And another thing: Sit less throughout the day. A 2012 study published in the journal Diabetologia revealed that the more sedentary you are, the more you increase your risk of heart disease (as well as diabetes). “When we sit for long periods, enzymes in the postural muscles change. This affects how the body metabolizes glucose and lipids, which leads to higher levels of bad cholesterol and glucose, among other things,” says Emma Wilmot, Ph.D., of the University of Leicester, in England, the lead researcher of the study. Avoid sitting for more than two hours at a stretch. To cut down on sitting time, stand during coffee breaks; set a timer to go off every hour, then get up and move around for a few minutes; or switch to a height-adjustable desk and stand periodically as you work.
Much like its nut butter cousins, tahini packs in some solid nutrition, including about 5 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber (as well as vitamins and minerals) per 2 tablespoon serving. It’s made from ground, hulled sesame seeds, so it may be a nut butter option for people who are allergic to tree nuts and peanuts (though sesame seed allergies are also common).
Soft drinks, fruit juice, muffins, white rice and white bread are technically low in fat, for example, but the low-fat group was told to avoid those things and eat foods like brown rice, barley, steel-cut oats, lentils, lean meats, low-fat dairy products, quinoa, fresh fruit and legumes. The low-carb group was trained to choose nutritious foods like olive oil, salmon, avocados, hard cheeses, vegetables, nut butters, nuts and seeds, and grass-fed and pasture-raised animal foods.
Ranging from just-juice to just-tea cleanses, these typically short-term plans can be dangerous. “Detoxes and cleanses are usually low in calories, protein, and fiber, all nutrients that our bodies need to function,” says Alissa Rumsey, RD, who is in private practice in New York City. “These plans leave you feeling hungry and cranky, causing a rebound food binge once you stop the detox.”
Focus on exercise: The most compelling studies favor physical activity for mental acuity, says Gary W. Small, M.D., the director of the UCLA Longevity Center and a coauthor of The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program ($14, amazon.com). A study from the Annals of Internal Medicine found that people who were fitter at midlife had a 36 percent lower risk of developing dementia later in life than did their less-fit peers. “When people exercise, the areas that control memory, thinking, and attention increase in the brain,” says Small. “Regular exercisers also have less of the abnormal protein deposits in the brain that have been linked to Alzheimer’s.” That’s not to say that diet has no impact, says Small: “It’s just that the effects of exercise are more pronounced based on the evidence we have now.” Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (such as fish, nuts, and flaxseed) and antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables (like strawberries and spinach) have been shown to improve brain health, while refined sugars and processed foods can have the opposite effect.
Take action: All types of exercise can make you feel better about yourself, but yoga is one of the best for women with low libido, says Lori Brotto, an associate professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver. Brotto, who conducts research on women’s sexual health and counsels women who struggle with such issues as low sexual desire and loss of arousal, says that studies have found that yoga helps to decrease stress and anxiety, induces a state of relaxation, and helps women to remain focused—all of which can improve sexual health. She adds that strength training can also help tone perceived trouble spots and help women “feel more comfortable about being touched.”
Protein is needed to help keep your body growing, maintained, and repaired. For example, the University of Rochester Medical Center reports that red blood cells die after about 120 days. Protein is also essential for building and repairing muscles, helping you enjoy the benefits of your workout. It can be a source of energy when carbohydrates are in short supply, but it’s not a major source of fuel during exercise you’re well-fed.