Keeping Bedbugs at Bay

Unless you’re living in a media blackout, you know bedbugs are back. And not just back, but apparently everywhere: hotels, apartment buildings, the mall, the subway, the movies! Laments Dr. Dini Miller, associate professor at Virginia Tech and Urban Pest Management specialist for the state of Virginia: “The media is freaking out like crazy.” And so, probably, are you.

The fact is, bedbugs are, well, everywhere, and they’re not going away. But that doesn’t mean you should throw out all your furniture, or refuse to let family members visit, or spray yourself with toxic doses of alcohol every time you leave the house -- all real-world examples encountered by Larry Pinto, president of Pinto & Associates, a pest control consulting firm, and co-author of the book Bed Bug Handbook. We spoke to Miller and Pinto about what one should do, as Pinto puts it, “in a bedbug world.” Turns out a little common sense goes a long way in dealing with the critters.

Know Thy Bedbug
“I inspect places all the time for bedbugs and I have yet to bring them home with me,” says Pinto. In other words, just because they’re out there doesn’t mean you’ll get them. Adds Miller: “We will encounter them in our daily lives. That’s okay. We need to prevent them coming home with us.”

So how do we do that? Easy. Google “bedbugs” and learn what they look like in all stages of life (eggs to mature adults). Then keep an eye on your stuff. If you go to the movies, says Miller, “Don’t put your things in the empty seat next to you.” In fact, leave them in your car to begin with. If you have to bring your stuff along, so be it, but then inspect it before taking it home and dumping it on your bed. “Get in the habit of looking,” Miller sums up. “That’s the best intervention.”

Check the Bed
Hotels are ground zero in the bedbug wars. Does that mean you should cancel your trip? No. Getting bitten at a hotel is really not such a big deal. (It’s gross, yes, but as Pinto notes, “They don’t give you AIDS.”) The point is not to bring them home.

To that end, you should keep your suitcase in the middle of the floor or on the luggage rack -- check it for bugs first -- and then leave everything inside. If you must unpack, says Miller, you can hang your clothes in the closet (again, after checking it), but don’t use the drawers.

Before you do anything, though, strip the bed and look for bugs or fecal matter (little black spots) in the mattress, along the seams, where the mattress meets the box spring, where the spring meets the frame, and where the headboard meets the wall. “We’re talking two minutes maximum inspection,” says Pinto. If all is clear, relax. If not, change rooms (and if the second room is infested, change hotels). And it bears repeating: Whether the hotel checks out or not, always inspect your bags before bringing them home.

Talk to the Neighbors

Moving into a new pad can be tricky; even experts get stumped by an empty apartment. Still, there are a few things you can do. Pinto advises asking management (before signing the lease) if they’ve had a bedbug problem in the past and if so, how they handled it. They may lie, of course, which is why you should talk to tenants as well. You can also check The Bedbug Registry ( to see if your building has been cited. And if you’re really nervous, hire a bedbug-sniffing dog. It will run you between $300 and $400, but may be worth it if you’re moving in with friends and can split the bill.

Beware Free Stuff

There once was a time you could furnish an entire apartment from other people’s garbage. Now that bedbugs are the main reason people throw furniture out … not so much. But if your budget requires buying furniture secondhand, go ahead, says Miller; just make sure to transport it yourself, and check it thoroughly before bringing it inside. Even if it appears clean, Pinto recommends vacuuming the piece aggressively with a crevice tool and then throwing out the bag.

Don’t Panic If You Find One
So you’re checking your bag, and lo and behold, you find a bedbug. What now? Well, first, kill it. Then throw your bag, and all of its contents, in the dryer. “The dryer is your best friend,” says Miller. “You can put all kinds of stuff in there, and a hot dryer for 20 minutes will kill all bedbugs and their eggs.” If something can’t go in the dryer, then Miller advises spraying it intensely with alcohol (just not near an open flame, please). And if you find a bedbug in your home? We’ll say it again: Don’t panic. “If you catch it quickly, it’s easy to get rid of,” says Pinto. “Just call pest control and they take care of it.”

10 Healthy Habits That Make You Handsome

There are easier, more effective, ways to look like a million bucks than by plunking down that much on some surgical solution -- the way some Hollywood pretty-boy wannabe would. And just your luck: all involve treating your body better. It’s true, a healthier lifestyle can actually boost your physical appearance -- targeting everything from your complexion, to those bags under your eyes, to the sheen of your hair.

Follow these 10 simple health and nutrition tips to make the face staring at you in the mirror hotter than ever.

1. Care about skin care.
Too often, this advice is sloughed off like dead epidermal cells. But listen anyway: Use moisturizers to keep your skin from drying out -- and more importantly, apply sunscreen to curb premature aging and undue damage from ultraviolet rays bound to resurface in the form of leather-textured moles or other such unpleasantnesses.

“If men would simply do this, it would make the biggest difference in their appearance,” says Dr. Leslie Baumann, a dermatologist and author of the best-seller The Skin Type Solution. Make it a habit, like shaving or brushing your teeth, she suggests.

2. Butt out.
As in, stop smoking. “Cigarettes cause worse wrinkling than the sun,” stresses Dr. Brooke Seckel, a plastic surgeon and author of Save Your Face -- The Revolutionary 6-Step Nonsurgical Facial Rejuvenation Program. Smoking robs the skin of collagen and elastin -- which give the skin texture, strength and elasticity -- and in turn speeds up the aging process. Cigarette use can also give the skin a grayish tone. Hot!

3. Eat right.
A healthy diet equals a more glowing complexion, shinier hair and a fitter you.

“The key is to stay well balanced,” says Jim White, a fitness and nutrition expert, and a spokesman for the American Dietetic Association. “Oatmeal is a great power food. It’s loaded with fiber and can help manage hunger and lower cholesterol. Cottage cheese, meanwhile, is low in sugar and high in protein and calcium.”

Overall, stick closely to a Mediterranean-type diet, with few high-fat meats and larger amounts of grains, fish and olive oil.

4. Sleep.
Get the recommended eight hours a night, at least. “Sleeping restores all organs of the body, including the skin, which is the body’s largest organ,” notes Seckel. “It also reduces tension and anxiety, lessening crow’s feet, frown lines and worry lines.”

Lack of sleep also causes those dreaded circles under your eyes. (See our Facebook photos.)

5. Hydrate.
“Skin needs water to function properly, especially to fight damage caused by the sun,” says Baumann. Drinking the recommended eight glasses a day additionally flushes toxins from the body and brings nutrients to the deep layer of the skin (the dermis).

6. Slenderize.
Trimming down will not only improve your appearance but also reduce your risk of stroke, diabetes, cancer and other diseases.

“Don’t go on some radical diet. Instead think about portion control,” says White. “Shave your calorie intake by 500 a day by cutting back on some vices like fried foods, and you’ll lose a sensible pound or two a week.”

7. Be pro-antioxidant.
Antioxidants like vitamins A, C and E found in fruits and vegetables are essential. They promote skin repair and elasticity and also reduce your risk for heart disease and cancer, says White.

8. Do cardio.
A cardio workout regimen lowers stress, makes you happier and gives your skin a glow. “Do any kind of aerobic exercise that will raise your heart rate above baseline for half an hour a day, says Dr. Douglas Peterson, a sports medicine specialist at the Mayo Clinic. “It could be going for a walk, taking a bike ride or using the elliptical -- something that works up a sweat a little. Don’t do too much too fast or you’ll get injured and quit. Exercise should be fun, and you should feel good doing it.”

9. Watch the booze.
“Alcohol causes swelling of the tissues, especially puffy eyes, and often leads to bad eating habits -- causing weight gain -- and smoking,” warns Seckel.

10. Stand tall.
Good posture really is a good thing. Core strength training will get rid of that unseemly slouch. (Plus, a new set of six pack abs is definitely an appearance improvement.) Dr. Peterson recommends light resistance training two to three times a week to strengthen core muscles. A certified personal trainer can work with you on a regimen that you can follow at home.

25 Ways to Have the Best 2010

Here’s the only article you need to read to be fit and healthy in the new year -- and beyond.

News flash: We regret to inform you that any unrequested email offering ways to lose pounds and gain muscle as you sleep -- for only $19.99! -- is a scam (which rhymes with “spam.” Coincidence? Not!).

Fortunately, making good on that new year’s resolution to tone your body and prime your health doesn’t have to involve an expensive gym membership and a crazy amount of free time. Simply modify a few habits and add some simple exercises -- even if they’re at your desk -- into your busy day, and you’ll notice a major difference.

These 25 realistic fitness and health tips, put together by a pair of nationally respected physical trainers, are aimed at busy people on a budget. Consider it your own personal health care reform for 2010.


1. Look in the mirror. Assess your fitness and health goals. Decide how much you want to exercise, and commit. Exercise is more easily managed when it’s divided into smaller chunks throughout the day, says Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise.


2. Get up and get moving. “Do yoga for five or 10 minutes. Or walk your dog for two quick laps around your building or block,” says Gregory Florez, CEO of Fit Advisor health coaching services. “This wakes you up much like the way caffeine does -- and you won’t have the drop in energy later. It also gets blood flowing.”

3. Don’t give up. Studies have shown that you need to repeat a routine (like morning exercising) for three weeks before it becomes a habit. “Most people start a routine and fall off. Give it those three weeks,” says Florez.

4. Start modestly. If you commit to running 5 miles a day five days a week, you’re bound to quit. Begin with, say, 15 minutes on the stair-climber, two or three days a week. “Once you start achieving smaller goals, it’s easier to work your way to bigger goals. Committing to do something a couple times a week is attainable,” says McCall.

5. Eat breakfast daily (as per mom). Breakfast flips on your metabolism like a furnace switch, so your body fires up and starts burning calories. McCall recommends a carbohydrates-protein combo. On Sunday nights, he premixes yogurt, granola and berries, and stores them in a container for five days’ worth of quick breakfasts.

At the Office:

6. Stretch. Especially if you’re tired, stretching will help you stay awake and limber. McCall recommends simply standing up, reaching your left hand above your right shoulder and slowly twisting your torso left as far as you can, then right. Repeat with right hand, left shoulder.

7. Breathe. Make an appointment every hour to stand up at your desk and take a few deep breaths. “You’ve got to schedule it with the same rigor you schedule any business meeting,” says Florez. “It’s important to re-oxygenate your body.”

8. Pack snacks. “I bring fruit and nuts and seeds with me, and keep them in my desk all week. Foods from fresh, whole sources have a lower glycemic index than sugary foods so you don’t get that high energy spike, then a big crash,” says McCall.

9. Go the distance. Use the bathroom farthest from your desk to get in some extra walking.

10. Drink water all day. Before lunch, down 12 ounces. “We often feel hungry when we’re just dehydrated,” says Florez. “Be that nerdy guy with the reusable water bottle at the desk.”

11. Walk it off. After lunch, take a few laps around the building.

12. Walk and talk. Got a Bluetooth headset? Then head outside and make a phone call while taking a stroll. “You’re cheating your body into really small chunks of exercise throughout the day when you otherwise won’t make the time,” says Florez.

13. Accessorize with exercise. Stash a set of rubber exercise tubes at your office so you can do chest presses, rows or squats right at your desk -- two or three times a day. “That way you get your strength training in, in an accumulated way, throughout the day,” says Florez.


14. Get these: A medicine ball, balance ball and the TRX Suspension System (Fitness Anywhere Web site). With them, says McCall, your aerobic and strength options are almost limitless. (Many books and Web sites offer workout instructions for medicine balls and balance balls, and a personal trainer can also create a personal plan for you. The TRX system comes with its own instructional DVD.)

15. Befriend the TV. Either take advantage of the on-demand workout videos offered by many cable providers or get a workout DVD for living room workouts, urges Florez.

16. Don’t just sit there. If you’re watching TV, get off the couch during commercials. “Knock out two to three exercises at each break. By the end of the hour, you’ve hit every muscle group,” says Florez.

17. Do the balance ball pike exercise. First, in case you’re wondering, a “pike” is an exercise that works the abs and shoulders. Now on to this one: Facing the floor, rest your thighs on the ball and put the palms of your hands on the ground, arms extended (like you’re at the top of a push-up). Raise your rear in the air, allowing the ball to roll toward your feet, and keep your legs straight, says McCall. Do three sets of five. Feel the burn.

18. Do the medicine ball wood chop. Squat down, legs spread shoulder-width apart. Hold the ball between your knees; as you stand up, grasp the ball with your hands, swinging it overhead, says McCall. Do one to three sets of 15.

19. Exercise intervals. Intervals are essential for strength work or a cardio workout. “Go hard for an exercise for two to three minutes, dial back, then up the exertion again,” says Florez. Do this two or three times a week. It not only breaks up the monotony of always exercising at the same pace but also benefits your cardiovascular system.


20. Set a consistent sleep schedule. Your body will thank you for it, and you’ll have more energy to exercise. Yes, eight hours a night is important, and no, you can’t make up for lost sleep during the weekends, says McCall.

21. Close the fridge by 8 p.m. “Don’t go to bed on a full stomach. It’ll interrupt your sleep cycle,” says Florez.

22. Wind down. “[Stretching before bed] becomes a signal to your body that it’s time to wind down,” says Florez. (He recommends enlisting a personal trainer to create a stretching routine.)

23. Get the TV out of your bedroom. Too much visual stimulation will make for lousy sleep.

24. Set bedroom boundaries. Don’t bring work into your chambers. “Your bedroom should only be for sleeping, having sex or relaxing,” says Florez.

25. Create a nightly routine. That’s how your parents used to get you to sleep. “Sometimes it’s a really hot shower. Sometimes it’s reading fiction -- something that will calm the body down,” says Florez.

From Frat Brothers to Fat Brothers

If staying lean is a struggle, you just might be hanging out with the wrong crowd. Here’s how to stop your friends from making you fat.

Your friends. If you didn’t know they loved you, you’d think they were trying to kill you: convincing you to go streaking during a blizzard, throwing that wild pitch right at your noggin, secretly spicing your chili with jalapenos.

But there’s something else they might be doing to harm you, and neither they nor you may even know it.

They could be making you fat.

Yes, your bros may influence your weight and the behaviors that tend to make you overweight. In a study published in the August issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, youngsters age 9 to 15 were paired up with either a friend or an unfamiliar person of similar age. Friends who ate together consumed more food than those paired with someone they didn't know. Friends were also more likely to eat similar amounts than participants paired with a stranger. The results, researchers said, suggest that friends may act as “permission givers” when it comes to overeating.

“It’s the same as smoking,” says exercise psychologist Thomas Collingwood, who holds a doctorate in psychology and works at Fitness Intervention Technologies in Richardson, Texas. “If your buddies smoke, you tend to smoke. The issue is peer pressure -- and we’ve known for a long time that this has a powerful, powerful effect on all kinds of behaviors.”

Does this mean you need to shed friends to shed pounds? Not necessarily. You can fight the weighty influence of your crew while actually helping them get leaner, fitter and healthier. The ways:

1. Know when you’re at risk and plan ahead.
Beware the dangers of being packed into a booth down at the local TGIF with your posse on a Saturday night. “The dinner table or the bar is probably the worst for guys,” says weight loss expert Kara Mohr, who holds a doctorate in exercise physiology and is the co-owner of Mohr Results Inc. “It’s a ‘man out’ thing -- who can drink the most, eat the most, enjoy the most.”

Recognizing these high-risk social eating situations in advance will enable you to plan ahead. For instance, consider pulling up the menu of the restaurant you’re headed to in advance so you can find the healthy alternatives there -- or maybe even decide you don’t want to go to this place at all! “Once you’re at the buffet at happy hour, it’s probably too late,” adds Mohr.

2. Take one step at a time.
“You don’t have to say ‘I’m going to stop hanging around with my friends, go the gym every night and eat celery sticks from now on,’” says Mohr. Instead, start by skipping the wings at happy hour. Or decide not to drink on weeknights. Or choose the menu’s healthy alternatives. “You still have choices, even if you’re hanging with the same friends,” says Janice Baker, a registered dietitian based in San Diego, Calif. “Instead of five beers, maybe it’s two beers with water in between. Instead of a double cheeseburger and 64-ounce soda, maybe it’s a regular burger with an iced tea.”

3. Put your money where your mouth isn’t.
No need to make an announcement about your new exercise or eating program. Just go ahead and do it. “You don’t have to talk about dieting; just set an example and enjoy your friends,” says Baker. “They might catch on and start asking about what you’re doing to be in such good shape.”

4. Be the game changer.
Perhaps the group could use a shake-up. While watching football on TV, “maybe you take the initiative to say, ‘Hey guys, at halftime, let’s go shoot some hoops instead of sitting around,’” recommends Collingwood. “Or ‘This week, how about we meet at the gym before we go out?’”

5. Work together.
Psychologists often use a “behavior contract,” a written agreement that you and a buddy could sign, to help people make changes. Example: You and your pal can pledge to do a 30-minute circuit workout at the gym together twice a week for the next month. You set a nonfood reward for compliance (e.g., after the month of workouts, you’ll treat yourselves to tickets to a ball game) and a punishment for failure (e.g., you’ll both do the dishes for your respective girlfriends for a week). If one sticks with reaching the goal and the other doesn’t, the non-sticker buys the tix.

Collingwood, who has helped develop fitness programs for everyone from middle schoolers to veteran police officers, says he’s found a 60 percent success rate with those who use a behavior contract. “They’re successful if they’re kept simple and doable,” he says.

6. Make a clean break.
If your playmates refuse to buy into any of this, maybe it is time to move on -- or at least see them a little less or under different circumstances. Instead, you can make some new friends (at the gym, the park -- heck, maybe even Subway!) who want to lift weights and play ball, and whose idea of fun extends beyond seeing how many plates of nachos and cheese they can scarf down. Says Mohr: “It can’t hurt to find new friends that model the behaviors you want to adopt.”

6 Ways to Fight the Flu for Real

You don’t have to let the cold and flu season have its way with you. Boost your immune system now.

This year’s cold and flu season will feel like one of the latest Batman or Spider-Man flicks: You won’t just be battling one villain; you’ll have to fight off several. Experts predict two flu epidemics: the regular seasonal flu and the possibly pandemic-causing swine flu (along with the usual plethora of rhinoviruses, of course). Colds and flu bugs spread from person to person, so unless you’re a cave-dwelling hermit, you’re at risk.

What to do? Boost your immune system now to dodge these viral bullets.

1. Get Shot
To keep performing at your best, you’ll need to roll up your sleeve. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most powerful tool for preventing flu -- both seasonal and swine -- is the annual flu shot, available in October and November from doctors, public health departments and some pharmacies (Walgreens, for example). Flu shots rev up the immune system to prevent flu infection. This year you’ll need one shot to prevent seasonal flu and another to prevent swine flu. (The swine flu vaccine is currently in the final stages of testing.)

2. Become a Friend of Herbs
Another way to enhance immune function is to take immune-boosting herbs. A great deal of research shows that some herbs activate the immune system against colds, flu and other diseases. For example:

  • Andrographis Chilean researchers gave either a medically inert placebo or Andrographis (1,200 mg per day) to 158 adults who felt colds coming on. After five days, “Andrographis had a high degree of effectiveness in reducing symptoms.” The herb cut the severity and duration of sore throat and nasal symptoms in half. A Swedish study compared Andrographis and a standard antiviral drug (amantadine, Symmetrel) for treatment of flu. The herb worked almost as well as the more costly drug. Andrographis is available at health food stores and supplement shops. Take 1,200 mg a day or follow package directions.
  • Echinacea “Echinacea is my favorite immune booster,” says James Duke, Ph.D., retired director of medicinal herb research for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But Echinacea is controversial. Some studies show strong immunity rallying against colds. Others show no benefit. Swiss researchers analyzed what they called “the three best studies” and found that Echinacea cuts cold risk in half. It’s available at health food stores and supplement shops. Follow package directions.
  • Ginseng Asians revere ginseng as an immune booster and total-body health promoter.

Canadian researchers gave 279 adults, ages 18 to 65, either a placebo or dose of ginseng (200 mg twice a day). Four months later, the ginseng group suffered fewer than half as many colds -- and the ones they did develop were brief and mild. Likewise, University of Connecticut researchers gave flu shots to 43 people over 65 years, plus a placebo or ginseng (200 mg twice a day). The ginseng group was 50 percent less likely to develop flu. Finally, at Eastern Virginia Medical School, researchers gave flu shots to 198 nursing home residents, plus either a placebo or ginseng (200 mg twice a day). After three months, the ginseng group was an astonishing 89 percent less likely to catch flu.

Ginseng is available at health food stores and supplement shops. Take 200 mg twice a day or follow package directions.

3, 4 and 5. Just Plain Live Healthy
And let’s not forget standard health advice, which keeps the immune system in top form:

  • Get at least seven hours of sleep a night Sleep deprivation impairs immune function and increases risk of illness. Many men think they can get by on five or six hours of sleep a night -- then they wonder why they feel so run down and catch so many colds.
  • Eat less junk food and more fruits and vegetables Most food-health studies focus not on colds and flu but on cancer and other serious diseases. In a classic study, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley analyzed 156 studies of diet and risk of every major cancer. Compared with people who ate the fewest fruits and vegetables, those who ate the most had just half the cancer risk. So really, if these crops have the power to push back cancer, it sure couldn’t hurt to up your intake of them during cold and flu season.
  • Get regular exercise A great deal of research shows that moderate physical activity invigorates the immune system. Researchers at Appalachian State University in North Carolina assigned 50 non-exercisers to either continue life on the couch or take brisk walks (45 minutes a day). After 15 weeks, the exercisers reported only half as many days with cold symptoms. Exercise also revs up the immune system against cancer. Harvard researchers monitored the health of 47,000 men for five years. Compared with those who were inactive, the men who exercised two hours a week were 30 percent less likely to develop colon cancer. If they exercised four hours a week, their risk dropped 50 percent.

6. Picture Your Health
Finally, as you get your flu shots, take immune-boosting herbs, get more sleep, eat salads and exercise, visualize your immune system growing stronger and devouring cold and flu viruses. Visualization, also known as guided imagery or self-hypnosis, is a form a meditation, and many studies show that meditation boosts immune function. In a 2003 study, University of Wisconsin researchers gave flu shots to 41 young adults, 25 of whom had been taught visualization-based meditation. The visualization group showed a stronger immune response to the vaccine, meaning greater protection from flu.