Fight the Winter Blues

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 1 in 10 Americans suffers from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). According to our completely unscientific reckoning, the rest of us get totally bummed out in the winter too. How could we not? We wake up to darkness, we commute home in darkness, and it’s as cold as a witch’s you-know-what outside.

Fortunately, there are ways to beat the gloom, beyond buying a one-way ticket to Miami. We contacted a basket of experts -- including the man who first discovered SAD -- for advice on how to combat the winter funk. So rise and shine; it’s time to bring the sunshine back!

The SAD Specialist
The major cause of SAD is lack of light. So my advice to sufferers is simple: Get more light! You can do this by walking outdoors (especially in the morning), bringing more light into your home, or using special light fixtures. If you opt for light therapy fixtures, remember that bigger is often better, mornings are usually the best time to use the lights, and you needn’t stare at the light -- just sit in front of it with your eyes open. Light therapy usually works within four days or so. -- Dr. Normal Rosenthal, author of Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder

The Yoga Instructor

When posture improves, so does confidence. People who feel down have slumped shoulders, a collapsed chest and a tendency to look downward. This posture puts pressure on the heart and stops the diaphragm from moving freely. Yoga postures increase blood flow, which flushes the muscles, organs and glandular system of waste while delivering oxygen and nutrients. They also soften the muscles, allowing the energy lines of the body to open and restoring balance to your nervous system. -- Ducky Punch, founder of Yummy Yoga

The Naturopath
Try St. John’s Wort, which serves as a tonic for the nervous system and balances mood. Ashwagandha helps you cope with stress and environmental changes, and astragalus restores energy and helps prevent lethargy. You can also try certain vitamin supplements. B6 will help with mood, as will vitamin E. Magnesium is good for anxiety, insomnia and winter aches. -- Dr. Kathia Roberts of the Seasonal Health Wellness Center

The Life Coach
Tell the truth. When the seasons change, be honest about what makes you happy and go after it. For example, when mornings get cold and dark, you might be inclined to hide from life under your blankets. But if what actually makes you happy is to get your blood flowing, then that’s what you must do. The no-snooze-button rule is a good one. -- Will Craig, director of educational programming at the Handel Group

The Personal Trainer

When we are physically fit, we manage stress better. The most effective way to get out of a rut this winter is to work out. Most any kind of exercise will help, from Pilates to cardio, just as long as you’re physically active. Like the quote says: “If it’s physical, it’s therapy!” I recommend a strength-training program since it naturally increases your body’s testosterone levels, which will increase your feelings of well-being and confidence. -- Kevin Kohout at Personal Trainer Los Angeles

The Nutritionist

Eating mini-meals throughout the day is a good idea. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids relieve symptoms of depression; you can find these in fatty, cold-water fish like salmon, or walnuts and flaxseed. If you can cut out caffeine, sugar and alcohol, do so! Alcohol and caffeine are both mood-altering and habit-forming substances, and too much sugar can lead to fatigue and mood swings, wiping out any benefit of serotonin. Finally, stay hydrated. Do not replace water, the liquid of life, with any other beverage. -- Carrie Wiatt of Diet Designs

The Happiness Expert

Go for a walk. In the winter, it’s easy to get in the habit of hurrying from one indoor space to the next, but it’s dreary to be inside all the time. You’ll get a jolt of energy and cheer -- and also boost your mental focus and productivity -- if you take a quick walk outside, where you can get the sun in your eyes and experience the weather. Even bad weather can be therapeutic! -- Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author of The Happiness Project

The Therapist

The best way to combat depression is to be proactive about avoiding a spiraling mood. When you experience depressive thinking -- like “I give up” or “Why bother?” -- try to recognize these thoughts and adjust them. If the world seems hostile and painful, remind yourself that this might not be true; you just feel terrible today. And do what you don’t feel like doing: Start an exercise program or get involved with a group of people. Don’t let the negative thoughts win! -- Doric George at Visions of Freedom Therapy

The Ultimate Summer Hygiene Guide

If you’ve been cooped up all winter and can’t wait to get active outdoors, more power to you. But be warned: Whether you’re hitting the track, the links or the tennis courts, you’re going to build up a real sweat, which, if left unchecked, could leave you facing a host of unappealing side effects. We’re talking body odor, jock itch, athlete’s foot, and the dreaded bacne.

Fortunately, all of these conditions are largely avoidable -- and also treatable. Men’s Life Today consulted with three experts from very different backgrounds -- a dermatologist, an herbalist, and an Olympic athlete -- to get a range of approaches to these all-too-common afflictions. Pick an approach or mix and match from all three, but ignore their advice at your peril. Girls really don’t like bacne.

Sweat and Body Odor

The Doctor:
“As you perspire, particularly in areas under the arms and feet and around the groin, bacteria grows that can create an odor,” explains Dr. Francesca Fusco, a New York City­-based dermatologist with more than 25 years of experience. “Anything you can do to minimize perspiration will help cut down on that odor.” She recommends an antiperspirant with deodorant, and daily or more frequent showers. Little-known fact: If you have excessive sweating on your hands or feet, you can use deodorant there too.

The Herbalist:
A healthy liver assists in dealing with some of the toxins that can cause you to stink, says Barry Sherr, who opened Chamomile Natural Foods in Danbury, Conn., more than 30 years ago. If your liver is overtaxed or unhealthy, it simply can’t keep up. To help get it back on an even keel, Sherr recommends chlorophyll tablets, spirulina, chlorella, mixed greens, wheatgrass or barley grass. Fiber in the diet is also important, and hydration is essential -- particularly when engaging in athletic activity -- so that the body can continue to flush out the toxins, even as it loses water through perspiration.

The Athlete:
“I sweat a ton,” says three-time Olympic triathlete Hunter Kemper, “so I always have towels ready and a spare shirt too.” Mostly, Kemper recommends staying hydrated. “If you’re running a loop, put water bottles out along the route beforehand so you can hydrate as you go.” If you’re running particularly hard, he adds, it’s a good idea to occasionally pour the water over your head. “Not only will it help you stay cool, it will help you in your performance.”

Athletes Foot and Jock Itch

The Doctor:
“Moisture is your worst enemy here, so it’s very important to keep these areas dry,” says Fusco. “Towel between each toe and in all the nooks and crannies of the groin area.” If you get a fungus despite your best drying efforts, try an over-the-counter product such as Lamisil, she says, which should clear up your issues within two weeks. If not, you’ll need to seek assistance from a dermatologist.

The Herbalist:
Sherr recommends a three-pronged approach. “Fungus lives off glucose, so you should cut down on carbs; yeast in the body can mutate to a fungal form outside the body.” Second, Sherr advises consuming antifungal foods and supplements, such as garlic, caprylic acid and black walnut. Lastly, he counsels a diet with an ample supply of probiotics -- the good bacteria that will help your body fight the good fight.

The Athlete:
“When I go cycling, my shoes get really wet,” says Kemper, who is hoping to qualify in London this summer for his fourth Olympic games. To keep them from becoming fungal breeding zones, he changes out the insoles regularly, and never steps into a pair of shoes with a wet insole. His key to avoiding many fungal issues is simply to be smart -- for example, wearing sandals in the locker room and gym shower to protect himself from contagious fungus.

Bacne

The Doctor:

Good hygiene is particularly important here, says Fusco. As your pores get clogged from sweating, and dead skin begins to build up, acne can take hold. To prevent it, she says, you’ll need to exfoliate and make sure you keep yourself clean, ideally with a deodorant soap. If you’ve already developed a bad case of bacne, don’t fret: Your dermatologist can prescribe a low-dose antibiotic such as Oracea, or a prescription-strength benzoyl peroxide.

The Herbalist:
According to Sherr, the herb sarsaparilla will prevent testosterone -- which can contribute to back acne -- from getting to the skin. Zinc supplements, omega-3 fish oils and B-vitamins can also help keep problems at bay. The larger issue, though, could be that you need to detoxify. “Skin problems stem from impure blood and impure lymphatics,” he explains. For those with intolerances, cutting out gluten and/or dairy can work wonders toward correcting skin issues.

The Athlete:
Kemper suggests investing in clothes that wick moisture and dry quickly. Or you can make it even easier on yourself: “Outdoors, I run without a shirt,” he says.

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 (BedBugRegistry.com) 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.”

Get a Jump on Your Fitness with Plyometrics

Elite athletes know plyometrics. Simply put, they know it improves athletic performance by making them quicker and more explosive. Once used in a small percentage of athletic programs, plyometrics are now an integral part of the elite athlete’s regimen, with everyone from Drew Brees to Kevin Durant to Tiger Woods swearing by them.

But the average gym-goer, no matter how fit, probably doesn’t fully understand them. While a plyo program has tremendous value, it is a highly specialized fitness activity that needs to be done in tandem with an overall strengthening program, and it needs to be done right.

The Basics
“Plyometrics capitalizes on strength,” says certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) Gregory Haff, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at West Virginia University who coaches Olympic weightlifters. In other words, make sure you have a strong base before embarking on a plyo program, especially in your legs, hips and core. If you’re doing plenty of power exercises like squats, lunges, leg presses, stiff-legged dead lifts, leg curls and core moves, then you’re ready.

For the beginner, Haff recommends doing plyos twice a week for 80-100 jumps (do cardio and weights on two to three other days). Your plyo program will consist of a 10- to 20-minute warm-up and only about 10 minutes of plyos. Haff advises a four-to-six week program before a sport season (not during one). If you’re not playing a sport, simply cycle in a month of plyometrics every three to four months.

Why So Limited?
According to Haff, fatigue cuts down your ability to engage the strength-shortening cycle, or SSC, which is what plyometrics is all about.

Any explosive movement involves the two phases of muscular contraction: the eccentric phase (muscle lengthening under tension) followed by the concentric phases (muscle being shortened). A pre-stretch of the muscle lengthens it and creates tension that can be used to increase the concentric contraction, which must immediately follow, or else the tension goes away as heat. Take, for example, the quick countermovement before jumping, when you rapidly switch from descending to ascending. The faster the muscle is stretched eccentrically, the greater the force on the subsequent concentric phase. In other words, the shortest amount of time spent on the ground (amortization) during a jump results in the greatest jumping performance.

Tire your muscles and you’ll lengthen the amortization, which then decreases the effectiveness of the plyometric exercise.

The Warm-up
Complete a dynamic 10- to 20-minute warm-up prior to plyos: high-knee walking, heels-to-butt walking, skipping, walking lunges, shuffling sideways, carioca (moving sideways in a grapevine movement of step, step behind, step in front), running backward with heels hitting butt, rope skipping, and finally dynamic stretches (neck rotations, shoulder rolls, arm rotations, trunk twists, hip rotations, knee rolls, ankle rotations and leg swings).

The Program
The following program was provided by Jim Radcliffe, CSCS, strength coach at the University of Oregon. Use a flat, cushioned surface, and rest for 30 to 60 seconds between each set.

Exercise

# Reps

# Sets

1. Pogo

10

3

2. Squat jump

4 to 6 (first 2 weeks); then 6 to 8

2 (first 2 weeks) to 3

3. Rocket jump

4 to 6

2 (first 2 weeks) to 3

4. Star jump

4 to 6

2 (first 2 weeks) to 3

5. Galloping

10

3

6. Fast skipping

10

3

Pogo: Take upright stance with knees slightly bent, chest out and shoulders back. Jump straight up by projecting hips upward for height, using only lower portion of legs; you’ll resemble a pogo stick, with knees staying slightly bent throughout exercise. With arms bent at 90 degrees, swing them up for each jump to assist. Upon each takeoff, keep toes pointed up (instead of down).

Squat jump: Take relaxed, upright stance with feet about shoulder-width apart. Interlock fingers, and place palms against back of head. Flex downward to half-squat position, then immediately explode upward as high as possible, extending hips, knees and ankles to maximum length as quickly as you can. For first two weeks, pause between each jump.

Rocket jump: Take relaxed, upright stance with feet about shoulder-width apart. Slightly flex arms, and hold them close to body. Flex downward to half-squat position, then immediately explode upward as high as possible, extending whole body (including arms) vertically.

Star jump: Same as rocket jump, except extend limbs outward in all four directions away from body, arms pointed at 10 and 2 o’clock and legs at 7 and 5 o’clock.

Galloping: (For this and the following exercise, you'll need access to a large, open space.) Assume a standing position with one leg in front of the other. Gallop like a horse by pushing off with back leg and foot, and continue to keep same leg behind hips while maintaining other leg in forward position. One foot will always come off the ground before the other. Keep ankle locked to emphasize spring-loaded landing and takeoff. Switch position of legs after 10 gallops.

Fast skipping: Assume a relaxed standing position with one leg slightly forward. Skip as quickly as possible, maintaining close contact with the ground and eliminating air time.

Plan to Ski or Snowboard? Strengthen up Now!

Snowboard-and-ski season is fast upon us. And while your mind may be ready for the powder, chances are your body isn’t. That’s because skiing and snowboarding are sports that require a specific type of lower-body muscle strength, which you don’t typically get from summer activities. Fail to build up the right muscles -- primarily supporting the knees and lower back -- and you leave yourself open to some nasty injuries.

Think about your body when you ski: Your knees are absorbing all the impact from the terrain up through the body. “The knee gets tremendous overuse due to the forces placed on it,” says Mike Wunsch, CSCS, director of fitness at Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, Calif. “And it has to take the slack from the now locked-in ankle.”

Weak quads and hamstrings can make the knee joint vulnerable to a ligament injury, such as an LCL or ACL tear, either from a fall or from ski tips running in opposite ways.

“The lower back is the other area that absorbs a lot of impact,” adds Courtenay Schurman, MS, CSCA, co-owner of Body Results Fitness in Seattle and author of The Outdoor Athlete. “Since a downhill skier spends so much time in a crouch position, if he or she has a weak core, like the weakest link in any chain, that area runs the risk of injury.”

For a safe and successful winter-sports season, Wunsch recommends the following workout. Do two to three sets of eight to 12 reps of each exercise twice a week.

SNOW STRENGTH

Box step-down:
Stand on a box 12 to 24 inches high and step off, working on controlling your body’s downward movement and nailing the landing. Alternate the lead leg throughout the set.

Lateral hops: Keeping feet directly underneath you, quickly hop sideways without pausing during landing phases. After several hops one way, reverse direction. Keep chest up, and maintain good posture throughout.

Pause squats: Simply pause in the bottom squat position, keeping your muscles flexed, before coming up. You can use a light load (a bar or dumbbells held at the sides) and pause several seconds or go heavier and pause for just two seconds.

Single-leg balance: Snowboarders need to work on balance and building up endurance in the foot-stabilizing musculature. Work up to several minutes (as that’s how long a run can last) standing on one foot with the other lifted off the ground, knee up.

Lateral lunge: Step to the right with the right foot, keeping toes forward and your feet flat. Squat through the right hip while keeping the left leg straight. Squat as low as possible, holding this position for two seconds. Push back to the starting position and repeat to the opposite side.

Diagonal wood chops: Keep legs shoulder-width apart, knees soft. Using both hands, hold a dumbbell alongside your right ear, with elbows slightly bent. (Picture yourself holding up an ax, ready to chop wood.) Flex abs and do a slight squat as you rotate and bring arms down to the side of your left knee. Slowly bring arms back up to starting position. Switch sides after each set.

The Pallof press: Standing with the side of your body next to a cable machine, hold the cable handle with both hands (one on top of the other) right in front of your chest. The cable pulley should be in the same horizontal plane as your abs, and the cable should be taut. Brace your abs and “press” the handle straight out in front of you. Then return the handle back to your chest. Keep moving the handle back and forth while trying to keep it in a straight line (indicating that you are stabilizing your torso well). Switch sides.

SNOW CARDIO
Cardio at the end of your workout should be in a similar ratio to the work/rest ratio for your sport. If your slope runs are short and sweet (like for rails, jumps, etc.), do several short, super-intense bursts followed by short rest periods (such as 15-second sprints followed by 30 seconds of rest). If you expect to do long runs, surfing and carving the mountain, do longer periods of medium-to-high intensity with longer rest periods (three-minute bouts on the elliptical, for example, and two-minute rests).