The popularity of the Myers-Briggs test

You may not have heard of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), but there’s a good chance you took this personality test in college or at your workplace.

It’s given by organizations in 115 countries—including 88 percent of Fortune 500 companies, at least according to the Myers-Briggs Company.

Why is big business so bullish on this personality test?

Because it helps with team-building and training. Plus, employees who better understand one another’s temperaments collaborate and communicate better.

University career centers use it to give students insight into potential career paths. And sometimes people take it on their own to discover what makes them tick.

Some people even list a Myers-Briggs type on their dating profile, in hopes they can make a better love match.

But while it’s popular among businesses, schools, government agencies, and relationship seekers, many academics think it’s cute and fun but not very reliable.

“I do not think it can even be considered a personality test,” says Robin MacFarlane, PhD, a clinical psychologist in New York City. “It can be used as a tool to get people to think about themselves in different ways that they’ve not yet considered before: ‘Hey, I might be a little bit analytical after all!’ The problem comes about when people believe that the test results offer meaning beyond just food for thought.”

Here is what you should know about the MBTI, according to several experts.

The theory behind the Myers-Briggs test

The mother-daughter team of Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers came up with the MBTI in the 1940s.

They based the test on Carl Jung’s theories of personality types—that people were extroverts or introverts, say, or more or less analytically minded—aiming to made his work more understandable and accessible to people.

Their goal: classify people according to personality types as a way to explain seemingly random human behavior.

If you know your type, you’re able to understand yourself and those around you a lot better. So if you know you’re an extrovert, you can learn your strengths and use them. (That goes for introverts too!)

The Myers-Briggs test

Usually, you take the test through an MBTI-certified official, either online or in real life.

There are free versions of MBTI-like tests, but the real thing will cost you (or your workplace).

You’ll answer 90 questions that cover four main areas:

  • Whether you focus inward or outward (introvert vs. extrovert)
  • How you pick up information (sensing vs. intuiting)
  • How you make decisions (thinking vs. feeling)
  • How you organize the world around you (judging vs. perceiving)

What the Myers-Briggs letters mean

Based on your answers, you’re assigned a four-letter block that combines the letters E (extrovert) or I (introvert), N (intuition) or S (senses), F (feeling) or T (thinking), J (judging) or P (perceiving) for a total of 16 different personality types.

For instance, an ESFP is an extroverted people-person who learns by relying on their five senses; makes value-based, compassionate decisions; and is seen as adaptable and open to learning new things.

An INTJ, on the other hand, is an introvert who recharges best when alone; learns by recognizing patterns and thinking through problems; lists pros and cons when trying to decide things (and relies on Spock-like logic); and organizes their environment by making to-do lists and ticking off items in an orderly, planned way.

People walking in line across painted brain, on asphalt

MBTI isn’t based on hard science

Experts are leery of the test’s origins. Like Sigmund Freud, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung was one of the pioneers of psychology and theories of personality.

“Carl Jung was an influential psychiatrist, but these were not empirical, research-based theories,” says Thomas Plante, PhD, a professor of psychology at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California. And Myers and Briggs weren’t trained in test development either.

“This was before a more empirically based scientific approach to personality and personality testing was available, so it’s based on a faulty model that’s never been adequately validated,” he says.

Also, many psychologists avoid sticking to one particular theory of personality when administering tests.

“When I’m structuring something, I look at the domains of emotional, social, and cognitive functioning,” says Carly Claney, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist in Seattle who has done many personality assessments.

That can be helpful for getting a snapshot for how a person behaves or when arriving at a diagnosis.

It can also provide answers for why you keep repeating behaviors that you don’t want to repeat or why you act in a particular way with other people.

MBTI isn’t that reliable

Many psychologists say reliability in testing is key: Are you going to get the same results each time you take it?

“People change. So, sure, you can take any assessment one time, and then in a year, the measure may be different,” says Claney. “But I think with Myers-Briggs, the same person trying to get the same answer might not do that. The reliability is shot in that way.”

Plante agrees.

“If you complete the questionnaire today, and then you complete it three or four weeks from now, you can get quite different results,” he says, adding that research indicates that may be true half the time people take the test. “And so that is really a question of reliability.”

College students may be the exception, according to researchers from the University of Oklahoma. After looking at the evidence, they concluded the test might produce more reliable results for this particular group.

It’s simplistic compared with other tests

Plante likens science-based personality tests to “psychological X-rays.”

The ones used by many psychologists, like the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory or the 16pf, measure not only personality but what experts call psychological functioning—whether you have depression, anxiety, Type A behavior, or low self-esteem.

These tests have more than 100 questions in seemingly random order, so you don’t know how your answers will fit together until you see the results.

Plante is an expert at testing seminary students on behalf of religious organizations like the Catholic and Episcopalian churches.

“This isn’t used to determine whether somebody shouldn’t be a cleric but rather to see if there’s any particular risk factors that people need to know about,” he says.

If he’s using the 16pf, he’s looking for a certain kind of personality profile.

“A good example is whether you’re more deferential to authority or whether you tend to be more independently minded,” he says. “Well, this matters in, let’s say, a Catholic or Episcopal or Orthodox church because you have a vow of obedience to your local bishop.”

The MBTI probably can’t stand up in court

For roughly $50, you can take the Myers-Briggs test online (if you’re over 16).

The personality tests that licensed psychologists give you aren’t generally available to the public, says MacFarlane, who was a supervisor for psychological assessment at Columbia University’s clinical psychology program.

“Empirically valid personality tests have accumulated decades of evidence supporting their reliability and validity through studies that are published in peer-reviewed journals,” she says.

Tests with data backed by research meet the “Daubert standard,” which means they can be admitted in a court as evidence. The MBTI couldn’t.

The difference between science-backed tests and the MBTI is the “quality of the research, the kinds of theory that was behind the development of those tests, the test construction methods, and the nuance,” says Plante. “That’s one of the reasons why I often say that the Myers-Briggs is like an over-the-counter medicine, whereas these tests are like prescription medicine.”

Take results with a grain of salt

So are these experts saying you shouldn’t take the MBTI at all?

No, but just don’t put too much weight on the results.

People can “think about it in the context of what they already know about themselves,” MacFarlane says. “But they should not be worried if that result seems negative to them, and they also should never allow anyone in authority to make judgments about them based on this test result.”

Where to go for testing

If you want to know how your personality and temperament are affecting your choices in life, talk to a therapist or counselor.

“Most of the time, what they need is not personality testing per se but just someone with whom they can talk things over,” MacFarlane says.

Already in therapy? Then maybe your therapist can do a test or refer you to a licensed and specially trained psychologist who can, says Claney.

“People who specialize in psychological testing are the ones who can do an assessment like this, who can really tailor it to what the questions are—either that the client or that the therapist has—and then produce an interpretation that I hope would be really useful for the therapy, either because you clarify the diagnostic picture or you are recommending a particular type of treatment,” she says.

For instance, if testing found you have borderline personality disorder, your therapist could refer you to a DBT program.

The bottom line: Have some fun with your four-block result, but if you want to get serious, go to the pros.

The importance of a good night’s sleep

Sleep is one of the most essential of our bodily functions, yet it’s something that is hard to come by for so many Americans.

In fact, an estimated one in three U.S. adults fails to get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep on a regular basis, according to research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Perhaps that’s why the global market value of the sleep economy is worth an estimated $30-40 billion U.S. dollars, according to the consulting firm, McKinsey&Company.

While there are plenty of products that promise to help enhance the quality and quantity of a person’s sleep, one of the most recommended by sleep doctors is a sound machine.

What is a sound machine?

Simply put, these devices are meant to help with relaxation by offering sleep sounds for better slumber.

“Someone might use a sound machine as a reminder to wind down before bedtime, as a meditation companion, a soothing music player, or a sleep aid,” explains Jade Wu, sleep psychologist and researcher at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina.

“Sound machines can also mask other environmental noises that are distracting or stimulating, such as barking dogs or a neighbor’s music.”

How does a sound machine work?

Sleep disruption is a huge problem for people suffering from lack of sleep, and these disruptions tend to occur as a result of several sounds that a person can hear when they’re trying to sleep.

Thus a sound machine can help create a masking noise that muffles all other sounds and does not wake the individual up, explains Michael Breus, PhD, clinical psychologist, and author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep.

“If there is a barking dog two houses away, using a masking sound brings the ‘sound floor’ up so that the bark gets muffled and does not show an appreciable change in the volume, and not wake someone up,” he says.

Benefits of using a sound machine

The benefits of using a sound machine are mostly science-backed, which is why sleep experts are so keen on recommending these devices to help with better sleep habits.

Drowns out noise

Research has shown that using a white noise machine is an effective way to get better sleep in loud environments.

One 2017 randomized trial published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing found that white noise machines were particularly useful in helping soothe colicky babies (unknown excessive crying from an otherwise healthy baby) to get them to sleep and while reducing crying.

Greater sleep duration

One study published in the Journal of Caring Sciences in 2016 gave 30 patients in a coronary intensive care unit a sound machine for sleeping and monitored another 30 patients who slept without one.

“White noise machines were shown to significantly increase the time patients spent asleep,” says Breus. “Patients using a white noise machine, after three days, saw their average sleep time rise 49 percent, from 4.75 hours per night to 7.08 hours per night.”

Deeper sleep

A 2017 study published in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that people between the ages of 60 and 84 spent more time in a deeper sleep stage when listening to noise from a sleep machine. The researchers also found that the volunteers’ short-term recall was better the next morning when compared to sleeping without the noise.

Drown out ringing from tinnitus

People with tinnitus will often report ringing in their ears, along with other sounds like buzzing, humming, roaring, or clicking. While this noise can come and go, it can make it difficult to perform daily activities, like work or sleep.

For tinnitus patients, a sound machine can help to partly or fully mask the noises they hear—known as sound therapy, according to the American Tinnitus Association. It’s important to note that the effectiveness of these sound machines is limited to during or immediately after use.

What to look for when shopping for a sound machine

Wu says the most important factor to consider when shopping for a sound machine is how much you like it personally—not based on what someone else thinks about it.

“Not everyone responds the same way to specific soundscapes and noises, so instead of trying to find highly engineered noises or being sold on claims of special frequencies, which may or may not have real scientific backing, focus on finding an aesthetically pleasing machine that you enjoy having in your bedroom,” she says.

She recommends trying out the soundscapes offered and seeing if they are soothing to you.

“Find a machine that is easy to use, one that you can set-and-forget with a programmed routine, so it becomes a seamless part of your relaxation or bedtime routine.”

The best sleep sound machines

Here are some of the popular sound machines on the market right now that are recommended among experts.

Ihome Zenergy Bedside Sleep Therapy

iHome Zenergy Bedside Sleep Therapy

$80

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This sound machine from iHome comes with dual customization sleep timers that allow you to set the amount of time you would like the sound to run—and include dual alarms for separate wake times.

It also has built-in sound therapy, including 10 variations of relaxing sound modes. You can download the iHome Zenergy app on your smartphone and control the sound machine from there in order to help you sleep better.


Homedics White Noise Sound Machine

HoMedics White Noise Sound Machine

$21

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If you’re on a budget, but don’t want a sound machine without all the bells and whistles, Breus recommends this option. “It has a classic design, works well, and is great for folks not looking to shell out a ton of money,” he says.

The HoMedics offers six soothing sounds, including white noise, thunder, ocean, rain, summer night, and brook and is fairly compact, so it’s convenient for travel.


Marpac Dohm Classic The Original White Noise Machine

Marpac Dohm Classic The Original White Noise Machine

$45

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This sound machine from Marpac Dohm has been around since the 1960s and has a staggering 13,000-plus 4.5-star reviews on Amazon It features fan-based white noise that’s natural and soothing along with two-speed options and a volume toggle for easy adjustability.

It’s backed by the brand’s one-year warranty—and they even offer you a 101-night trial to test it out for yourself. If you don’t feel like your sleep is better after the trial period, you can get a refund.


Manta White Noise Machine

Manta White Noise Machine

$50

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If you’re looking for a super small white noise machine that does it all, consider the Manta white noise machine. Breus frequently recommends it to his patients thanks to its efficiency and small size.

It plays 40 different tunes including white noise, ocean waves, bird sounds, and thunder, and measures in at just 4″ x 4″ x 2.4″.


Hatch Restore Sound Machine

Hatch Restore Sound Machine

$130

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If you’re OK spending more, this device from Hatch Restore is pretty much everything you dreamed of in a sound machine or a sleeping device of any kind. It allows you to set a bedtime routine, which you can customize with several different light-sound combinations and serves as a clock for your nightstand.

“It’s easy to use, serves as a soothing presence in my bedroom and I don’t have to keep a close eye on my clock in the evening because the Restore reminds me when it’s time to start my bedtime routine,” says Wu.

“By the time I’m in bed and have closed my eyes, my brain and body have already been relaxing and drifting closer to sleep without any effort from me,” she says.


Sound Oasis Bluetooth Sound Therapy System

Sound Oasis Bluetooth Sound Therapy System

$60

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Sound Oasis is a sleep specialist-designed sound machine that can audibly transport you to different landscapes with its 20 nature sounds, ranging from Maui surf to steady rain. It can also stream other sounds and music from your phone or computer via Bluetooth.

The sound machine also comes with a USB charging cable and access to their apps including Tinnitus Therapy, Nature Sounds, Baby Sleep Sounds, and White Noise.

Tinnitus sufferers, need more convincing? One Amazon reviewer says, “Works far better for Tinnitus than a conventional speaker. This speaker also works well with pillow speakers and is the only solution that I have found to address Tinnitus sleeping problems without the use of a fan.”


Lectrofan White Noise Sound Machine

LectroFan White Noise Sound Machine

$45

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This sound machine from LectroFan lets you choose from 20 different sounds, each of which are non-looping. It has easy-to-use volume controls that range from very soft to very loud, and has a sturdy design that’s powered by AC or USB.


Sharper Image Ultimate Sleep White Noise Sound Machine

Sharper Image Ultimate Sleep White Noise Sound Machine

$20

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For just $20, this Sharper Image white noise machine does pretty much all of the same things that its pricier competitors do. It offers 16 soothing preloaded audio tracks, 20 levels of volume, and even has options for changing the brightness level. It also has three timer settings—30, 60, and 90 minutes.


Big Red Rooster White Noise Machine

Big Red Rooster White Noise Machine

$20

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This travel-friendly white noise sound machine makes the perfect companion at home and overseas. Its adapter has 110/240V compatibility making it ideal for international trips. The portable Big Red Rooster machine, which boasts 23,000-plus reviews and a 4.4-star rating on Amazon, comes with six sounds, including rain, brook, ocean, thunder, and summer night, plus a classic white noise sound.

There’s also an optional auto-off timer you can use at 15-, 30-, or 60-minute intervals.

Next, these are the sleep aids that work.

Can antimicrobial fabrics protect you from germs?

Even one day when mask-wearing may be a thing of the past, chances are many of us will be more mindful of how we live. This includes how we interact with others and what we do to avoid germs.

That’s where antimicrobial fabrics come in. And although the technology to produce these products isn’t new, that tech is turning up in more and more types of clothing.

“Antimicrobial fabrics are already in use in so many areas of our modern-day lives,” says Terry T.L. Au-Yeung, PhD, chief technology officer of the mask company, AM99 Mind Beauty.

“They have traditionally been reserved for specific uses, but with the latest global health concerns, there is an emergence of antimicrobial products across the board. This includes things like outerwear clothing with an added layer of protection for when you take public transportation or hospital textiles such as curtains and bedding where one-time sterilization may no longer be enough to prevent infections,” he says.

Learn more about what exactly is an antimicrobial fabric, plus how effective it is at killing germs, and what to know before you buy.

How antimicrobials are created

Microbes (also called microorganisms) are microscopic living things found in water, soil, and air. The most common types are bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

There are a few things that have to happen before something can be called “antimicrobial.”

First, you need an agent that is non-toxic to the consumer and the environment but which protects against certain microorganisms. This can be something that is either man-made or a naturally occurring agent.

For example, copper was registered as the first solid antimicrobial material by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2008, which is why it’s widely being used in everything from medical settings to even copper-infused face masks to protect against Covid-19.

“If a chemical kills anything, including fungus, insects, pests, microbes, or bacteria, it has to be regulated by the EPA,” says Jeff Strahan, director of research, compliance, and sustainability at Milliken & Company, a textile manufacturer. “The company has to show the EPA extensive data, including what strains they used the antimicrobial agent on and what it did.”

Once the EPA determines the efficacy and safety of the chemical, it becomes a registered agent in its database. (For example, here are 9 EPA-registered coronavirus cleaning products.)

What to know about antimicrobials in fabric

When a textile, such as a mask or a pair of socks, is called antimicrobial, it’s important to pay attention to the claim that the product is making.

If the EPA grants a company permission to use an approved chemical on textiles to fight a specific microbe, it means the material itself is protected—not the person wearing it, explains Strahan. The goal is to prevent odors in the product—not infections in the wearer.

“For example, by itself, polyester or cotton doesn’t kill any microbes, but once you apply that chemical agent to the fabric, it then becomes an antimicrobial against the fabric it’s applied to only.”

Micro Fabric Weave

The difference between antimicrobial and antibacterial

It may seem like the terms antimicrobial and antibacterial could be interchangeable, but that’s not the case. Bacteria is just one common type of microbe.

“All antimicrobial fabrics are antibacterial but not all microbes are bacteria,” says Au-Yeung. It is important to recognize that these are blanket terms that may not necessarily guarantee an effect against the bugs you’re worried about, he says.

“Microbes are a much larger class than just bacteria,” adds Strahan. “And even if something says it’s antimicrobial or antibacterial, that doesn’t mean it’s killing all microbes and/or bacteria. It’s only working against the isolated strains it was designed for.”

What to look for in an antimicrobial fabric

Strahan says because there is no government-approved antiviral test that can be done on soft surfaces (like clothes and towels), companies cannot legally directly state that any textile is antimicrobial in its name or any of its promotional copy.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy antimicrobial fabrics; just be smart about what kind of product you’re buying and manage your expectations accordingly. Hospital curtains, for example typically have antimicrobial properties in order to help protect the curtain from possibly passing or harboring germs and bacteria from different patients and staff members in and out of rooms.

From a consumer standpoint socks, gym apparel, and bamboo towels are all common items that may have antimicrobial agents used on them. This means that these items may help prevent stains and odors because of what was used on the textile and through the EPA’s treated article exemption. This is not because the fabrics themselves are antimicrobial.

The future of antimicrobial fabrics

“As scientists continue to work together with the federal government, how we test for viruses on soft surfaces will continue to improve and become more standardized,” says Strahan. “This will help how we can talk about antimicrobial fabrics and what they can and cannot do when it comes to interacting with germs and bacteria.”

Until then, it’s important to remember that the best ways to stay safe from viruses and germs (including Covid-19) is to frequently wash your hands, continue to wear a mask, and practice social distancing.

Next, learn about the everyday germ-spreading items you may be carrying.

The fruity “cereal” trend

People can thank TikTok for so many trends this year, like the viral feta cheese pasta recipe. Even if you don’t have an account, you might have also heard about another popular recipe taking over the social media app—”nature’s cereal.”

No, I’m not talking about the brand Nature’s Path Cereal. I’m talking about a recipe originally posted by @natures food and its quick rise to fame with fans like Lizzo.

Here’s what you need to know about nature’s cereal, what I think about the trend, and whether or not it’s a healthy option.

What is nature’s cereal?

The original cereal consists of pomegranate seeds, blackberries, and blueberries in a bowl of coconut water. However, we have Lizzo to thank for the addition of strawberries and ice cubes.

There are even more new variations since the original post. While some people add mint or a squeeze of lime to the mix, other variations include swapping the coconut water for oat milk, pineapple juice, orange juice, or even coconut milk.

Whatever variation you chose, “nature’s cereal” cuts out the grains and cow’s milk you find in regular cereal and replaces it with a variety of fresh fruit and fruit juice or plant-based milk.

Nature’s cereal nutrition facts

The exact nutrition facts vary depending on the version of the recipe you plan to make and the brand of coconut water you buy.

The original version, consisting of blueberries, blackberries, pomegranate seeds, and coconut water, has about 150 calories, 7.5 grams of fiber, 36 grams of carbohydrate, 2 grams of protein, 1g of fat, and 21 grams of sugar, per serving.

But to understand the real benefits of this nature’s cereal, you have to look beyond the macronutrient profile.

A bowl of the original recipe is full of fiber, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds—thanks to the fruit. It’s also incredibly hydrating because of the coconut water.

While fiber and antioxidants are great any time of day, the coconut water makes this mixture of foods especially appealing first thing in the morning. Staying well-hydrated can help reduce fatigue and lessen your need for coffee.

Close-up image of a wooden bowl full of Healthy Summer berries including Strawberries, raspberries, black berries and blue berries

Nature’s cereal health benefits

Let’s break down the ingredients a bit more:

Fiber

Berries are the primary source of fiber in this mixture. Fiber helps fill you up and keep your bowels regular—but the benefits don’t end there.

Although your body doesn’t digest dietary fiber, it acts as a food for your gut bacteria. When your gut bacteria break down fiber, they produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). According to the journal Nutrients, SCFAs can impact appetite, insulin sensitivity, weight loss, and immune system function.

According to research in the American Journal of Physiology and the World Journal of Gastrointestinal Oncology, add up these benefits and it can help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and colon cancer.

Antioxidants

In addition to fiber, berries such as blueberries and blackberries contain anthocyanin compounds. Anthocyanins are a major antioxidant and are also thought to play a role in cancer and cardiovascular disease prevention. In both cases, this is a result of antioxidants “attacking” inflammatory compounds within the body.

As antioxidant-rich foods, these berries may also be protective against diabetes, promote GI health, and may even help slow aging, according to research in Food Reviews International.

The pomegranate seeds are a nice crunchy textural touch, but they also pack some health benefits. Similar to berries, they promote antioxidant activity in the body. They also promote prebiotic and antimicrobial activity. These compounds help enhance the production of those SCFAs we mentioned, and promote the balance of gut bacteria, according to a review in the journal Foods.

Electrolytes

Finally, coconut water is a good source of electrolytes and minerals that help regulate the amount of water within our cells, making it a excellent option for hydrating.

Coconut water may also have antioxidant properties, per the International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, further supporting the cereal’s potential for helping reduce cancer and cardiovascular disease risk.

Is nature’s cereal a full meal?

While nature’s cereal offers a lot of benefits, calling it a meal or using the word “cereal” to describe it sends a confusing message. This low-calorie mixture is high in fiber, but it’s missing fat and protein. So, although it’s a fun way to increase fruit intake, the reality is it isn’t sufficient to replace a meal.

This mixture isn’t really a replacement for healthy cereal or a full breakfast, but it will work nicely as a snack or alongside a more traditional meal.

Should you try nature’s cereal?

Overall, the recipe seems like a fun new way to add some fruit into your diet, so why not try it out? Pair it with a protein-rich breakfast or snack, and call it a day.

Although the variations are interesting, I’d actually stick with the original. Be mindful to choose coconut water without added sugars, and remember this snack isn’t a replacement for your bowl of regular cereal.

Next, check out these other healthy breakfast ideas.

A Covid-19 vaccine on hold

Covid-19 vaccines can help establish herd immunity, stop the virus’s spread, and end the pandemic. Sounds pretty great, right?

But as thrilled as most people are about the availability of Covid-19 vaccines, they also want to avoid side effects.

That’s especially true of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, which has recently been linked to a rare but potentially dangerous side effect.

The vaccine is not yet approved for use in the United States, and following reports of blood clots among people who received the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, several countries have partially or completely paused their rollouts, especially in younger people.

On April 7, the European Medicines Agency (EMA, roughly equivalent to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) made its most definitive statement yet, announcing that blood clots should be classified as a very rare side effect of the vaccine.

And on April 9th, the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published two articles reporting that, indeed, clots are a rare occurrence, but the risk is troubling.

These results will likely affect whether the vaccine is approved in the United States.

This one is different from the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines

The AstraZeneca vaccine, developed in conjunction with Oxford University and now branded Vaxzevria, would be the fourth Covid-19 vaccine to join the U.S. market.

Like the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Vaxzevria uses an inactivated virus to prompt cells to produce the infamous spike protein found on SARS-CoV-2—the Covid-19 virus.

Your immune system reacts to that spike by manufacturing antibodies to fight the virus. For Vaxzevria, developers used an inactivated adenovirus that infects chimpanzees, which is similar to viruses that cause mild colds in humans.

The first two vaccines to receive Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, are mRNA vaccines.

They use genetic material called RNA to deliver a similar set of instructions to cells. The end result is the same: Your body produces antibodies that will fend off SARS-CoV-2 should you encounter it.

Side effects from the Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines have largely been the expected sore arm and mild flu-like symptoms.

Some people have had anaphylactic (allergic) reactions to the shots, but all recovered quickly.

The vaccine is effective

Trial results released at the end of March found that the AstraZeneca vaccine was 76 percent effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19 and no one in the trials developed a severe case of Covid-19 or required hospitalization.

This is similar to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which had 74.4 percent overall effectiveness in the United States and prevented hospitalizations and deaths. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were at least 90 percent effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires one dose. The others require two doses given several weeks apart. The bottom line is that all four vaccines are pretty effective in preventing Covid-19.

“[AstraZeneca’s vaccine is] good but perhaps not in the first rank on the efficacy side,” says H. Dirk Sostman, MD, president of the Houston Methodist Academic Institute. (It’s still well ahead of the typical flu vaccine, which is only 40 to 60 percent effective.)

The safety concerns with Vaxzevria

A small number of people have developed rare blood clots with the AstraZeneca shot. Exactly what that number is, however, isn’t clear; one of the NEJM studies found five cases out of 130,000 vaccinations.

But the actual risk factor is still murky, says Stephan Moll, MD, professor of medicine in the division of hematology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill.

Most of the cases have been in women under 60 years of age, and they’ve happened within two weeks of getting the vaccine. Some people have even died.

The blood clots have been found in blood vessels in the brain or abdomen. In the NEJM studies, researchers call the condition vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia.

Sometimes the clot is accompanied by bleeding; other times it’s not. One theory is that antibodies prompted by the vaccine attach to platelets in the blood, forming dangerous clumps.

(Here’s who should skip the Covid-19 vaccine.)

While the link between clots and the vaccine isn’t conclusive, it’s getting there: “As more and more reports come in, it becomes more realistic that we’re not just a one-off situation,” says Kathryn Edwards, MD, a spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America and scientific director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program in Nashville, Tennessee. “I think the more we hear about this, the more likely that there is a link.”

It’s also possible that there may be a link between dangerous blood clots and other adenovirus-vectored vaccines.

“That would become an even bigger question,” says Dr. Edwards. In fact, Dr. Sostman says platelet issues with other vaccines are not unheard of, though they don’t always lead to clots.

GERMANY-HEALTH-VIRUS-VACCINATION

Benefit vs. risk

Some people wonder if the world really needs another Covid-19 vaccine.

Experts feel that we do: “In contrast to the World Series, this is a time we need everyone to win,” says Dr. Edwards “We’re going to need a lot of vaccines to vaccinate the world’s people. We need all of these vaccines to be proven safe.”

Some of the advantages of the AstraZeneca shot is that it doesn’t have to be kept at ultra-low temperatures, making it easier to store and transport.

To truly tame this virus, we need most of the world’s more than 7.7 billion people to be vaccinated. Vaxzevria is already approved in more than 70 countries and widely available, which Dr. Moll says is a huge advantage in the race toward an immunized global population.

“It’s a risk-benefit thing,” says Dr. Sostman. For some populations who are at lower risk of blood clots from the vaccine, the AstraZeneca vaccine could be a safe option—much safer than contracting Covid-19.

In the United States

Vaxzevria isn’t approved in the United States: AstraZeneca has not yet submitted an application to the FDA, but the company may do so this month or next.

It’s been waiting for an analysis of the results of a U.S. clinical trial involving 32,000 participants.

If the FDA does end up approving the vaccine, says Dr. Sostman, it could follow the lead of other countries in recommending it be reserved for older folks—in studies, people under the age of 60 are the ones at elevated risk of blood clots.

“I think the point is that we have relatively little need for this vaccine here in the United States, so the bar for emergency use is going to be high,” he says. “Restricting it to older age groups could be one way of making the best risk-to-benefit case for the vaccine.”

You have choices

Thankfully, you can select from different Covid-19 vaccines, although the current expert advice is to get whatever vaccine is offered to you whenever it’s offered to you, says Dr. Moll.

Everyone—vaccine officials and the public—needs to assess the risks and benefits carefully, says Dr. Edwards. Those risks and benefits may vary depending on which other vaccines are available. “What we’re trying to prevent is not a common cold,” she says. “People are dying from Covid-19.”

Next, check out the Covid-19 vaccine myths you can safely ignore.

Start your day with morning meditation

Your alarm wakes you at 7 a.m. You take a shower, brush your teeth, and then sit down in a quiet spot to meditate for 10 or 20 minutes before anyone else in the house wakes up. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?

Meditation is having a moment. The practice may be thousands of years old, but it’s become mainstream in the past several years, thanks in part to high-profile fans (think Oprah) and reports of the mental and physical health benefits that a consistent practice promises.

Many devotees find morning to be the best time to meditate, whether they’re practicing mindfulness, transcendental meditation, or another technique.

“It sets the tone for the day and gets your ‘mindfulness muscle’ activated,” says Neda Gould, director of the mindfulness program at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Musician Alicia Keys and other A-list celebrities say morning meditation is a big part of their daily self-care routines.

Benefits of meditation

The medical literature is knee-deep in studies that support the benefit of consistent meditation. Take, for instance, a study that appeared in a 2019 issue of Behavioural Brain Research. When people who’d never meditated before started doing a 13-minute guided meditation session daily for eight weeks, they reported less anxiety, negative moods, and fatigue. They also improved memory and attention compared with their counterparts who listened to a podcast instead.

And a small study published in a 2020 issue of The Journal of Positive Psychology found that 15 minutes of meditation a day can make you feel like you spent an entire day on vacation. In other words, it leaves you relaxed, refreshed, and recharged.

But meditation doesn’t just affect your mind. A study of more than 61,000 people found that the 10 percent of people who said they participated in some form of meditation had lower rates of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease than those who didn’t meditate. One caveat: the study wasn’t designed to show cause and effect. It could be that people who are in better health are more likely to meditate, the authors note in The American Journal of Cardiology.

Why morning is a good time to meditate

There’s nothing magical about morning when it comes to accruing the benefits of mediation. Morning is a popular time for mediation because it is often the calm before the storm, says Cortland Dahl, chief contemplative officer at Healthy Minds Innovations and a research scientist at the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Morning comes before we get into our hectic day and our endless to-do lists,” he says. “We also have a consistent and predictable set of things that we do every morning. The rest of the day is not always like that.”

Read on to get tips for how to use meditation to start your day.

Young woman beginning her day with some meditation

Tie meditation to your morning routine

Meditation is more likely to become a habit if it piggybacks on an existing routine, says Dahl. “Every morning, I make my cup of coffee and go meditate,” he says.

Your routine may look different, depending on how you spend your mornings. You might grab coffee, do some morning brain exercises, then settle in for meditation. Maybe you roll out of bed and immediately meditate. Or maybe you need a quick shower to wake up before you begin your practice. There’s no best way—just the way that works best for you.

Start small

Regardless of how or when you meditate, the key is doing it consistently. That’s where the benefits come from, Dahl says.

To do this, start with small, manageable goals and reasonable expectations. Even mini meditations can relieve stress and anxiety. “Instead of saying, ‘I will mediate every morning going forward,’ go week by week,” Dahl says.

And be specific and actionable in your goals. “Say, ‘I will have my cup of coffee and then do a 10-minute meditation right after,'” he says. After a week passes, reflect on how well it worked and see if there is anything you need to tweak to be more consistent.

Be patient

Meditation benefits don’t occur overnight. Expecting instant results is just one of many meditation mistakes that secretly stress you out. It can take up to three months to start noticing a difference in how you feel, Dahl says.

If you find yourself wondering, “What is this not working?!” you’re not alone. Have a laugh at some meditation memes and take comfort in the fact that you’re going through a process that countless others have been through.

Set yourself up to win

If you are not a morning person, it’s not realistic to think you will wake up earlier to meditate. (Chances are, night owls will just end up dozing through their session.) “Find the best time for you,” Gould says. Maybe that’s after dinner or before bed.

Types of morning meditation practices

There are many types of meditation, and some may be better suited to mornings, Dahl says.

A purpose- and value-driven mediation practice can be guided (a certified instructor will talks you through it) or done on your own. During this type of meditation practice, you set clear intentions for your day, tying them to your purpose and values.

“You may decide to make this day about kindness or leaving the world better than you found it,” says Dahl. “This is very well suited to morning because it sets the tone for your day.”

Instead of focusing on your breathing or repeating a mantra, which you’d do with other meditation practices), you concentrate on your purpose while meditating in a quiet place.

With transcendental mediation, you’ll practice twice a day for 20 minutes each. With this practice, morning and evening meditation makes sense.

Go at your own pace

The first time you meditate, you may think you’re doing it wrong. Should you be paying attention to something else? Should your mind be totally blank? Should you be having so many darn thoughts? Truth is, all of that is normal at the start of a practice.

Instead of worrying about whether you’re meditating correctly, focus on practicing every day, even if it’s just for five minutes. Not only will you reap physical rewards, but you’ll also greet the day in a relaxed state of mind.

Next up: When it comes to meditation vs. hypnosis, which is better?

Collagen and aging

You know those wrinkles some people angst over? A lack of collagen is one reason for wrinkles and other signs of aging skin, like sagging and a lack of plumpness.

Humans are born with collagen and produce it naturally—up to a certain age, that is. When you hit your 20s, production slows, and eventually the body stops producing collagen on its own.

“Collagen is made by fibroblast cells. These cells are located in the dermis, which is the middle layer of skin between the surface epidermis and the deeper fatty layer of skin.” says Lisa Anthony, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Westmed Medical Group in Rye, New York. “The body’s ability to make collagen decreases with aging and environmental factors such as UV exposure.”

So the older and more sun-kissed (or sunburned) your skin becomes, the less collagen your body will make naturally.

Enter: collagen injections, fillers, microneedling, and other skin treatments that aim to supplement or stimulate the body’s natural collagen. The hope is that they will even out the skin’s texture, reduce the appearance of scars, and potentially smooth wrinkles.

What is collagen, exactly?

“Collagen is a protein that is made up of amino acids [and] is found in the skin, tendons, bones and muscles,” says Lucy Chen, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology in Miami.

It performs many vital functions within the body, including helping to hold cells together, strengthening bones, and keeping skin tight.

In relation to the skin, “collagen aids in the stimulation of skin cell turnover, which helps improve the skin’s elasticity and radiance, and it also assists with pigmentation, hydrating, and strengthening the skin,” Chen says.

Your body produces collagen by breaking down protein-rich foods, which share the amino acids that your body needs to make collagen. Nutrients, such as vitamin C and copper, also help your body make collagen. (These are the best foods for collagen.)

The human body creates less collagen as it ages, and the quality of the collagen also declines with age. As a result, skin may begin to wrinkle, sag, or scar more easily.

Collagen injection options

To supplement collagen made by the body, scientists have developed collagen injections that can be administered via needles directly into the skin to make it more supple. There are several kinds of dermal fillers, and collagen is one option.

“Dermal filler injections are cosmetic procedures used to restore volume and enhance the structure of the skin and fill in deeper, static wrinkles,” Anthony says. “Fillers can be made of collagen, materials that help the body make collagen, or materials that absorb water.”

  • Collagen injections are used to immediately and directly replace loss of volume and structure around the mouth, nose, and cheeks. These are derived from the tissues of cows (often called bovine collagen) or humans (drawn from other places in your body). Bovine collagen requires allergy testing to use. “Bellafill is the only collagen filler approved in the U.S.,” says Anthony. “It is a combination bovine collagen and synthetic filler that is approved for smile lines and acne scars, and results may last up to five years.”

  • Collagen stimulators are absorbed by the body and help it make more collagen on its own over time. These do not require allergy testing unless an individual is allergic to any of the filler materials. They’re often injected around the mouth, smile lines, cheeks, temples, and chin. Currently available products include Sculptra, Radiesse, and Ellansé, and results may last two to three years.

For all types of injections, doctors may use local or topical anesthesia to numb the area of application.

female receiving injection on the face at facial beauty salon

The benefits of collagen injections

These injections can boost the fullness and volume of your lips, cheeks, and acne scars. After injections, you’ll notice more radiant, supple, and less scar-apparent skin.

They can also even out areas with stretch marks, which are triggered when skin expands and shrinks at a rapid pace. The marks are a common result of body size changes, such as with pregnancy, strength training, or a growth spurt. The collagen in the skin ruptures and creates striated scarring, and collagen injections can help the skin look smoother over time.

The effects of collagen injections are noticeable right away and might be even more apparent in a week or two. Depending on which type of injection you receive, results last two to five years—longer, if you get touch-ups as needed.

These injections are quick, and they’re fairly painless since anesthesia is used during the treatment. Recovery time is short, and side effects beyond swelling are fairly rare.

The risks and downsides of collagen injections

If collagen injects are such a great way to combat aging, why don’t more people get them? The biggest barrier is cost.

The financial investment varies based on your geographic location, the training of the professional administering the injections, and what the fillers are made from (using your own fat is a pricier route than a collagen stimulator such as Sculptra, for example).

It’s more expensive than the typical cosmetic treatment: Collagen fillers and stimulators generally cost between $600 and $2,000, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

And that’s not a one-time fee. It’s uncommon for the results of collagen injections to last longer than five years, so reapplication is often required.

Side effects may put some people off the treatment. Chen says that the most common side effects of collagen injections include irritation, redness, bruising, and tenderness. The most frequently noted side effects of collagen stimulators include itching, bleeding, inflammation, tenderness, and pain.

Allergic reactions may occur with bovine collagen injections, so a doctor will often perform allergy testing a couple weeks prior to the treatment to ensure you aren’t allergic.

Alternative anti-aging treatments to consider

“Filler procedures produce more immediate results compared to oral collagen supplements,” Anthony says. Oral collagen is available in pill and powder forms, as well as in products like coffee creamers, gummies, and baked goods. It’s either animal-sourced, marine-sourced, or vegan.

The thing is, it’s not a proven anti-aging strategy. There’s not a whole lot of research proving its benefits, and the studies we do have are small and often funded by companies that make collagen. But it probably won’t hurt you if you want to give it a try.

A review of several studies published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology in 2019 found no negative side effects to popping oral collagen supplements, and doing so at the rate of 2.5 grams daily for just eight weeks may reduce signs of aging.

Other cosmetic treatments like chemical peels may also work for people who want to remove damaged skin, reveal healthy skin, and eliminate fine lines and discoloration, Chen says.

“Using skin care products with retinol, hyaluronic acid, or vitamin C can strengthen and tighten the skin, as well as leave it glowing,” she says.

Just be sure to apply sunscreen early and often, no matter what serums and creams you’re using. “Too much sun exposure can destroy the collagen in your skin,” Chen says. “Wearing sunscreen with SPF 30+ and reapplying throughout the day can protect the skin and reduce wrinkles.”

Here are six products that include some of Chen’s recommended skin-boosting ingredients:

Up next: Learn these anti-aging secrets from dermatologists.

Why you should meditate

After being aligned with Eastern medicine and spiritual practices for thousands of years, meditation has made its way into the mainstream—and not just because health-conscious celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Beyonce, and Lady Gaga have raved about the benefits.

The scientific community has also delved into the practice, looking at the health benefits of mediation. Studies have found perks like pain reduction, lower blood pressure, decreased risks of depression and anxiety, and improved cognitive performance.

“Daily meditation, specifically in the insight/mindfulness tradition I practice, allows us to focus on tending to the body, feelings, thoughts, and mental states and how we relate to experiences,” says psychotherapist Marianela Medrano, PhD, founder of the Palabra Counseling and Training Center in Stamford, Connecticut. “Such awareness is conducive to making more compassionate choices about ourselves and others in our day-to-day living.”

If you’re not exactly sure how to meditate, check out our beginner’s guide to meditation. There’s more than one way to do it, and you can find out what type works for you.

What is meditation?

“Meditation really, in its purest form, involves any time that you stop and pay attention to your experience and tune into what’s going on,” says psychologist B. Grace Bullock, PhD, author of Mindful Relationships.

There are many different forms of meditation, some of which require a more formal practice than others.

“There are devotional forms of meditation, focused or concentrated meditation, mantra meditation, visualization, and so forth,” says Medrano. “Each style zeroes in on the transient or changing aspects of body and mind. Some focus on bodily sensations, others on the mind directly. Insight/mindfulness meditation is a form of getting in touch with ourselves and with the world, doing so with loving kindness and without judgment.”

Regardless of the form that you choose, the goal of any practice is to improve your ability to connect with yourself and the world around you. You don’t need to “think of nothing.” Instead, you can observe random thoughts or feelings without judgement or reaction, and then gently return your focus to something—like breathing—that keeps you grounded in the moment.

“We practice meditation to be fully engaged in the world, with kindness and compassion and without judgment or pushing experiences away,” Medrano says. “Daily meditation practice allows us to be more intentional and deliberate in our interactions with others and how we engage ourselves.”

Young man sitting alone on his bed and meditating

How long should you meditate?

Some forms of meditation specify the length of your practice.

Transcendental meditation requires that you meditate for 20 minutes twice a day. With this type of meditation, you sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed and silently repeat a mantra, a word or sound that helps you concentrate.

With body-scan meditation, you focus on every inch of your body, moving your attention slowly from one part to the next. This typically takes between 25 and 45 minutes to complete.

Bullock and Medrano agree, however, that the length of time you spend meditating is not the most important part of the practice.

“When it becomes an achievement orientation—when you get hooked on something like time—then you miss the point, and you’re sitting there wondering if your 10 minutes is up yet,” notes Bullock. “I think it’s more about the quality and consistency than the quantity.”

Indeed, if you are able to carve out just five minutes to meditate on a daily basis, you can reap the benefits.

“In my view, there is not a minimum or maximum time to practice meditation. Five minutes is better than none,” says Medrano. “We live busy lives, so adaptability is important.”

Aim for consistency over length

“I emphasize consistency over length. Working consistently on anything develops habits and mastery,” Medrano says, adding that your approach to meditation will be the same regardless of whether you have five minutes or an hour to spend with your thoughts.

She is a fan of the RAIN approach:

  • Recognize what’s going on
  • Allow thoughts and feelings to drift into your mind
  • Investigate why you feel what you do
  • Nurture yourself

In short, with RAIN meditation, you wait for thoughts to drift into your mind and then treat them accordingly. (Note that some practitioners consider the N stands for Non-identification.) “[Pay] special attention to what surfaces after the RAIN,” Medrano says.

She’s a fan because it works well for most situations. “This practice is adaptable, and you can do it in five or thirty minutes, depending on what is possible,” she says.

If you are able to relax into a place of mental calm in five minutes, that may be all you need. If you need 10 minutes to quiet your mind before you tune into your body, breathing, and surroundings, then your personal practice may be a bit longer.

The key is finding a length that works for you, even if your practice is more like mini meditation sessions.

Try to meditate daily

When it comes to meditation, it pays to be realistic. Choose a length of time that you can commit to on a daily basis.

“Research shows that a daily practice, even short, is more beneficial than doing a long practice a couple times a week,” says Bullock. “If you have days you can’t do it, don’t beat yourself up. But it’s good to aspire to a daily practice because it becomes a friend after a while.”

Next, here are 10 ways to sneak meditation into your daily life.

How to get stronger legs

Strong legs are healthy legs that can carry you easily through daily life. It should come as no surprise that your entire lower body, stretching from your feet to your glutes, plays an integral role in supporting activities of daily living.

Whether you’re standing up from a chair or hitting the trails for a five-mile run, the large (and small) muscles of your legs create the movement to power you up, down, and side-to-side.

This is why it’s so important to protect against the muscle-wasting that can make daily activities more difficult (not to mention conditioning for athletic endeavors downright painful). If you don’t already include lower body exercises in your regular routine, it’s time to get started.

The benefits of strong legs

You don’t have to sculpt the giant legs of a bodybuilder to reap the benefits of strength training your lower body. In fact, just two weekly sessions of lower body exercises can pay off when it comes to increasing muscle strength, stamina, and appearance.

And beyond the fact that building strong legs can help improve body composition and give you an overall leaner appearance, there are lots of other great reasons to strength train your legs.

You move better

When you maintain strength through your lower body, everything you do is a little easier. You tire less quickly when doing normal activities like walking your dog, carting in a load of groceries, or climbing up a flight of stairs. And if you get less worn out from regular activity, that’ll leave you with more energy to pursue hobbies you really enjoy.

“Strong legs provide a base of support for the body,” points out Kaseedee Jermain, New Jersey certified trainer and weight loss and fitness nutrition specialist with the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). “Hips, knees, and ankles take the brunt of everyday movements. If we don’t strengthen the muscles around those joints, we’re setting ourselves up for injury as we age.” And that’s a pretty important benefit.

(These are the everyday moves that hurt the body.)

Athletic activities become easier

Think about the athletes you watch on TV—whether they’re gymnasts, football players, Crossfit competitors, or sprinters, they all have impressive lower-body musculature. By training the lower body on a regular basis, athletic performance improves. You develop the ability to run faster, jump higher, juke your opponent, and simply lift more weight.

Of course, many of these skills are further developed through specialized training, but they still require a baseline level of strength to continue to improve.

You feel better about your physical appearance

“One major benefit of leg exercises is the way they’ll change the appearance of your legs,” says Tracy McGarry, a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach who offers training online.

“When you strengthen your legs through resistance training, you’re building muscle which is what creates a defined, toned look. Leg exercises will create definition a lot faster than cardiovascular exercise like jogging or walking,” she says.

And starting to see that definition can change the way you feel about your body. You may discover you feel better about putting on a bathing suit or a pair of shorts. In this way, strength training can help bolster confidence and self-esteem.

You’re less likely to experience falls

Individuals who regularly train their leg muscles to work in coordination, ultimately maintaining mobility in the joints of their lower body, are less likely to experience balance-related falls. Just think about it—if your legs are strong, and you’re regularly moving them through a full range of motion, they’re more prepared to react and respond to balance challenges.

If someone bumps you off balance, you’ll be prepared to quickly move your leg in response, your muscles firing and “catching” you. And considering that falls, especially in older populations, can significantly impact the quality of life, engaging in activities that help reduce the risk (like doing leg exercises) will pay off in the long run.

Leg exercises you can do at home

The best part is you don’t even have to have a gym membership or expensive equipment to build stronger legs. Try these simple exercises at home—they require nothing more than dumbbells. And if you don’t have dumbbells? No worries. You can skip the weights entirely and use nothing more than your body weight.

(Don’t miss these leg stretches you can do before and after your workout.)

Goblet squat

The goblet squat is an excellent option for introducing resistance to an air squat while encouraging proper form. This is because holding the weight in front of your chest helps encourage an upright torso position as you squat, reducing the likelihood that you’ll tip forward at the hips as you squat.

Plus, by aiming your elbows straight down between your legs as you squat, the exercise helps encourage proper knee alignment with your toes, reducing the likelihood that your knees will “collapse inward” as you squat.

As with all squat variations, the goblet squat targets all the major muscle groups of the lower body, including the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves, while also hitting the core. It also encourages lower-body coordination and mimics movements you perform in everyday life, like standing up from a chair, or squatting down to pick up a box from the ground.

Goblet Squat

How to do it

Stand with your feet between hip and shoulder-distance apart, your toes angled slightly outward. Hold a dumbbell between your hands vertically in front of your chest, “cupping” the head of the dumbbell as though you were holding a goblet. Engage your core, roll your shoulders back, and begin squatting down by pressing your hips backward, lowering them toward the floor.

Bend your knees, making sure they’re tracking in alignment with your toes. Keep your torso upright and your shoulders back as you continue squatting as low as you comfortably can. Your elbows should end up between your knees. When you’ve gone as deep as your range of motion allows, press through your heels and reverse the movement, returning to standing.

Perform three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions.

Single-leg deadlift

Deadlift variations are an excellent way to strengthen your hamstrings, glutes, and even your low back and core. When you perform a single-leg deadlift, you’re enhancing side-to-side hamstring and glute strength, while also working on balance and coordination.

That said, the balance challenge is real! If you struggle to maintain your balance, ditch the weight and try it dumbbell-free. If you’re still having a hard time, keep your back toe on the ground like a kickstand as you perform the exercise.

Single Leg Dead Lift Exercise

How to do it

Stand tall with your feet hip-distance apart, a dumbbell in your right hand in front of your right thigh. Check your posture to make sure your core is engaged, your shoulders back, and your ears, shoulder, hips, knee, and ankle are all aligned.

Shift your weight to your right foot and, keeping your torso tall, extend your left foot back, placing the ball of your foot on the ground behind you. Bend your right knee slightly and tip forward slightly from the hips to enter this position.

From here, engage your right hamstring and glute to control the movement, and slowly and steadily continue tipping forward from the right hip. Your chest should be lowering toward the ground as your left leg lifts behind you. Focus on keeping your hips aligned and squared to the ground, and your torso forming a straight line (your shoulders and back shouldn’t hunch or collapse toward the floor).

The dumbbell simply tracks straight down toward the ground in front of your right leg. When you feel a stretch through your right hamstring and glute, use your right hamstring and glute to reverse the movement, pulling your torso back to the starting position.

Perform eight to 12 repetitions before switching sides. Complete two total sets per side.

Squat jack taps

The squat jack tap is an excellent way to get a quick burst of cardio while also working on lower body power, coordination, and strength. You’ll hit all your major lower-body muscle groups (glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves), just as you would with any squat exercise.

But because you end up performing a wider-leg squat, followed by a hop that brings your legs back together, you’ll further target your inner and outer thighs (your abductors and adductors) to perform the exercise.

Squat Jacks Exercise

How to do it

Stand tall, your feet wider than shoulder-distance apart, your toes angled outward at 45-degree angles, your knees slightly bent, and your core engaged. Position your right arm so it’s pointing down in front of your right hip, your left arm pointing slightly backward, behind your left hip. From here, bend both knees, keeping your chest lifted.

Lower your glutes toward the floor as you squat, aiming to touch the ground between your feet with your right hand as your left arm reaches backward to assist with balance. Make sure your knees are aligning with your toes. When your hand touches the ground, powerfully jump up into the air, extending your knees and hips as you bring your feet together.

Land with your knees, ankles, and hips slightly bent, your feet together. Immediately jump back into the air, spreading your feet to wider than shoulder-distance apart, but this time switching hand position, so your left arm is in front of you and your right arm extending backward. Land with your knees slightly bent, and immediately lower yourself into another wide-legged squat, this time touching the ground with your left hand.

This counts for one repetition. Perform 8 to 10 total repetitions. Rest for a minute, then repeat one or two more times.

Curtsy lunge

The curtsy lunge is another excellent compound lower body exercise that targets the major muscle groups of the lower body while enhancing balance and coordination. It also requires greater engagement of the abductor muscles of the glutes and the adductor muscles of the inner thighs. You can perform this exercise with or without added resistance in the form of dumbbells or kettlebells.

Curtsy Squat Exercise

How to do it

Stand with your feet roughly shoulder-distance apart. When performing this exercise without dumbbells, place your hands on your hips. If you’re using dumbbells, hold them at your sides.

Engage your core, pull your shoulders back, and bend your knees slightly. Shift your weight to your left foot and step your right foot backward and across your body, placing the ball of your right foot on the ground behind and to the outside of your left foot. Keeping your torso lifted (not allowing it to bend forward or collapse toward the floor, bend both knees as though curtsying, lowering your right knee toward the floor.

Make sure your left knee is tracking in line with your left toes to protect your joints. When your right knee is almost to the ground, reverse the movement and press through your left heel to return to standing as you step your right foot back to the starting position.

Repeat to the opposite side. Continue alternating sides, completing a total of 10 to 12 repetitions per side. Complete two sets.

Weighted glute bridge

The glute bridge targets exactly what it says—the glutes. It also helps increase hamstring and core strength and stability. The exercise can be performed with or without added resistance in the form of a dumbbell.

Weighted Glute Bridge Exercise

How to do it

Lie on your back, your knees bent, feet flat on the ground roughly hip-distance apart. If you choose to use a dumbbell, place it horizontally across your hips at the crease between your hips and thighs. Hold it in place with both hands.

Engage your core, pressing your low back into the ground. From here, squeeze your glutes and use them to lift your hips from the ground, pressing them toward the ceiling until they’re extended. Your body should form a straight line from your knees to your shoulder blades. Hold for a breath, then return your glutes back to the starting position.

Perform 15 to 20 repetitions and complete three total sets.

Calf raise

Calf raises target the major muscle groups of your lower legs. You can perform these using just your body weight, or if you’d like, add resistance by holding a dumbbell in each hand.

Calf Raise Exercise

How to do it

Stand tall, your feet roughly hip-distance apart. If needed, place a hand lightly on a wall or a piece of furniture for support. With perfect posture, your core engaged, and your shoulders back, press through the balls of your feet and engage your calf muscles to rise up as high as you can.

Hold at the top of the exercise for a beat, then lower your heels back to the ground, stopping just before they touch down.

Perform 20 to 30 repetitions and complete two to three sets.

Next, try these exercises while watching TV.

The benefits of exercise for aging

If you’re nearing retirement age or older, even if you haven’t been active, now’s a great time to start. Exercise at any age can help prevent, limit, and even reverse many age-related changes in quality of life.

According to the government’s 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report, regular physical activity performed by older adults can help prevent falls and fall-related fractures and other injuries, and can help improve physical function and reduce age-related loss of physical function.

What’s more, the same report noted varying levels of evidence (from limited to strong) that regular exercise, including strength training, tai chi, and qigong, helped improve physical function in those with cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cognitive impairment, frailty, hip fractures, osteoporosis, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke.

This is incredibly important information because it underlines the role of exercise in improving health at every age.

Assuming you have the green light from your doctor to pursue an exercise program, aim to get active on a consistent basis. Even a little bit of regular physical activity can make the aging process a little less challenging. And that’s something to get excited about.

Get more exercise from your daily activities

The first thing to keep in mind is that any activity—no matter how little—is better than none.

So while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise per week, with an additional two days a week of muscle-strengthening exercise, it’s okay to start with a level that feels attainable to you.

Start by moving more

A big part of achieving the recommended 150 minutes of weekly exercise is simply moving more. You know those hobbies you love? If they keep you moving, they count toward your weekly total.

If your interests skew toward the sedentary (hey, there’s nothing wrong with reading!), think about picking up an active hobby. That might include golfing, gardening, playing outdoor games with your grandkids, walking the dog, or even shopping with friends (assuming you spend more time walking briskly around the store than digging through the racks).

Even “boring” movement counts—you’d be surprised how many calories you burn cleaning the house.

Make sure your activity counts as cardio

To enjoy cardiovascular benefits, the minutes of exercise you perform should be done at a moderate or vigorous level of intensity.

Not sure how to gauge your intensity? Use a 10-point scale to assess your personal exertion level. A zero on the scale would be the equivalent of lying down doing nothing, while a 10 would be an all-out effort. Moderate-intensity exercise falls around a five or six on this scale, while a seven or higher is considered vigorous.

If you can rack up roughly 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio a day, five days a week; 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio a day, five days a week; or some equivalent combination thereof, you’ll be meeting the CDC’s suggested cardio guidelines.

Don’t forget to strength train

The only other piece of the puzzle you have to consider is how to include strength-training exercises into your routine.

You don’t have to hit the gym to enjoy a solid strength-training workout. There are lots of easy, home-based exercises you can perform with basic equipment, like resistance bands or dumbbells. And in many cases, you can simply use your own body weight.

The important thing is to target each of your major muscle groups at least two times a week. Even a 20-minute strength-training session can do the trick.

Jeanette DePatie, a fitness instructor and senior specialist with the workout video Everybody Can Exercise: Senior Edition, points to the following exercises as a good place to start. Find a clear place in your home, and give them a try.

Chair Squat Exercise

Chair squat

Going from a seated to a standing position (and vice versa) is one of those everyday movements that targets your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and even your core. It also requires balance and coordination. The chair squat requires nothing more than a sturdy chair.

Aim to perform the exercise without the help of your arms or upper body. Need the extra help at first? That’s totally fine. You can use a chair with armrests to give you something solid to press off of.

Stand in front of a chair, your back to the seat. Position your feet hip-distance apart and check your posture. Pull your shoulders back, tuck your hips slightly forward, and slightly bend your knees.

Take a breath in and press your hips backward, bending your knees as you steadily lower your butt toward the seat of the chair. Allow your arms to rise in front of you to help with balance as you sit back. Keep your knees aligned with your toes as you sit.

When your butt touches the chair, rest for a beat, then press through your heels to return to standing. If you need to, press your hands on the armrests or the seat of the chair on either side of your hips. Be sure to distribute your weight equally on each side.

The most important part of this exercise is the slow, controlled downward phase, so take extra care with this step. Perform two to three sets of eight to 10 repetitions.

(Want to do more? Try these other squat exercises.)

Farmers Walk Exercise

Farmer’s walk

The farmer’s walk exercise helps improve balance and coordination for walking movements, while also increasing strength in your lower body, core, back, forearms, and grip. Use a set of dumbbells (water bottles also work) to add resistance to the exercise.

Stand tall, focusing on your posture. Engage your core, rolling your shoulders back and tightening your abs like a corset (drawing them back toward your spine). Hold a dumbbell in each hand.

Steadily and with control, begin walking forward, exaggerating each step. The goal isn’t to take longer steps but to lift the knee and foot a little higher than you would usually lift them.

Take 10 to 20 steps forward. Rest, then repeat two more times.

Single Leg Raise Exercise

Single-leg balance stand

Balance exercises are incredibly important for helping reduce the risk of falls while also improving core strength, side-to-side strength, and proprioception (your ability to sense your body’s location and actions) for day-to-day movements.

Stand tall with good posture, your feet hip-distance apart. If needed, place your hands lightly against a wall or sturdy chair back for balance. Shift your weight slightly to the left and carefully lift your right foot from the floor in front of you, drawing your knee forward to a 90-degree angle without moving your torso or changing your posture.

Hold the position for as long as you can, aiming for 20 to 40 seconds. Perform two to three sets per side.

Wall Push Up Exercise

Wall or incline push-up

To work on upper-body strength, particularly through your chest, shoulders, triceps, and core, try wall push-ups. They’re an excellent equipment-free option.

Stand an arm’s length away from a wall. Place your palms flat on the wall at shoulder level. Your arms should be parallel to the ground and your feet roughly hip-distance apart.

Engage your core, pulling your abs in toward your spine. It’s important to keep your abs engaged and your body aligned throughout the exercise. Bend your elbows and move your chest and shoulders closer to the wall. Your elbows should bend backward at a roughly 45-degree angle to your body.

When your shoulders and head are almost at the wall, reverse the movement and press through your palms to push your chest and torso back to the starting position.

Perform two to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions.

The great thing about this move is it’s easy to advance as you gain strength. With time, if you discover wall push-ups are too easy, you can make the exercise more difficult by changing the angle of the move. By using a counter, desk, or the back of your couch, you’ll do the move at a greater incline.

Resistance Band Pull Aparts Exercise

Resistance band pull-aparts

Grab a resistance band for this exercise, which strengthens the back half of your body, including your upper back, shoulders, and core.

Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, roughly hip-distance apart. Check your posture: your ears should be aligned with your shoulders and hips. With both hands, hold a resistance band directly in front of your shoulders, so your arms are parallel to the floor. The band should be taut between your hands, but not tight.

Engage your abs, drawing them back toward your spine. Keeping your torso steady, pull your hands apart, extending your arms out to your sides in a T shape as you squeeze your shoulder blades together.

Hold for a breath, then return to the starting position. Perform two to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions.

If you find that using a resistance band is too difficult, start by doing the exercise without a band. Really focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together as you move your arms into the T position.

Next, check out these tips when you need exercise motivation.

The importance of stretching your legs

How flexible is your bottom half?

Maintaining full mobility in your lower body is incredibly important for long-term health and well-being. Not only is it obviously key for basic life skills like walking, climbing stairs, and getting up and down from chairs, but it can help prevent injury and make you feel better, too.

“The joints in the lower body, especially the hips and knees, require a full range of motion to maintain the health of the cartilage and other structures of the joint,” says Philip Scuderi, a chiropractor and the founder of Basis Medical Palm Beach County, Florida.

“A full range of motion is essential to ensuring the joint is supplied with an adequate amount of blood and nutrients.”

Unfortunately, daily habits, previous injury, and aging can all work against you when it comes to maintaining your range of motion.

That doesn’t mean you can’t maintain the range of motion of the joints of your legs, it just means that without working on it, it becomes harder. That’s why including leg stretches as a part of your weekly routine is so important.

The goal with these stretches isn’t necessarily to get “extra flexible,” rather it’s to maintain flexibility for comfortable movement which can pay off when it comes to injury and pain prevention.

Leg stretches and mobility, flexibility, and range of motion

“Inflexibility causes muscles to tire at accelerated rates. Muscle fatigue can lead to the muscle’s inability to protect the joint from injuries like tears, pulls, and strains,” explains Dr. Scuderi.

He gives the example of how the hamstring plays a role in stabilizing the knee—if the hamstring is inflexible, tires more quickly, and can’t appropriately stabilize the knee, the joint becomes more susceptible to injuries like anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears.

Lara Heimann, a physical therapist and the founder of LYT Yoga also emphasizes how poor muscle balance and range of motion at one joint can lead to injuries in other areas of the body.

“If the ankle range of motion is limited, the knee will ‘make up for’ the limitation and may move excessively, creating a sheer on the patella (the knee cap),” she explains.

This increased pressure placed on the knee can lead to irritation, muscle pain and knee pain, and ultimately, limited range of motion at the knee. And because no single body part works without relying on other body parts (your body is a system, after all), this type of “creeping injury” can continue and result in more pain and other injuries.

“The limited range of motion in the hip and ankle not only contribute to suboptimal mechanics of the knee, but can also lead to imbalance in the surrounding tissues and in the motor-firing of the surrounding muscles,” says Heimann.

In other words, if you don’t pay attention to maintaining the flexibility in your legs through stretching and other exercises, you’re opening yourself up to a world of potential pain.

How to add leg stretches into your pre-workout routine

Dr. Scuderi emphasizes the importance of stretching your lower body before any physical activity. But that doesn’t mean you should spend a lot of time doing standing quad stretches or calf stretches while your body’s still cold.

Rather, you should focus on dynamic stretches (those that help get the blood flowing and require continuous movement) before your workout as part of your warm-up.

Dynamic stretches are controlled movements that prepare your muscles, ligaments, and other soft tissues for performance and safety,” he says.

After a few minutes of walking or jogging, dynamic stretches might include movements like hip circles, high knees, side lunges, and squats. Heimann, in particular, likes incorporating lunges into her clients’ warm-ups.

“Lateral lunges are important because they pull on the adductors (the inner thighs) which are often shortened, potentially leading to a pull on both the knees and the low back,” she says, while low lunges can help stretch the hip flexors and quads.

Pre-workout leg stretches

Walking knee-to-chest

The knee-to-chest stretch is a good way to fire up all the major muscles and joints of your lower body, including your calves, quads, hamstrings, hip flexors, and glutes.

You can do this stretch while walking forward, or you can do it while standing in place.

Walking knee-to-chest exercise

How to do it

Lift your right foot from the ground, flexing your ankle to take a step forward. Bring your knee high, flexing your knee and hip past 90-degree angles. As you lift your knee, “catch” the front of your right shin with both hands and use your hands to help pull your knee toward your torso until you feel an easy stretch in your hamstrings and glutes.

Place your right foot on the ground (either stepping forward, or returning to the original position) and repeat on the left side. Continue alternating legs for a full minute.

High kicks

High kicks are another good leg warmup exercise that will help stretch the hamstrings, glutes, and calves, while requiring engagement of the hip flexors and the quads.

You can perform this exercise standing in place or walking forward, depending on the space you have.

High kick exercise

How to do it

Standing tall with your hands on your hips, your feet roughly hip-distance apart, kick your right foot as high as you comfortably can in front of you, your knee straight, ankle flexed, so you feel a stretch on the back of your thigh. Lower your right foot to the floor, either taking a step forward, or remaining in place.

Even though this is a “kick” motion, it should remain controlled and without using momentum of other muscle groups.

In particular, your upper body and torso should remain steady and shouldn’t be tipping forward or backward as you kick. Repeat to the opposite side and continue alternating sides for one minute.

Dynamic lateral lunges

The lateral lunge will fire up your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, while also stretching out your inner thighs.

Dynamic Lateral Lunges

How to do it

Stand straight and tall, your feet roughly hip-distance apart. You can place your hands on your hips or have your elbows bent, your arms in front of you for balance. Take a step to your right, your right foot angling slightly outward.

Keeping your left leg straight, press your hips back and bend your right knee, making sure it stays aligned with your toes. When you feel a stretch through your inner left thigh, press through your right heel and step back to the starting position. Repeat to the left side and continue alternating sides for a minute.

Plank to down dog and pedal out

The plank to down dog is an excellent way to fire up your core, shoulders, hip flexors, and quads, while stretching out your calves, hamstrings, glutes, and upper back.

Plank To Down Dog And Peddle Out

How to do it

Start in a high plank position with your palms under your shoulders and your body forming a straight line from heels to head. You should be supported on the balls of your feet and your palms.

With your core engaged, press your hips straight up in the air, pushing back through your shoulders to create an upside down “V” with your body.

You should feel a nice stretch through your calves, hamstrings, and glutes as you press your hips high. Your heels can remain lifted off the ground.

Hold for a breath, then “pedal out” your heels, pressing one heel toward the ground as you bend the opposite knee, then switching sides.

Perform two to three pedals per leg, return to downward dog and hold for a breath, then return to the high plank position.

Continue this cycle for a total of a minute.

How to add leg stretches into your post-workout routine

It’s not until after a workout that you should focus on more traditional, static lower-body stretches.

“Static stretches should be used as part of your cool-down routine post-workout,” says Scuderi. “Static stretches involve holding a single position for a slightly extended time period of about 45 seconds. Additionally, using static stretching regularly to maintain flexibility will help reduce the risk of injury.”

Whether you’re engaging in dynamic or static stretching, it’s important to pay attention to your body and not overdo it or push yourself to the point of pain.

“Pain is one indicator that you’re stretching incorrectly. You should only feel mild tension,” Scuderi emphasizes. He also adds that you should breathe deeply and focus on maintaining good posture. These two factors will help you relax into each movement without risking incorrect alignment or injury.

Post-workout leg stretches

Standing quad stretch

Standing quad stretch

Stand tall, your feet roughly hip distance apart. If you need to, stand close to a wall or a sturdy chair to use it for support, placing your left hand lightly on the object.

Check your posture to make sure your core is engaged, your ears, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles all aligned.

Shift your weight to your left leg and lift your right foot from the ground, bending your knee behind you and bringing your ankle toward your glutes.

As you lift your heel, “catch” your ankle with your right hand, and use your right hand to help pull your heel closer to your right glute. Stop when you feel a good stretch along the front of your right thigh. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds before switching sides. Repeat two to three times per side.

(Want more quad stretches? Try these moves.)

Kneeling hip flexor stretch

Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

Kneel on the ground on a mat as though you were about to propose to someone—your right foot planted on the ground in front of you, your right knee and hip bent at 90-degree angles. Your left knee should be aligned directly under your hip.

Place both hands on your hips and engage your core, making sure you’re maintaining good posture, your shoulders back, your ear, shoulders, and hips aligned.

From this position, press your hips forward without leaning forward, extending your left hip flexor as you bend your right knee a little farther. When you feel a good stretch along the front of your left hip, hold the position.

Maintain the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds before switching sides. Repeat the stretch two to three times per side.

Seated hamstring stretch

Seated Hamstring Stretch

Sit tall on a mat with your legs extended in front of you. Your upper body should have perfect posture, with your ears, shoulders, and hips aligned. Bend your left knee, drawing your left foot toward your glute.

Open your left knee outward, placing the bottom of your left foot on the inside of your right thigh at a position that feels comfortable. Allow your left leg to relax, the outside of your left leg resting on the floor (if it can) or at a comfortable angle.

Twist your torso slightly to the right so it’s squared with your right leg. Take a breath in and engage your core, then tip forward from the hips, maintaining good posture, leaning over your right thigh until you feel a stretch along the back of your right thigh.

You should not “collapse” over your thigh or try to touch your toes. The goal is to maintain perfect posture as you relax into the stretch.

When you feel the stretch, hold the position, breathing deeply and relaxing for 30 to 60 seconds. Switch sides and repeat. Perform the stretch two to three times per side.

Lying figure 4 stretch

Supine figure 4 stretch

Lie on your back on a mat, your knees bent, your feet flat on the floor. Lift your right foot from the floor and place the outside of your right ankle across your left thigh, allowing your right knee to open outward. Your legs should be forming an upside down “4” shape.

From here, lift your left foot from the floor, bending your hips to bring your legs closer to your torso. When your left hip and knee form 90-degree angles, use both hands to grasp the back of your left thigh.

Use your hands to help draw your legs even closer to your torso. When you feel a stretch in your left glute, stop and hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds.

Repeat on the opposite side and perform a total of two to three sets per side.

Up next, try these stretches for lower back pain.

Do you have to get your wisdom teeth removed?

Getting your wisdom teeth out is a rite of passage up there with learning to drive and going to prom but decidedly less fun.

Because wisdom teeth are often removed when preparing for orthodontic treatment such as braces, says New York-based dentist Greg Gelfand, many teenagers have wisdom teeth surgery in high school.

Having your wisdom teeth out when you’re younger is seen as preferable, because the roots are not yet fully formed. But despite the practice being extremely common—an American Journal of Public Health study claimed that five million Americans had wisdom teeth extracted each year—it’s still stressful, and may even be unnecessary.

We spoke with dentists to uncover everything you need to know about wisdom tooth removal, from why we need to have them removed (or not) to ways to prepare to make your wisdom tooth removal a little less terrifying and a little more pleasant.

What are wisdom teeth?

“Wisdom teeth are the third set of molars that adults generally will get when they are between 18-26 years old. The nickname wisdom teeth comes from the fact that they erupt into the mouth during the college years in the majority of adults,” says Christopher Norman, a dentist in Englewood, Colorado.

The third molars are the last teeth in your jawbone, explains Dr. Gelfand. “Due to their positioning in the mouth, wisdom teeth are often difficult to access and properly clean, causing cavities and/or gum issues to readily develop.”

Three large molars make up the teeth in the back of the mouth for most adults, for a total of 12—six on top and six on the bottom. The four wisdom teeth are the last ones to come in.

Because they’re the last teeth to grow, due to the “current morphologic features of the modern human jaw, we simply do not have room for them,” says Los Angeles-based dentist Rhonda Kalasho, calling them “vestigial.”

When do you get wisdom teeth?

Wisdom teeth usually erupt when a person is between 16 and 20, explains Marc Sclafani, a dentist at One Dental in New York City.

As mentioned, there is often not enough room for them when they start to come in.

“This can lead to impacted wisdom teeth that are trapped beneath the gum tissue by other teeth or bone,” says Dr. Sclafani.

Wisdom teeth that only partially emerge or come in crooked can also lead to crowding and disease, Dr. Sclafani adds.

“Since teeth removed before age 20 have less developed roots and fewer complications, the American Dental Association recommends that people between 16 and 19 have their wisdom teeth evaluated to see if they need to be removed.”

Impacted vs. non-impacted wisdom teeth

There are two types of wisdom teeth: those that grow in normally and those that are impacted and can’t grow in properly.

“If they are impacted, but not causing issues for the adjacent teeth, then the wisdom teeth do not have to be removed, and are monitored for any significant changes,” Dr. Gelfand says.

“In some instances, there is sufficient room in the jawbone for wisdom teeth to function like other teeth, but in other cases, there is either inadequate space, or the positioning starts to cause issues with the adjacent molar.”

Why do we need to have them removed?

There are a variety of reasons wisdom teeth might need to be removed.

Pain

“The number one reason why wisdom teeth are removed is because they are impacted in our jaws and will cause pain/infection/or other issues,” says Dr. Norman, who adds that active cavities, a localized abscess, and cheek biting are also common reasons.

Overcrowding

Geoffrey R. Morris, a dentist from Boca Raton, Florida, also points to bone structure as a possible factor. “Not everyone needs them removed, but the most common reason for removal is a lack of bone structure to accommodate them comfortably. For some people, if they aren’t removed it may cause crowding of your teeth or jaw discomfort,” he says.

Dr. Kalasho agrees that crowding tends to be a factor, which can lead to health issues.

“Since most of us do not have room for our wisdom teeth, they grow in sideways, or they grow in so far back that it is hard to clean, thus leading to some localized gum disease, cavities, and swelling in the area,” she says. “Typically, if patients are unable to keep wisdom teeth clean, leading to cavities and gum disease of the wisdom teeth, then we highly suggest removal.”

Bone health

“Sometimes when the wisdom teeth health is compromised, it starts to negatively affect the neighboring teeth, like a rotten apple in a pile of good apples, it starts to break down the teeth we do use,” Dr. Kalasho says.

Luckily, much like your appendix, wisdom teeth are body parts you don’t need.

Wisdom tooth removal isn’t always necessary

While dentists almost always used to insist on removing wisdom teeth, attitudes have changed. Now some dentists no longer believe in automatically scheduling surgery.

“There are varying schools of thought in terms of the risk/reward benefit of removing wisdom teeth that are not hurting,” says Dr. Norman.

“My philosophy with patients is that if I see an indication that a wisdom tooth is going to cause them an issue in the future, I recommend getting it removed while they are still young and healthy and complications can be kept to a minimum.”

For Dr. Kalasho, wisdom tooth removal isn’t necessarily a given.

“If you can keep your wisdom teeth clean, and they are not causing issues to the surrounding dentition, occlusion, or your general oral health, then they can stay there for as long as they like. Many times the wisdom teeth or so impacted and stuck so deep near important structures, that it is safer to keep them in, think out of sight, and out of mind.”

Similarly, Dr. Gelfand prefers to monitor patients. “If they are impacted, but not causing issues for the adjacent teeth, then the wisdom teeth do not have to be removed, and are instead monitored for any significant changes.”

Dentist Explaining Tooth X-Rays To A Patient.

Signs you may need your wisdom teeth removed

Whatever your age, you may be able to recognize signs in advance that it’s time to have your wisdom teeth removed.

“Some of the most common signs that a wisdom tooth will need to be removed are: pain or pressure in the areas behind the last visible tooth, swelling or tenderness in the gums and or jaws around the wisdom teeth, and chronic cheek biting from wisdom teeth that come in at odd angles,” says Dr. Norman.

Dr. Kalasho also warns about paying attention to factors like swelling and pervasive odors.

“Gum swelling around your wisdom tooth, a bad smell coming from the area of the wisdom tooth, pain in the region, immediate neighboring teeth having dental pain due to impaction of the wisdoms, and most commonly seen facial swelling limiting the range of opening the mouth.”

Dr. Morris points to other signs, including the shifting of the teeth, as well as joint and jaw pain or eruption of the teeth at unusual angles.

Notice people backing away when you talk? Bad breath can also be a sign, says Dr. Gelfand.

“Since proper cleaning of wisdom teeth is often difficult—for patients and dentists alike—food particles and buildup can accumulate in this far-reaching area of your mouth, which may lead to bad breath, cavities, and gum disease.”

How to prepare for wisdom tooth removal

Your dentist should give you pre-operative instructions; make sure you follow them closely, says Dr. Norman.

“These instructions can be unique to each doctor based on how they perform your surgery and should not be deviated from,” he says.

Avoid smoking—both before and after surgery—to limit the chances of dry socket. Dry socket, or alveolar osteitis, is a painful condition in which the blood clot that’s supposed to form in the spot where a tooth was removed doesn’t form or is dislodged, exposing the bone or nerves.

“Make sure you are not taking any medications that can lead to thinning of the blood like ibuprofen before surgery, you will want to stick to Tylenol. Keep a healthy and clean diet, and minimize your anxiety levels,” says Dr. Kalasho.

Dr. Morris recommends vitamins and a healthy diet, as well as proper hygiene, to give patients the best chance of a good surgery and easy recovery.

“The best recommendation is to make sure you are brushing and cleaning your mouth to the best of your abilities to decrease bacterial contact, as well as eating properly and taking vitamins to promote healing.”

Tips for a successful (and pain-free) recovery

After your wisdom tooth removal, you can expect recovery lasting between one to five days, says Dr. Kalasho, with days two and three usually being the worst for pain and swelling.

Here are some tips and tricks to make your recovery easier.

Pain relievers

“We always recommend staying ahead of the pain and taking the pain reliever prescribed to you by your doctor as soon as you get home, even if you do not feel pain yet,” says Dr. Kalasho, who says that bleeding, throbbing, and pressure is normal.

Use gauze to stop the bleeding

During the day, Dr. Kalasho advises rolling up a piece of gauze, placing it on the extraction site, and biting down to tamper bleeding. If bleeding before bed, try elevating the head with pillows covered by a towel. Be mindful that certain behaviors can exacerbate bleeding.

Brush gently

“Do not do anything that would cause you to lose the clot, like rinsing too vigorously, drinking through a straw, smoking, or eating something too sharp,” says Dr. Kalasho.

Dr. Sclafani agrees that you should go gentle on your mouth.

“Do not clean the teeth next to the healing tooth socket for the rest of the day,” he says. “You should, however, brush and floss your other teeth well and begin cleaning the teeth next to the healing tooth socket the next day.”

It’s also a good idea to brush your tongue. That will help get rid of bad breath and any lingering unpleasant tastes that can be common after teeth are pulled.

Rinse with salt

Dr. Sclafani recommends that after surgery his patients rinse with a solution of half a teaspoon of salt in an 8-ounce glass of warm water after meals. That will help keep food particles out of the extraction site.

“Try not to rinse your mouth vigorously, as this may loosen the blood clot,” he says. “Avoid using a mouthwash during this early healing period unless your dentist advises you to do so.”

Ice it

Swelling and discomfort are normal, Dr. Sclafani says. “To help reduce swelling and pain, try applying an ice bag or cold, moist cloth to your face. Your dentist may give you specific instructions on how long and how often to use a cold compress.”

Take it slow

Dr. Norman cautions his patients to follow post-operative instructions carefully, which involves easing back into normal behavior.

“Don’t rush back into things too quickly,” Dr. Norman says. “This can lead to some uncomfortable post-operative complications such as dry sockets and prolonged soreness in the surgical areas. Other than that, use the removal of your wisdom teeth as an opportunity to lay on the couch, relax, and catch up on some Netflix while your body is healing.”

What to eat after wisdom tooth removal

“This is my favorite part to go over with my patients!” says Dr. Norman. He recommends soft foods that don’t require heavy chewing.

“Examples of foods I suggest to my patients are: scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, yogurt, ice cream, fruit smoothies, protein drinks, and lots and lots of water. Your calorie content needs to stay the same while you are recovering, so high-calorie soft foods are the way to go!”

Dr. Sclafani also recommends soft foods such as scrambled eggs, as well as liquids. Equally important: what not to eat. “It is best to avoid hot foods and alcoholic beverages.”

Dr. Norman cautions his patients away from things like bagels, steak, and sandwiches that require lots of chewing. “I also tell my patients to stay away from anything that has small pieces that could get stuck in your surgery site: granola, potato chips, nuts, etc.”

Finally, stay away from hot or spicy foods, warns Dr. Gelfand. He also recommends avoiding small seeds and alcohol, which might impede wound healing. “Generally, food that requires a lot of chewing should be avoided since post-surgical swelling can make chewing especially difficult.”

Next, here are the cavity symptoms you shouldn’t ignore.

Learn to meditate

After a year of the Covid-19 pandemic, stressed is a state of being for most people.

There are healthy ways to deal with stress, and one at the top of the list is meditation. The best part: All you really need is a quiet place and an open attitude—it won’t cost you a penny.

That said, many people don’t relish the idea of sitting with their thoughts, and many would rather do almost anything else. People worry about being bored or doing it wrong.

What’s more, the idea of doing nothing—even just for a few minutes—seems counterintuitive in our frenetic culture. When a society values productivity—the more obvious, the better—there’s little space for a quiet daily practice of sitting still.

However, if you are meditating, you are actually doing something real, and it’s good for your health. Meditation  is an umbrella term for a set of techniques that encourage a heightened state of awareness and more focused attention on the present.

It can bring mental clarity and calm—the psychological equivalent of cleaning a messy house.

There’s also no one way to do it, which is a good thing. You can find what works for you. Maybe that’s repeating a mantra or focusing on mindfulness. Or maybe you use an app for guided meditation.

However you find your inner Zen, you’ll be joining millions of others who reap the benefits of meditation, including lower blood pressure levels, reduced pain, relieved stress, and better sleep. Largely due to this lengthy list of potential benefits, reported meditation use increased more than threefold from 2012 to 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

If you’re thinking, “I’ve tried meditation, and I hate it,” you’re not alone. A lot of first-time meditators feel like they’ve failed because their minds wandered  or they spent the session stressed about doing it correctly.

Not to worry. This guide will explain why you should meditate and how to meditate, especially if you’re a new to the practice.

Benefits of meditation

Unlike a lot of trendy health practices, meditation comes with proof of benefits. There’s a lengthy list of evidence-backed benefits of following a meditation practice.

“Multiple studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can reduce anxiety,” says Neda Gould, PhD, director of the mindfulness program at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “Anxiety and stress can trigger the brain’s fight-or-flight response and the release of stress hormones, but studies show that with meditation, this part of the brain turns off more readily.”

An online mindfulness course may reduce stress, anxiety, and Covid-19 fears too. Specifically, 80 percent of people in a recent Global Advances in Health and Medicine study reported decreased stress, 76 percent reported decreased anxiety, and 55 percent said they were less worried about Covid-19.

The American Heart Association notes that meditation can improve sleep, reduce inflammation, dim the brain’s response to pain, and help some of the symptoms of menopause.

The Society for Integrative Oncology recommends meditation as one way to reduce anxiety, mood changes, and pain and improve quality of life during cancer treatment.

Meditation can also lower blood pressure, and these benefits may still be in effect one year out, according to a study in PLOS One.

“A meditation practice—specifically mindfulness—can be particularly helpful, as the science shows it reduces stress, helps with insomnia, builds the immune system, and is helpful for working with anxiety and other challenging emotions, among other scientific findings,” says Diana Winston, director of mindfulness education at the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center in Los Angeles and the author of The Little Book of Being.

Meditation is generally considered safe for healthy people, but it’s not for everyone. “If it feels like it’s making you more anxious, it may not be the right approach for you,” she says.

How to start meditating

As with many good-for-you habits, getting started is the hardest part. But meditation doesn’t have to be difficult, says Gould.

Do you think meditation requires “thinking about nothing”? It doesn’t. We all have thoughts running through our heads, all the time.

During meditation, you focus your awareness on something specific—like your breathing. As thoughts and feelings arise,  you observe them without judgement or reaction. Instead, you gently refocus your attention. While it sounds both simple and hard, the good news is that you can get better at it with practice.

You also don’t need to stock up on a bunch of expensive equipment to make meditation happen. “All the tools you need are internally available,” Gould says. “It’s just learning how to use them.”

With most meditation practices, you’ll need:

  • A quiet place with limited distractions
  • A comfortable posture, whether you’re sitting, lying down, or walking
  • A place to focus your attention, such as a chosen word or mantra, an object, or your breath
  • An open attitude to let any distractions come and go naturally and without judgement

Ways to meditate

There are a lot of ways to meditate, and what works for your best friend may not work for you. That’s OK. Finding the right practice for you may take some trial and error.

Gould suggests reading about the various types of meditation to see which ones appeal to you. Give one a go and see how you like it. Not a fan? Try something else.

Here are just some of the more popular types:

Mindfulness meditation: Based on Buddhist teachings, this practice has you pay attention to your body and thoughts, often focusing on the breath.

Transcendental meditation: With this type of meditation, you repeat a personalized mantra—like a word, sound, or phrase—to quiet your thoughts.

Walking meditation: Meditation isn’t always about sitting and breathing; it can also incorporate movement. With walking, or movement, meditation, you focus on your body, often breathing in time with your footsteps.

Loving kindness: Also called metta meditation, this practice involves directing well-wishes to others and sitting with feelings of gratefulness and compassion.

Guided meditation: With this type of meditation a narrator talks you through the process. It often involves visualizations, which set the mood and tone.

Focused meditation: This practice involves concentrating on something around you and blocking out everything else.

Spiritual meditation: Practiced at home or in a place of worship, this meditation is similar to prayer. You can reflect on spiritual growth or look for a deeper connection in your faith.

Side view of senior woman with in-ear headphones sitting in lotus position at park

Learning meditation

In a world built on bustling and hustling, sitting alone with your thoughts can be intimidating. And many beginners don’t know where to start.

Consider taking an online class if you find a type of meditation that appeals to you, Gould says. Make sure you choose a reputable program. Not sure how to find a good one? Many universities offer courses.

Or try a guided meditation app. “There are free apps, such as Insight Timer, which offers 80,000 guided meditations,” Gould says. “Other apps have a free portion, but you can pay for premium services.”

A few popular meditation apps include:

Meditation for beginners

Once you have found a practice that appeals to you, start small.

“Begin with five to 10 minutes and build up from there to 20 minutes,” Gould says.

To help you lock in the habit, carve out a set time to practice. Some people prefer to meditate in the morning, before the day’s busyness pushes meditation to the bottom of their to-do list. If you’re not a morning person, waking up earlier to mediate probably won’t be a lasting strategy, Gould says.

“It’s nice to integrate meditation into a routine,” she says. “You take a shower, brush teeth, meditate, and go on with your day. If you tack it on with some things you do normally, it is more likely to stick.”

Try to find some space in your home where you won’t be disturbed, and practice along with an app or on your own, says Winston.

“You begin by noticing your breathing in your body, feeling the rising and falling of your chest or abdomen, or the in and out sensations at your nose,” says Winston. “When you noticed your attention has wandered away—which it will!—then gently redirect your attention back to your breathing.”

Keep doing this over and over. Ta-da! You’ve meditated.

How to meditate properly

Gould suggests another exercise to get a feel for mindfulness meditation. It involves pausing to notice your five senses in the moment, and it’s super easy to do:

  1. Name five things you see.
  2. Name four things you can touch.
  3. Name three things you can hear.
  4. Name two things you can smell.
  5. Name one that you can taste.

That’s it. That’s a type of meditation.

At its core, meditation involves being present in the here and now, and this exercise can help you do just that, she says. Anxiety is rooted in the future and filled with what-ifs, while depression often involves looking back in time. Staying present reduces anxiety and depression, she explains.

Your meditation practice may not stick at first. “It’s like a new exercise routine. It takes time,” Gould says. “Positive benefits won’t happen overnight—or in a week or two. It can take a month or two months to see any benefits.”

Ditch those high expectations. Be patient. And don’t worry about meditation mistakes like problems focusing.

“Over time, most people find it helps them feel calmer and more focused, and it does get easier,” Winston says. “The biggest sign that you’re ‘doing it right’ is how it impacts your life. Do you feel calmer in the day, less reactive? Is it positively impacting your relationships? Is it supporting you?”

If your answer is yes, you’re on the right path.

Next, try these mini meditations to ease stress and anxiety.

Why are my toenails thick?

You’re probably not staring at your feet every day, especially during frigid seasons when they go from one pair of socks to another. Which is why thickened nails can come as a surprise. Chances are, you noticed the change when attempting (and possibly struggling) to clip them. Thickened toenails are often just a fun part of aging, like getting skin tags, dark spots, and wrinkles.

But what if your toenails are thick and come with other issues, like a yellow tint and curve of the nail, or redness and swelling of the surrounding skin? Toenails (and fingernails, for that matter) can give clues to your overall health status. And thickening toenails might be trying to tell you something is amiss.

Here are some reasons why you might have thick toenails, the other signs that show up with them, and what you can do about them.

Onychomycosis

A toenail fungal infection, or onychomycosis, is one of the most common causes of thick toenails. A fungus can enter under or beside the toenail or through a break in the skin. It can occur when foot fungus, such as athlete’s foot, travels to the toenail. The infection may take hold when your feet spend too much time in sweaty and tight shoes or from walking barefoot in moist and warm areas, like locker rooms and pool decks.

What happens to the toenail?

The toenail becomes thick and discolored. Depending on the type of fungus, it could have patchy white spots, a yellowish tint, or a yellowish-brown color. The nail may become brittle and lift from the nail bed. It’s often painful.

Treatment

Toenail fungus usually requires medical attention. Typically, you’ll treat toenail fungus by applying a prescription-strength antifungal polish to the toenail and taking prescription antifungal pills. If medication doesn’t work, your doctor may need to remove part or all of your toenail.

Psoriasis

Nail psoriasis is a common inflammatory condition, and it occurs in 80 to 90 percent of people with plaque psoriasis. “Nail psoriasis often causes pain and impacts daily activities, and patients have aesthetic concerns,” says Shari Lipner, MD, associate professor of clinical dermatology at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City.

What happens to the toenail?

Toenails will appear thick, with a yellowish discoloration and tiny indentations called pits. The nail may also lift from the nail bed.

Treatment

There are no effective over-the-counter treatments for nail psoriasis—creams and ointments can’t penetrate the nail. “Often patients will need injections or oral medications,” says Dr. Lipner. These might include prescription corticosteroids, injections of corticosteroids, certain retinoid creams applied to the nail, or psoriasis medication. It’s also a good idea to keep the nails short and avoid trauma to the nails.

Paronychia

Paronychia is a tender infection or inflammation that appears around the nail fold base (the area near the cuticle). It may happen when bacteria or fungus invade the skin. Other risk factors are poor blood flow to the toes, diabetes, and having a compromised immune system.

What happens to the toenail?

Redness and inflammation will appear around the base of the toenail, and it’s often tender to the touch. Tiny, pus-filled pockets might occur under the cuticle. The toenail (and other nails) can become thick, distorted, and ridged as they grow.

Treatment

A painful infection with pus warrants a visit to the doctor. You’ll likely receive a prescription for an antifungal cream to use a couple of times a day for a few months. If paronychia is severe, your doctor may also prescribe an antifungal pill to tame the infection faster.

Onychogryphosis

This mouthful of a medical term is commonly referred to as ram’s horn nails because the nails thicken and become curvy. (Like the horns of a ram—hence the name.) “Onychogryphosis is an underlying disorder of the nail plate growth,” says dermatologist Pooja Sodha, MD, director of cosmetic dermatology at George Washington Medical Faculty Associates in Washington, D.C.

It usually targets the big toes. Older adults and people with poor oral care are more prone to Ram’s horns nails. It can also run in families. People with diabetes and circulation problems may have an increased risk of ram’s horn nails.

What happens to the toenail?

You’ll notice significant thickening of the nail, with an opaque, yellow-brown discoloration. You won’t wake up with a gnarly ram’s horn overnight. Curled “horn” nails only happen if the condition is left untreated for a significant period of time.

Treatment

Ram’s horns can be quite painful and should be diagnosed and treated early. “Patients may develop secondary nail infections and onychomycosis [a toenail infection], and it may be associated with painful ingrown toenails,” says Dr. Sodha. Initial treatment focuses on reducing the thickening and curvy nail growth.

A podiatrist or dermatologist will probably use clippers, burs, and drills, along with products like over-the-counter urea cream to soften the nail. Next, a doctor will address the underlying cause, such as psoriasis or a toenail infection, and treat it.

Woman Holding Painful Toenail

Repeated trauma and injury

“Chronic trauma to the nails from running, sports, or poorly fitting shoes often results in thicker toenails over time,” says Dr. Lipner. The sport itself doesn’t cause the thickening; repeated rubbing and bumping of the toenail against the inside of your shoes does. Stubbing your toe or dropping a heavy object onto it can also contribute to a thickened toenail.

What happens to the toenail?

Besides getting thicker, it hurts—at least immediately after an injury. Repeated trauma, like running, might not hurt at all. The nail becomes discolored, usually black and blue. A blood blister may form under the nail. Both scenarios can cause the nail to lift and separate from the nail bed.

Treatment

Prevention is the best way to avoid thick toenails from trauma and injury. And while you can’t prevent an injury from accidentally happening to your toenail, you can ward off repeated trauma by wearing properly fitted shoes. A professional fitting may in order, especially if you are a new runner. Be sure to wear socks that wick away moisture, and use foot powder for sweating. Both can help prevent fungal infections, an entirely different cause of thick toenails.

It may be tempting to pull off a nail that is lifting from the nail bed—but resist the urge. Keep the nail trimmed, wear a toe protector for comfort and let the nail fall off naturally. If a blood blister appears under the nail, don’t pop it. Doing so could cause more damage or lead to infection. Call your doctor to treat it.

Aging

Toenails don’t always get thicker as we age. They may actually get thinner or remain the same, Dr. Sodha says. If changes occur, it’s likely due to a few things: reduced blood flow to the toes, nail care habits such as filing or buffing, trauma, or improperly fitting footwear.

Slightly thicker toenails don’t pose any immediate risks to your health, but they are harder to trim. And when toenails are harder to trim, you might accidentally cut them too short or pierce the skin, leaving it vulnerable to infection or fungus. (That’s extra dangerous if you have diabetes.) Include the nail-care basics below in your ongoing toenail-care routine.

How to prevent thicker toenails

While cutting your toenails seems pretty basic, there’s more to it than you might think. To help keep your toenails in good shape, follow the steps below to make it easier to cut thicker toenails and help prevent fungus and ingrown toenails.

Soften the nails

If possible, trim your nails after a shower or bath. Or soak them a few minutes in lukewarm water first. You can also soften them the night before you clip them. Before bed, apply Vaseline, Eucerin, or Aquaphor to your feet. Cover them with socks, get some shut-eye, and wake up with softer nails.

Use proper tools

Always use nail clippers for fingernails and toenail clippers for toenails. Disinfect clippers monthly (or after someone else used them). Soak a small scrub brush in a bowl of 70 to 90 percent rubbing alcohol for about five minutes. Use the brush to scrub the clippers, then rinse in hot water. Be sure the clippers are completely dry before using or storing them.

Cut straight across

Don’t try to taper the side of your nails by cutting sharp angles. Doing so encourages the toenail to grow into the skin, inviting a painful ingrown toenail.

Leave your cuticles alone

Cuticles serve an important purpose in protecting the nail root from bacteria and germs. Don’t cut or push them back.

Moisturize

Moisturize after trimming. Apply a thick moisturizer, such as Eucerin or Aquaphor, daily or after bathing.

Next, learn about common foot problems and podiatrists’ solutions.

Understanding stretching

There’s a lot of incorrect (and downright confusing) information about stretching out there. It can leave you with more questions than answers: Is ballistic stretching bad? What’s the difference between active stretching and dynamic stretching—or are they the same thing? It’s understandable if you’re scratching your head.

So, what’s an exerciser to do? Start by determining what you hope to get out of a stretching session. Then learn the different types of stretching.

Consider this your definitive guide to stretching. Use it to find the best types of stretching for your specific needs.

Why should you stretch?

Before you can fully understand the types of stretching, you need to know about the actual benefits of stretching. You might stretch as a part of an exercise routine to help prevent injury, reduce post-workout soreness, and “loosen up.” You may want to improve your flexibility—finally do that split or touch your toes. You might have low back pain and stretch in an attempt to relieve it. Or you may want to get back to moving with greater ease.

Believe it or not, stretching isn’t a fix for all of these goals, although it can help in certain circumstances. When, where, and how stretching might benefit you depends on whether you’re talking about mobility, flexibility, or range of motion. Spoiler alert: they’re not the same thing.

Mobility

Mobility, simply put, is your ability to move freely. Mobility differs from person to person and is affected by factors like your age, how healthy you are, and if you have an injury. Mobility can also refer to overall movement, like mobility while walking. It can refer to a specific movement pattern, like doing a squat. Or can refer to the mobility of a specific joint, like the right elbow or left knee.

To enjoy a high quality of life, maintaining mobility should be a major and ongoing goal. Exercise programs, including stretching, can play a role in maintaining proper mobility and enhancing or regaining mobility when it’s appropriate. Flexibility may play a role in mobility, but it’s not the same thing.

Flexibility

Flexibility refers to the range of motion at a specific joint. This differs from person to person, and while people often refer to flexibility in a way that implies more is better, that’s not always the case. A given joint can be overly flexible or have limited flexibility based on factors like age, gender, bone shape and position, medical conditions, injuries, muscle and fat amounts, and even hormones.

The average person doesn’t need to become overly flexible. While extreme flexibility may be fun for nailing the perfect Instagram-worthy yoga pose, being too flexible for your specific day-to-day movement needs may actually make you more prone to injury.

The Achilles’ heel of flexibility is instability. When a joint is overly flexible, it becomes less stable, and that makes it more likely to move in a way it’s not supposed to. Instead of striving for contortionist-level flexibility, aim to attain or maintain proper range of motion at a given joint for your specific body and needs.

Range of motion

Range of motion is essentially how the movement of a joint is measured. For instance, if you start a biceps curl with your arm fully extended, you should be able to flex your elbow, drawing the dumbbell past the 90-degree angle and closer to your shoulder. That’s a full range of motion.

Everyone has a different range: In the example above, how far you curl depends on factors like biceps size (bigger muscles make it harder to bring the dumbbell closer to your shoulder), elbow injury, and if you have other connective tissue or joint issues.

If your range of motion is limited, it means the joint isn’t moving to the expected level. In that case, your goal for stretching may be increasing the range of motion of the joint.

The main types of stretching

Done correctly, stretching can help improve your range of motion for a specific joint. If you increase your range of motion, you’ll have increased flexibility, and that ultimately leads to better mobility at that joint. Keep in mind that flexibility is joint-specific. Just because you’re very flexible at one joint does not mean you’re flexible at another.

There are a variety of ways you can stretch, which ultimately fall into four accepted categories of stretching, as defined by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM):

  • Static stretching (done actively or passively)
  • Dynamic stretching (often referred to as a dynamic warm-up or cooldown)
  • Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching
  • Ballistic stretching

One note to the list above: ballistic stretching has fallen out of popularity for a variety of reasons and isn’t widely promoted as a means to improve flexibility, even by the ACSM. So while it is a form of stretching, it’s not one most people should be engaging in on a regular basis.

Fitness is within everybody's reach

Different stretching protocols

There are other types of stretching beyond the big four, and some stretching exercises combine types of stretches. For instance, yoga practices often combine static and dynamic stretching techniques to enhance range of motion, flexibility, and overall mobility. Likewise, physical therapists and coaches regularly combine static, PNF, and active stretching when working with clients.

(Try this yoga sun salutation as a dynamic warm-up)

Here’s what to know about the four main types of stretching.

Static stretching

Generally, when you think of a classic stretching routine, you’re thinking of a static stretch. These stretches are done without moving your muscles through a full range of motion as part of the exercise. Rather, you’re moving to the end of your range of motion and holding the position. Static stretches can be done passively, where you relax your muscles as you perform the stretch, or actively, where you contract your muscle groups as you stretch.

Unless you’re stretching with a partner, you’ll typically do passive static stretches. For instance, when bending forward to touch your toes, you’ll lean forward from your waist and hang, relaxing into the stretch. You might hold the position without moving for 10 to 60 seconds, repeating the stretch several times.

But stretching doesn’t have to be a solo exercise. And static stretching is a great partner activity. An active form of partner stretching might be a lying hamstring stretch.

How to do a lying hamstring stretch

  1. Lie on your back on the ground. With the help of your partner, lift one leg from the ground.
  2. With your partner’s help, bring your leg closer to your torso. Keep your knee fully extended.
  3. Stop when you feel a stretch along the back of your thigh.
  4. Passive stretch: Relax your muscles as your partner stretches you.
  5. Active stretch: Contract your muscles and press against your partner’s resistance, as if to lower your leg back to the floor. (Your leg should remain static, not moving, however.)
  6. After 10 to 20 seconds, your partner will release the resistance. Pause for a break, then repeat the stretch.

Whenever you use muscle contraction during a stretch (either contracting the muscle you’re stretching or contracting its opposing muscle) without moving the muscles being stretched, you’re engaging in a form of active static stretching.

(Try these easy static stretches.)

PNF stretching

PNF is a specific type of stretching that’s most frequently (and appropriately) used by trained professionals in athletic or therapy settings. In a nutshell, PNF stretching is a way to “trick” the body’s stretch reflex into allowing a deeper stretch. It uses a combination of passive static stretching and active static stretching facilitated by a partner in a very specific manner.

Think about it: when you move into a stretch, you know when you’ve hit the end of your natural range of motion because your body says, “Nope, can’t go any further!” You feel a tightness that can edge into pain if you push yourself past the spot you feel comfortable. This stretch reflex is protective and important to help prevent injury. But it can also be manipulated to increase range of motion. PNF stretching is a type of manipulation of this stretch reflex.

The thing to remember about PNF stretching is that it’s crucial to work with a trained professional. This type of stretching should be reserved for coaching or therapy sessions with someone who knows the ropes and won’t push you to the point of injury.

“We perform PNF stretching with our patients following an injury,” says Allen Conrad, a chiropractor in North Wales, Pennslyvania. “PNF stretches require advanced training, but we have found that PNF stretching helps the recovery time of injured muscles and that patients can return to their pre-injury state faster with this type of stretching treatment.”

How to do PNF stretching

During PNF stretching, a (trained) partner takes you to the end of your natural range of motion at a joint. At that point, you’ll contract your muscles and press against your partner’s hold—that’s an active static stretch—for a predetermined period of time, usually at least five seconds. You then release the contraction.

Because you’ve “tired out” the muscle fibers that engage in the natural stretch reflex, your muscles can be temporarily pushed beyond your initial range of motion to deepen the stretch. Your partner will stretch you again, this time in a deeper stretch. You’ll relax into the stretch this time—that’s a passive static stretch—usually for at least 10 to 30 seconds.

Dynamic stretching

Dynamic stretching is one of the most widely accepted and preferred forms of stretching, especially when included as part of a warm-up to a workout routine. Dynamic stretching involves moving a joint through a full range of motion for a minute or two.

You’ll touch the end of your range of motion but won’t push past the point of comfort. During a dynamic stretch, the muscles surrounding the joint are engaged, increasing blood flow to the area while helping prepare the muscles and joints for more vigorous exercise.

“Stretches should mimic the activity or sport you’re about to perform,” says Michelle Botsford, a physical therapist and strength and conditioning coach practicing in Portland, Oregon. “For example, prior to pitching, a baseball player would want to move through large-amplitude shoulder movements, like arm circles. I typically prescribe four to five stretches to be performed for one to two minutes each.”

It’s an appropriate form of stretching for people of all ages and fitness levels because it’s easily modified to an individual’s personal range of motion limitations.

It’s particularly helpful for athletes, who often have to achieve a larger range of motion while under more significant joint and soft tissue stress. “This makes it important for those structures to be primed for movement,” Botsford says.

Another performance-related benefit: this form of stretching isn’t associated with power or strength deficits that can occur following static stretching. Simply put, if you do static stretching before a competition, it may negatively affect your performance. That won’t happen if you warm up with dynamic stretching.

Ballistic stretching

Fitness and health professionals aren’t so keen on ballistic stretching, and the ACSM doesn’t recommend it anymore. Not only does it appear to be less effective than other forms of stretching, but it also may lead to more injuries.

Still curious? Ballistic stretching uses the body’s momentum to bounce into a deeper stretch. For instance, if you can’t touch your toes, you might bend forward and then bounce your torso up and down, trying to force your hands closer to your toes.

The trouble with this is you’re neither relaxing into a stretch nor warming up your surrounding muscle groups to allow for a gradual increase in range of motion. At the same time, you’re moving your body with force in an uncontrolled fashion, which could lead you to push past your stretch reflex in a way that results in a muscle pull or other injury.

Some coaches do continue to use ballistic stretching in controlled settings and with athletes whose sports demand more force and power. But for the general public, it’s best avoided.

(Try these simple stretches.)

How and when to stretch

The type of stretch you do, and when you do it, depends on your goals. For instance:

Before a workout or athletic event: According to Dr. Conrad and Botsford, it’s best to engage in dynamic stretching before a workout, using this type of routine as a part of a warm-up.

If you’re hoping to increase range of motion: Go with static stretching, performing it after a workout or as a stand-alone stretching routine.

For a “comfort stretch”: Static stretching is great as a general stretch first thing in the morning or during a midday lunch break. This isn’t so much to encourage an increased range of motion as to help release tightness, make posture corrections, and increase blood flow temporarily. Bonus: even simple stretching can help relieve stress.

Programs like yoga, barre classes, and Pilates combine dynamic and static stretches in a way that can increase range of motion and strength. Plus, they’re often designed to hit all the major joints and muscle groups. These are great programs to perform daily, even if it’s just for 10 or 20 minutes.

Remember, maintaining an appropriate range of motion at all of your major joints should be a lifelong goal. When range of motion becomes limited, free movement and mobility become compromised, which makes daily living more challenging. Including stretching, whether dynamic or static, as a part of your weekly routine can help you maintain the type of mobility that will allow you to remain active, healthy, and independent as you age.

Matcha smoothie 101

Coffee lovers swear by their favorite caffeinated beverage, but there’s another drink with just as much fervor behind it: matcha.

Although matcha is traditionally sipped as a tea, these days, people add the earthy green powder to just about everything. Yes, matcha lattes are probably the most popular way to get it, but you’ll also find matcha in protein bars, pancakes, and more.

One delicious way to incorporate matcha into your diet is by blending it into a smoothie. Learn whether matcha is a healthy choice, then try my recipe for my favorite matcha smoothie.

What exactly is matcha?

Matcha is a traditional Japanese preparation of green tea that’s been used for centuries for ceremonial and medicinal purposes. Unlike regular green tea, which uses loose dried tea leaves, matcha is a mixture of finely ground green tea leaves and hot water. It creates a bright green tea with lots of nutrients.

In fact, matcha is more nutrient dense than regular green tea because you drink the leaves themselves (albeit in powdered form). This provides the full spectrum of nutrients. With green tea, you’re steeping tea leaves in water then discarding them.

(Find out what happens when you drink tea daily.)

Is matcha worth trying?

Food trends come and go, and some of them are healthier than others, so I’m always skeptical about investing time and money into adding so-called superfoods into my diet. But matcha is worth the hype.

It’s a nutrient-dense alternative to your average caffeinated beverage because it has so many antioxidants. It’s packed with nutrients and has been linked to a host of health benefits.

And it’s versatile. It pairs well with milk or milk alternatives, such as almond, coconut, or oat milks. You can add it to various recipes, like baked goods, pancakes, and smoothies. (It makes for an A-plus addition to your favorite green smoothie recipe.)

Plus, it just tastes delicious. Good-quality matcha has an earthy and grassy flavor, with no bitterness.

Matcha Smoothie

Antioxidant benefits of matcha

Matcha is a nutrient powerhouse, and it’s jam-packed with antioxidants that help protect our health.

Green tea, like matcha, is high in a group of antioxidants called catechins, which help neutralize harmful molecules called free radicals—they cause inflammation in the body. When you’re low on antioxidants and free radicals begin to accumulate, you can suffer oxidative stress, raising your risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.

Matcha is especially high in epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a catechin that experts believe has several health benefits, including weight loss and heart health.

While more research needs to be done to determine the exact health benefits of EGCG, a review study in Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy found that EGCG protects against cardiovascular disease in a few ways, including reducing arterial plaque formation, abnormal heart enlargement, and heart attack risk.

Other nutrition benefits of matcha

Although results are mixed, some studies have found that green tea is beneficial for weight loss. One review of 11 studies, published in the International Journal of Obesity, found that the EGCG in green tea has a positive effect on weight loss and weight management.

Another study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicates that green tea may reduce appetite, interfere with fat absorption, and increase metabolism, all of which are beneficial for weight loss.

Research also suggests green tea may decrease the rates of some forms of cancer and liver disease, according to the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. Plus, research in the journal Molecules found that catechins in green tea may be good for brain health.

Matcha also contains L-theanine, a compound thought to have a calming, relaxing effect, sans drowsiness. Note that matcha has about 64 mg of caffeine per cup. In comparison, a cup of green tea has about 18 mg of caffeine, and a cup of brewed coffee has 96 mg.

More research is necessary to determine exactly how beneficial matcha is for our health, but the current literature is promising for both the body and the mind.

How to add matcha to smoothies

Now that you know why matcha is worth adding to your diet, let’s talk about the best way to get more of this superfood.

Want to try it as a tea? Mix one teaspoon of matcha powder with hot water. A sifter and bamboo matcha whisk are traditionally used to help break up any clumps that may form when mixing the powder and water together.

You can skip the sift-and-whisk step when you add matcha to smoothies. To prevent clumps in your smoothie, I recommend adding the matcha powder to your blender directly after adding your liquid base (my go-to is almond milk).

The key to a perfect matcha smoothie is balancing the grassy, earthy flavor of matcha with creamy, sweet ingredients like bananas and milk or milk alternatives.

Don’t forget that matcha contains caffeine. If caffeine keeps you up at night, make yours a breakfast smoothie.

Green Matcha Collagen Smoothie

Green Matcha Collagen Smoothie Infographic02

This green matcha smoothie not only packs an antioxidant punch from the matcha, but it also includes vitamins K and A, and manganese, folate, and potassium from the spinach and banana.

You’re also getting a slight energy boost from the caffeine in matcha, making it a great replacement for your morning cup of coffee.

The collagen gives this smoothie a protein boost and may help support healthy hair, skin, and nails. It’s the perfect nutrient-dense drink to start your day. The best part? It only takes a few minutes to make. Check out the recipe below.

Serves 1

Ingredients:

1 cup unsweetened milk of your choice, such as almond or coconut

1 teaspoon matcha powder

2 scoops collagen protein powder

3 handfuls fresh spinach

1/2 cup frozen pineapple chunks

1/2 banana

Instructions:

Add the milk to a blender. Top with matcha powder. Add the rest of the ingredients. Blend. Add more milk as needed. Enjoy!