June is here, which mean summer has officially begun. This issue of Start Healthy is full of ideas to help you have a great season: get tips for improving your home’s water quality, strategies to avoid overspending on vacation, a closer look at the health benefits of having pets, and a deep dive into the importance of core strength.
From running the dishwasher to washing your face in the morning, water plays a significant role in our everyday lives. So when our home's water supply becomes contaminated by pollutants like lead and sulfur, it can lead to a whole host of problems. Check out the enclosed article for tips on testing the quality of your water and the steps you can take to improve it.
Summer is a great time to travel to new destinations and enjoy the beautiful weather found across the country. Unfortunately, doing so can come at a high cost. If you're planning a vacation this year, this issue's money-saving tips can help you have a great time without breaking the bank.
Pets often become beloved members of our families, working their way into our homes and hearts. But did you know they can also significantly benefit your physical and mental health? You’re not going to want to miss the closer look the article inside offers at the wonderful impact our animal companions can make.
You may not realize it, but your core muscles—including your abdomen, lower back, pelvis, and diaphragm—contribute to your posture, balance, and overall athleticism. The exercises in this issue can help you strengthen these muscles and improve your day-to-day life.
Here’s to a happy, healthy June! As always, it’s a pleasure to send you this magazine.
There’s almost nothing as good for your body as a serving of fresh, cool water—that is, assuming the water is clean. Though Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972 to protect natural waterways and invest resources to purify our drinking water, pollutants like lead and sulfur can still be found in water supplies across the nation. Even small quantities can stain your appliances, damage your plumbing, and expose you to numerous health risks.
Thankfully, there are several feasible solutions to help improve your home’s water quality—and they’re right at your fingertips.
Think about the origins of the water that comes out of your faucets. According to the EPA, most Americans receive water from one of the 150,000 public water supply systems across the nation, while the remaining 10 percent draw water from private wells.
Well water is sourced directly from natural underground aquifers, or permeable layers of rock that hold fresh water, and then pumped into tanks. The essential missing steps from this process, though, are testing and filtering. Underground aquifers may sound pure and clean, but contaminants in the earth like pesticides and iron may run off into the water—making it both unsafe for human drinking and damaging to pipes and appliances. If you source your water from a well, the EPA suggests testing it once a year to identify any chemicals that could put your home and health at risk.
However, public water supplies aren’t risk-free either—they can also contain chemicals, heavy metals, and even plastics. For example, it’s completely legal, not to mention common, for hard water—so named because of hard minerals like magnesium and calcium floating in it—to flow from your tap. When hard water dries on surfaces, it leaves behind crusty, resilient mineral deposits that can affect appliances like water heaters and stain fixtures like bathtubs and refrigerators. Many people also believe hard water has an unpleasant taste and odor, and some experience dry or itchy skin after washing in it.
Set aside time to identify any potential pollutants in your water supply. The best way to do so is by enlisting a state-certified laboratory to test a sample of your water. To find resources in your area, call the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791 or go to the EPA’s website.
You can also perform an at-home water quality assessment for convenient, albeit less accurate, results. Basic options like this Total Water Analysis Test Kit include test strips that can identify contaminants such as lead and bacteria for around $20. Instant results provide a snapshot of your current water quality, which can help you determine the steps you need to take next.
Water-purification technology is working hard to keep up with growing environmental concerns, and more rigorous and effective treatment options exist than ever before. Best of all, it’s easy to find one that suits your budget and situation.
An affordable yet effective solution, these pitchers filter water taken directly from your faucet and dispense cleaner drinking water. Brands and models of these pitchers range pretty drastically in price as well as in efficacy. For example, this Clearly Filtered Water Pitcher with Affinity Filtration Technology isn’t as cheap as Brita or PUR alternatives, but its three-stage filtration technology offers broader results, removing particulates like microplastics and lead that inexpensive filtration may not. The only other downside to using a filtration pitcher: you must replace the filter after every hundred or so gallons.
To remove minerals like calcium and iron from your water and prolong the life of your plumbing, install a water-softener system. Look for a high-grain softener like this Aquasure system, which can filter out a large amount of hard mineral compounds. Connect the system to your incoming water supply—by your water heater, for example—or hire a local water-treatment specialist to install it for you.
These filters are probably the most comprehensive at-home solution to water-quality concerns. Reverse-osmosis water filters separate compounds at a molecular level to remove tiny particulate pollutants from water—from PFAS (man-made “forever chemicals”) to arsenic to bacteria. Homeowners who access well water need this level of filtration to enjoy safe, clean drinking water, but it can alleviate concerns about subpar public tap water as well. Consider this point-of-use APEC RO system that sits directly under your kitchen sink, or choose a whole-house model to filter your incoming water.
Even if you’re confident in your home’s current water quality, investing in treatment products is a sensible safety measure. Many of these solutions are affordable, and products like water softeners and reverse-osmosis tanks may be attractive features to homebuyers when you sell your house. There’s no drawback to investing in water-treatment technology; if anything, it will bolster your peace of mind for your health and your family’s health.
Ah, vacation! It’s a time to let loose, have fun, and leave your worries behind. But you don’t want to be too footloose and fancy-free during your jaunt, lest it cause financial headaches when you return home. Follow these tips to get the rest and relaxation you need without breaking the bank.
The first step to having a carefree trip is creating a budget you can afford. There are two key factors to consider when doing so—how much you can save for it and the cost of the trip itself. One way to assess the first is to calculate how much money you’ll be able to set aside in each of the months leading up to your vacation to pay for it. You can also review your current savings to decide how much you want to allocate to your trip. The earlier you start planning, the more time you’ll have to build your funds, increasing your flexibility when making your plans.
As for vacation expenses, it should be easy to determine how much you’ll spend on lodging and travel since you can review these costs beforehand. If you’re driving, try a gas cost calculator like the one from Omni Calculator to compute your fuel costs. It might be trickier to estimate what you’ll spend on things like food, sightseeing, and souvenirs. If you put together an itinerary, however, you can get a ballpark figure for these expenses. You could use an app like TripCase or simply estimate what you’ll pay by looking online for local restaurant menu prices and for the cost of tours, entertainment, and other activities. To keep your spending within reason, try to overestimate how much you’ll need by just a little, which will create extra wiggle room in your budget. Also, consider setting a limit on how much you will spend per day or during your entire trip.
Certain times of the year and destinations are more expensive than others, so carefully select where and when to travel. For example, if you want to go to Walt Disney World, it’ll be more expensive to visit on the Fourth of July than in September after the school year starts. Or if you’re open to where to travel for the holiday, you could save by picking a destination such as Philadelphia, where you can visit historic sites like Independence Hall and watch fireworks for free over the Delaware River.
There are other ways timing and location could affect your costs as well. For instance, you could skip subway or cab fares if you reserve a room downtown, but if you want to leave your car at the hotel, you might have to pay parking fees. Your hotel room might cost less on weekdays than on weekends too.
If you will be on vacation for a few weeks, you may be able to suspend some of the services you normally pay for, such as your gym membership or your streaming, home-cleaning, or lawn-mowing service. Then you can put that money toward your trip and lower its impact on your wallet. You could also set your thermostat so your HVAC system will work less while you’re away to save some cash.
Setting ground rules is one way to keep your spending in check. For instance, if your accommodations include a kitchen, you could plan to make your own simple breakfasts and lunches, allowing you to spend more on dinners. You could also carry a refillable water bottle and pack snacks so you’ll be less tempted to buy pricier ones during your travels.
Your spending can add up quickly when you go souvenir shopping. If you have fun buying vacation trinkets, then make room in your budget for one or two, and target useful ones, such as a bottle of wine or handmade soap from local vendors. You could also commemorate your vacation without opening your wallet by snapping photos, collecting pretty stones or shells, or sketching the places you visit.
Many hotels and airlines offer benefits for their frequent travelers, so if you typically use a particular brand when you travel, such as Hilton or Marriott hotels or Delta or United airlines, join its rewards program. That way you’ll accumulate points you can use on future trips to bring down your costs. You can even get extras and upgrades, such as free breakfasts or first-class accommodations. Many food establishments, such as Starbucks, Red Robin, and Chipotle, also have rewards programs that can help you reduce your eating expenses. And consider using a rewards credit card to earn cash back on purchases before, during, and after your trip, no matter what you buy.
It’s important that you enjoy your vacation, so if there’s something you really want to see or do, don’t automatically forgo it because of cost. Instead, allocate money for it and cut back elsewhere, such as on sightseeing. You could use a map app to tour the locale on foot or enjoy admission-free experiences like going on a hike or visiting a museum or local market. The less you spend on your daily activities, the more you can splurge on the experiences you’re most excited about.
With enough preparation and budgeting, you can both fully enjoy and happily remember your next vacation—without burning a hole in your wallet.
According to the American Pet Products Association, more than 90.5 million households across the country—roughly 70 percent of all households—have a pet. From cats to dogs to fish to hamsters, these wonderful creatures often become vital members of our families. We create bonds with them, showing them affection and love just as they do for us. And this attachment isn’t superficial: it actually provides many physical and mental benefits for both you and your animal friend. To help you connect deeper with and take better care of your pet, take a closer look at this mutually beneficial relationship.
There’s nothing quite like coming home after a long day of work and being greeted at the door by your pet. The joy on their face is often undeniable, just as it may be on yours. Phil Tedeschi, cofounder of the Institute for Human-Animal Connection (IHAC), says this type of companionship can go a long way toward fighting loneliness and isolation by providing pet owners with much-needed social support. That’s because interactions with your pet increase the oxytocin levels in your body while decreasing the levels of cortisol and lowering your blood pressure, all of which improve your physical and psychological health. The decrease in cortisol, for example, can help lower stress levels and promote better heart health, thus improving your long-term well-being.
As for oxytocin, Tedeschi explains that while this hormone is generally understood to improve the bond between humans, “in the presence of a safe animal, these same neurobiological circumstances are also occurring.” When you interact with your pet, your brain releases oxytocin, which further helps you connect with them and feel comfortable and relaxed when you’re with them. And once that connection is built, you’ve got a friend for life. After all, animals don’t see humans through the same lenses we do—they simply treat us as we treat them.
Pets often accept people in ways that other humans don’t or simply can’t, showing a level of love that can ultimately have a positive influence on our mental health. According to Steve Feldman, president of the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), “pets can be considered main sources of support for the long-term management of mental health conditions,” including mood disorders, depression, and anxiety. In fact, a 2021 HABRI survey found that 87 percent of pet owners noted improvements in their mental health after adopting a pet, and of the 2,000 pet owners surveyed, one in five actually had a pet recommended to them by their doctor or therapist as a means of helping them have a healthier life. “Our message is getting through when so many medical professionals are acknowledging the human-animal bond,” says Feldman.
While the human-animal connection provides health benefits at every stage of life, the bond, in many ways, supports a healthier aging process. “As we get older, we are socialized to stop playing like children, yet with our animals, we still play in similar carefree ways,” Tedeschi says. Your pet’s natural liveliness demands that you break away from those social norms, enticing you to play like you would when you were a kid, whether you compete in games of tug of war, throw toys for them, or run around the backyard. This not only keeps you active but also provides humor, joy, and laughter that you might not have in other areas of your life, which can lead to a whole host of benefits. Such play can combat the loneliness that an older adult living alone may otherwise feel, lower a pet owner’s overall stress levels to promote better heart health, and help in the treatment of patients with diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Just as you can physically and mentally benefit from a human-animal bond, your pet can also have a healthier life because of it. “It works at both ends of the leash,” says Feldman. “When we understand how good our pets are for us, we can take better care of them. People and their pets develop a mutually beneficial relationship that helps them achieve healthy and happy lives together.”
While taking proper care of any pet means providing food and shelter, making regular visits to the vet, and spending time with them, different animal species and breeds have specific needs you’ll have to meet. A dog, for instance, typically requires a lot of attention and daily activity. But a cat may be happiest when they’re left alone. It’s important to understand these unique requirements so you can give your animal friend the best care possible.
However, according to Tedeschi, what each animal needs to flourish in their human-animal connection will depend not only on their species but also on their unique personality. Animals are individuals with specific preferences that may not fit into your expectations for their breed or species. For instance, some dogs may actually prefer solitude while some cats may require more physical affection. Learning what your pet wants will require paying attention to how they’re communicating with you. Animals can’t talk to us as we might talk to another human, but they’ll show us what they want and need if we simply take to the time to observe them and commit to caring for them the best we can. As Tedeschi notes, “It’s only then that we can have a much more valuable connection.”
A bodybuilder loads up his barbell until it’s stocked with hundreds of pounds of pure iron. He unracks it and gets into position to try a challenging set of squats. So far, so good. But as he sits back, something feels off. His hips wobble, his knees buckle, and, in a moment of pure terror, the barbell tips to one side, nearly out of his control. “What’s happening to me?” he thinks, reflecting on his prowess at the gym. “My shoulders and biceps are strong. Why can’t I do squats?” Weighing the risk, he admits defeat and struggles to rerack his barbell. Phew.
Without sufficient core strength, even dedicated fitness experts can face limitations and extra challenges in just about every workout. That’s because there’s more to this pivotal muscle group than pure aesthetics, despite most people associating a strong core with six-pack abs. Made up of the abdominal, lower back, pelvic, and diaphragm muscles, a healthy core is the key to leveling up your fitness potential—and it can improve your day-to-day life more than possibly any other major muscle group can.
Core muscles aren’t just for crunches or sit-ups. They affect your posture, your balance, and how you perform movements as simple as getting out of bed. Here are the key advantages of working core exercises into your workout routine.
Healthy core muscles support the center of your body, enabling stability when you position yourself upright—whether you’re in motion or sedentary. While slouching may temporarily feel comfortable, this relaxed posture actually puts excessive strain on vulnerable areas like your neck and lower spine. Developing the aptly named postural muscles, or the central layer of core muscles that stretches across your lower stomach, teaches your body to align properly, which will support greater spine and neck health. Improve your core to sit, stand, and walk with a healthy, confident posture and reduce soreness.
Healthy and developed core muscles also work to stabilize you, enabling more balanced and steady movements. Think of them as scaffolding that supports the center of your body. “A strong core keeps your torso in a more stable position whenever you move, whether you’re playing sports or just doing chores,” says sports medicine expert J. Christopher Mendler, MD, in Men’s Health.
Without this strong center, your body is less adept at maintaining stability. It offers more benefits than, say, standing on one foot with ease. Dedicating fitness time to core exercises can boost your balance to help prevent injuries from falls like knee or ankle sprains.
Are you looking to elevate your performance in sports or at the gym? If so, keep in mind that many fitness activities rely on a powerful core. As you swing a tennis racket or swim laps, your core muscles act as the energy center that powers your movements. So the stronger your core, the more vigor you’ll have to push harder, jump higher, grip tighter, and make agile movements like a true athlete—all while protecting vulnerable areas such as your lower back.
Your core muscles perform so many functions that you often use them without even realizing it. But everyday movements like getting out of a chair aren’t challenging enough to support a strong, healthy core. The following exercises can train these muscles to work harder and function in harmony, in turn offering noticeable improvements to your daily life.
Low-impact and accessible to fitness beginners, yoga requires you to engage your core muscles as you move through challenging poses carefully and breathe intentionally. Consider visiting a beginner yoga class in your town or even streaming introductory courses on YouTube for guided instruction. Practice often to enhance your form in classic poses like downward dog and bridge, honing your core strength in the process.
This classic core workout, which develops your oblique muscles (the sides of your torso), is challenging, but it’s also quick to do and easy to incorporate into your daily routine. To perform side bends, get into a push-up position with your hands under your shoulders. Next, turn your torso to face left, pivoting onto the side of your right foot with your left foot stacked on top or braced on the floor just in front. Keep your right hand on the ground, and place your left arm against your side. Engaging your core, dip your hips down, then lift them up; don’t let any part of your body touch the ground except your feet and right hand. After multiple reps, repeat this exercise on the other side with your left hand and foot against the ground.
This aerobic activity pushes your core muscles, including the obliques and the rectus abdominis (the “six-pack” muscles), to work their hardest. Running regularly can teach your core to stabilize your spine and transfer more power to your arms and legs. Even better, this exercise is simple and easy to start. “With running, there’s not much of a learning curve like there might be for other fitness activities,” says exercise physiologist Janet Hamilton at Shape.com. “Because running is such a natural motion, if you don’t overthink it, your reflexes will just kick in.” As a bonus, this aerobic exercise burns fat, so the results of your core work will be more visible.
These are just a few examples of exercises that can help you build stability, strength, and endurance in your core. You may find yourself trying different exercises before developing a routine that you enjoy and can stick to, but any time invested in core health will offer transformative results that you will see and feel.
*Talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise regimen.