lactic acid from your sweat can trigger a mosquito’s sense of smell from over 50 yards away! In general, physical activity and heat are also magnets for mosquitoes.

When to See a Doctor

While mosquito bites are usually harmless, they can cause minor flu-like symptoms such as body aches, headaches, and vomiting. In severe cases (e.g. high fever, muscle weakness, vision loss, disorientation, etc.), make sure you seek medical attention right away, especially if you have abnormal swelling and or a red streak (i.e. infection) in your skin.

Mosquitoes can carry extremely dangerous illnesses such as West Nile Virus, malaria, and yellow fever, but symptoms may not occur until days or even weeks after a bite. Be sure to visit your doctor immediately if your symptoms suddenly become extremely debilitating.

Fourth of July: Keeping Pets Safe

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Scared Dog

It’s no secret that most domestic animals are terrified of loud noises, especially the thunderous sounds of fireworks. These fears can evolve over time, and eventually they can lead to a condition called “noise phobia,” or an extreme fear of sounds that can cause your pet a great deal of stress.

With Fourth of July just around the corner, it’s important for all pet owners to take extra precaution with their pets so they feel safe and secure from the deafening sounds of exploding fireworks. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way to explain to little Fido why there are scary booms reverberating all around (feel free to try!), but there are ways you can help alleviate his stress.

How to Protect Your Pet from Firework Stress

Stress can manifest in different ways for every pet, so it’s important to look for these warning signs during your Fourth of July celebration:

  • Violent trembling
  • Excessive drooling
  • Barking
  • Lack of appetite
  • Skittish behavior (I.e. trying to run away or hiding)
  • Uncontrollable urination or bowel movements
  • Temporary diarrhea

If your pet shows any sign of anxiousness or stress, take your animal to a quiet place inside the house where you can keep the noise to a minimum. You can also play calming music or turn on the TV to distract your pet from the loud fireworks. For some animals, a pet carrier can provide a sense of security and comfort while others may require more extensive treatment such as behavior therapy or a calming tranquilizer.

Before the Fourth of July festivities begin, make sure you talk to your veterinarian to find out how to best protect your particular pet from stress.

Practice Firework Pet Safety

Firework safety is not just important for people, it’s also important for animals too. If you plan on lighting off fireworks this year, it’s a good idea to keep your fury friends at home where they are familiar with the environment—don’t leave them at a friend’s house. Loud bangs and pops from fireworks may cause your pet to flee, especially if they’re in an unfamiliar place, so try to create a safe haven at your home with familiar items (or toys) to occupy your pet’s attention.

If your pets have to be outside, make sure they have an updated pet ID tag with a contact phone number and/or an address. Keep a close eye on your pets whereabouts at all times—this can protect them from becoming injured or causing damage to your home. Also, never let your pets near fireworks on the ground since they may be tempted to sniff or eat them.

Organ Donation & Transplantation: What You Need to Know

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Organ Donation and Transplantation

More than a 100,000 people in the U.S. are in need of an organ transplant, but sadly most of these people won’t live long enough to receive a suitable organ. With the supply of those in need of a transplant far outnumbering those willing to donate, donors are always in high demand.

According to OrganDonor.gov, “18 people die each day waiting for transplants that can’t take place because of the shortage of donated organs.” That’s a big threat with serious consequences.

If you’re considering becoming an organ donor, here are a few things you need to know.

Organ Donation Myths

Many myths have surfaced around organ donation and transplantation. While this is not an all-inclusive list, don’t fall victim to these misconceptions:

Myth 1: “I’m not very healthy. I shouldn’t donate my organs.”

You might be surprised to find out that few medical conditions actually prohibit you from donating your organs. With the exception of people who have HIV, diabetes, cancer, kidney disease, or heart disease, you can still donate even if you’re not in the best health. A doctor will determine what organs and or tissues are suitable for donation based on a thorough medical examination.

Myth 2: “I’m too old to be an organ donor.”

Any person can become a living donor at any time—there are no age restrictions. Even children need transplants, and they require younger donors with smaller organs.

Note: anyone under the age of 18 must have parental consent in order to donate.

Myth 3: “My family is responsible for the medical costs if I donate my organs.”

The transplant recipient is charged for the procedure to remove a person’s organs, not the donor’s family. If you’re in the hospital receiving medical care to save your life, then your family is responsible for those costs, but not for organ donation.

Surgical Risks of Donating

Donating an organ requires major surgery, and the risks are the same as any other serious operation. Some of these may include:

  • Pain
  • Infection
  • Incisional hernia
  • Pneumonia
  • Blood clots
  • Hemorrhaging
  • Allergic reactions (to anesthesia)
  • Death

The problems associated with organ donation are not always physical. In fact, psychological trauma is another concern that can affect donors after transplant surgery. If the organ fails and the recipient’s health declines after surgery, donors may feel angry, sad, or depressed—they can even become resentful or withdrawn towards others.

The decision to donate an organ is a serious matter that requires careful consideration, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about the potential health risks of transplant surgery. You can also visit a transplant center for more information about organ donation and the medical complications that can result.

Becoming an Organ Donor

The process of becoming an organ donor is very simple, and your decision to donate can mean a second chance at life for those awaiting a transplant. For most states, you can enroll online for your state’s donor registry or you can fill out a donor card at OrganDonor.gov. You can also indicate your choice to be an organ donor when you obtain or renew your driver’s license.

After you’ve registered to be a donor, there are a few things you should consider to ensure that the donation process is carried out according to your wishes. First, make sure you put the terms of your donation in a living will to further certify your organ donor request.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to let your family know that you’re an organ donor because hospitals may require consent from the next of kin before they can remove organs. If you’ve selected someone else to make medical decisions on your behalf, be sure to tell that person you’re an organ donor as well.

5 Myths About Skincare & Acne

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It seems like every anti-aging cream and advanced acne treatment has a “magical elixir” that really works, at least according to their commercials. Bold advertising claims have long since been an issue of debate, and some of these companies were called out publicly for being misleading.

Young Woman with Dry Skin

You probably remember when L’Oreal got in trouble a few years ago by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for claiming their anti-aging cream “boosts the activity of genes” and “stimulate[s] cell regeneration to reconstruct skin to a denser quality.”

With false advertising claims like these, it can be difficult to know what’s right and what’s wrong. In light of some of the cosmetic fallacies floating around out there, let’s take a look at five common myths about skincare and acne.

Myth 1: Anti-aging products can permanently remove wrinkles.

Nope, sorry. This is generally just advertising hype. Most anti-aging products and special wrinkle creams just moisturize the skin so it looks healthier, but they don’t actually get rid of fine lines. If you’re trying to remove wrinkles, topical retinoids such as “Retinol” or “Tretinoin” can be somewhat effective, and they can be purchased at over-the-counter drug stores.

Myth 2: You should always pop a pimple to drain the pus.

Popping pimples with your hands can cause bleeding and scarring, so you’re better off leaving them alone. In fact, most dermatologists recommend that you keep your hands away from your face because the dirt and oils in your fingers can cause more breakouts. But if you can’t resist squeezing those hideous whiteheads, you can purchase an inexpensive tool called a “comdone extractor,” which can safely excrete the pus from a pimple without making things worse for your skin.

Myth 3: You’ll outgrow acne when you’re older.

This isn’t necessarily true for everybody, unfortunately. Acne fluctuates based on hormone levels, so you could still get breakouts even at age 50. Women, for example, are especially prone to acne during menopause when their hormones are changing. Men, on the other hand, can “outgrow” acne after puberty when their hormones have a chance to balance out, but this can vary by person.

Myth 4: Sunscreen is only necessary when it’s sunny.

Ultraviolet radiation from the sun can still cause sunburns even when it’s overcast and cloudy. Therefore, you should always wear sunscreen if you’re going to be outside, especially when your bare skin is exposed. And don’t rely on makeup with SPF (Sun Protection Factor) in place of sunscreen. Instead, use sunscreen in addition to your makeup.

Myth 5: You can keep your face acne-free by scrubbing with soap.

Young Lady Washing Her FaceTwo things are wrong with this statement. First, you shouldn’t scrub your face—it won’t be cleaner if you do this, plus it can lead to rashes and burns. Instead, gently massage the cleaner into your face for about 20 seconds, and then thoroughly rinse with warm water.

Secondly, soap is not the best cleanser for your face because it’s harsh on skin, and it won’t get rid of acne. Additionally, you should also avoid products that contain sodium lauryl sulfate or alcohol because these ingredients actually remove moisture in your skin, making it more prone to dryness and irritation.

Every facial cleanser is different, so be sure to talk to your dermatologist to find a product that works best for you.

Eat Your Veggies, Fruits, & Grains

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The Benefits of a Balanced Diet

Everyone knows that a balanced diet plays a vital role in promoting good health. Eating better can help you maintain excess body weight, combat disease, boost your energy, and it can slow the process of aging. When combined with daily exercise, the benefits of a balanced diet can help us feel better and live longer. Proper nutrition is even good for your mind, too. It can reduce stress and improve mood by increasing blood flow to your brain.

You may be thinking to yourself, “This seems great, but I don’t know how to eat a balanced diet.” That’s okay. Most people don’t. The first step in eating a healthier diet is education—you have to understand what you’re actually eating so you can balance out the right amount of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

What is a balanced diet?

A balanced diet means eating the right proportion of fruits, veggies, whole grains, low-fat dairy foods, and meats. In short, you should eat from all basic food groups every day (remember the food pyramid from elementary school?). Eating a balanced diet also means limiting foods that contain fats, sodium, and sugar (i.e. top of the pyramid).

Food Pyramid

It’s important to note that eating healthy is not the same as dieting, and it doesn’t mean you have to starve yourself. A diet is a temporary change to your daily consumption habits whereas healthy eating means eating a balanced diet for life. And starving yourself is never a good idea if you’re trying to lose weight. This can actually cause your body to store more fat to compensate for the lack of nourishment.

Once you’ve determined what to eat in order to hit all the major food groups, the next thing you have to know is how much. That’s when you have to start tracking calories.

Tracking Calories

Calories are simply a measurement of energy and it’s an important part of eating a balanced diet. Food provides energy—some more than others—and calories help us gauge how much energy we should get when we consume something. As required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), you can find the number of calories per serving for most items you consume by looking at the nutrition label.

Your doctor can tell you what your proper calorie intake should be, but you can use this tool to get an idea of how many calories you should eat if you want to lose, maintain, or gain weight. And tracking them is even easier thanks to mobile apps such as “Calorie Counter & Diet Tracker” by MyFitenessPal and LiveStrong’s “MyPlate” calorie counter.

Balanced Diet + Exercise = Healthy Living

Young Woman Exercising in Front of TVEating a balanced diet takes determination, planning, and persistence—and it should always be supplemented with daily exercise. Consuming more calories than you burn off can lead to weight gain, so it’s a good idea to follow an exercise plan in addition to a balanced diet, especially during the holidays. This can be moderate aerobic activity or vigorous strength training, depending on your fitness goals.

At a minimum, the Mayo Clinic recommends 30 minutes of physical activity a day for optimal health. How can you do this with a busy schedule? You could go for a walk during your lunch break, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or you could ride a bike instead of driving your car. The options are endless, but the key is to maintain a balanced diet AND regular exercise, not one or the other.

Eating Healthy on a Budget

Eating healthy can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are four things you can do to eat healthy on a budget:

  • Grow a healthy garden full of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Prepare your own food instead of eating out
  • Take daily supplements and vitamins
  • Buy cheaper whole foods (mixed nuts and rice) instead of more expensive processed foods (box pasta and fried chicken from the deli)

Digital Detox: Online Safety

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The web can be a valuable resource for educational purposes and entertainment, but some people use the internet for more sinister things—and if you’re a parent with young kids this can be unsettling. In this installment of the digital detox series, let’s review online safety as well as some things parents can do to protect their children from the dangers of the internet.

Beware of Cyberbullying

Young girl shocked by text messageCyberbullying is a form of bullying that takes place online. This can be classified as a harassing text message, a threatening email, or a slanderous rumor posted on social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn). Also called electronic aggression, internet violence (including cyberbullying) is a serious problem among adolescents—in fact, it affects between nine and 35 percent of young kids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Cyberbullying is illegal in some states and the consequences can be grounds for criminal sanction. As a parent, it’s a good idea to educate your children about the dangers of internet violence and to establish a set of rules if they encounter a harassing cyberbully. For example, encourage your children to:

  1. Never respond to cyberbullying with counter threats or harassment
  2. Kindly tell the cyberbully to stop his or her inappropriate behavior
  3. Block or “unfriend” the cyberbully and report them to a website administrator if the behavior continues

The Dangers of Identity Theft

The internet is littered with fraudulent scams that capture your attention and, ultimately, your personal information. You’ve probably seen this yourself—a  spammy banner ad that promises “a FREE laptop when you sign up today.” Some of these deceptive techniques can be obvious to an informed adult, but they may seem enticing to a young kid.

Identity theft often occurs from downloading malware, or “malicious software.” This can be a computer virus that you accidentally install from a spammy email or harmful spyware obtained from visiting a site on the web. Criminals will use data obtained from malware to steal your personal information, apply for credit, and clean out your bank accounts.

To protect against identity theft, always maintain a “clean computer” with anti-malware software and make sure your passwords are strong (i.e., contain numbers, capital letters, and special characters). Be sure to talk with your kids about identity theft and make sure they don’t open email attachments from an unknown source or visit harmful websites.

Parental Controls for Improved Online Safety

Parental controls work well to add an additional layer of protection to your online security. This easy to install software can be a great way to know for sure where and what your kids are doing online when you’re not around to keep a watchful eye. So how does it work?

Parental control software can filter and block unwanted website content including social media websites and chat programs. They can also record every detail your child makes online including keystrokes, online search queries, and previous web history. Some parental controls can even email you a screenshot of your child’s computer when they’re on the web.

If you’re interested in learning more, TopTenReview has a list of the best parental software on the market.

How to Protect Against Internet Violence

The best thing you can do to protect against internet violence is to inform your kids about online safety. You can also establish a set of rules for surfing the web such  scheduling a set time of day when your children can be online (this can be a time when you’re available to supervise their activity) and limiting the sites they can visit on the web.

Here are a few other safe internet practices for the entire family:

  • Never give out personal information (telephone number, home address, school name, date of birth, etc.)
  • People are not always who they say they are, so be careful about meeting with someone you met on the internet (if you do make sure you meet in  public and don’t go alone)
  • Don’t believe everything you read— don’t click on a link or open attachments if you don’t know the source
  • Don’t give out passwords to strangers and be sure to logout of public computers when you’re finished
  • Never give out photos of yourself to strangers on the web