Thursday, August 23, 2007



Special Health Report: What Your Body Needs

We scoured the country for the best Latino doctors, acupuncturists, researchers and fitness experts and asked them to give us the health advice they give their friends and familes. So if you read no other health report this year, read this one!

1. ¡Muévete, por Dios!
Hit the gym. Run—or just walk—around the block. Take a dance lesson. Lo que sea. The point is to get your body moving. Repeat after us: There is no being healthy without exercise, no matter how well you control what you eat. It?s the best prevention for some of the worst afflictions facing our community, including diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Need an extra kick in the butt to get off el sofá? Visit—a DVDs-by-mail service like Netflix that offers a huge variety of exercise videos, from Pilates for Moms to Merengue Mania.
2. See your doctor
Comedian George Lopez jokes about Latinos avoiding regular checkups ("What if they find something wrong?"). But George himself didn't catch his kidney disease until it was advanced, when he was forced to undergo a transplant. Commit to yearly physicals, including a Pap smear, breast exam, cholesterol-level test and blood-sugar check to test for diabetes. No insurance? Don't let that stop you. To find free and low-cost clinics, call the National Alliance for Hispanic Health at 866/783-2645 or visit

3. Hang onto your traditions
Why do Latino immigrants have better mental health and live longer than native-born Americans? Doctors have done a gazillion studies looking into the so-called "immigrant paradox" and found what the Tía Rosas of the world have known all along: Having strong family and social networks is a key to good health. Other cultural habits we should preserve: our positive attitude (immigrants tend to consider themselves lucky) and our biculturalism. "We've found the healthiest people are those who can keep a balance between their culture of origin and the U.S. culture," says Lisa Fortuna, M.D., a Harvard Medical School instructor and health services researcher at the Cambridge Health Alliance in Massachusetts.

4. Follow your instincts
Shortly after giving birth to her second child, New York mom Ivis Sampayo kept feeling a strange warmth in one breast. Her doctor said it was nothing—even after an exam revealed a lump. "If I hadn't insisted on a second opinion, I wouldn't be here today," says Ivis, who now is a 13-year cancer survivor and heads LatinaSHARE, a women's breast- and ovarian-cancer support program. The point? Although many of us were raised not to question doctors? authority, "If you feel something is wrong, you have a right to speak up," Ivis says. "Your life depends on it!"

5. Bust out the manzanilla
"Traditional remedies have been working great for hundreds of years, so there's no need to throw them out now," says Urayoana Trinidad, a Puerto Rican licensed acupuncturist and herbalist in New York City. Gentle over-the-counter remedies are okay to use: Manzanilla and tilo teas are soothing to stressed nerves; raw garlic, radishes and onions in honey can loosen phlegm; and boiled guatapanal (a Dominican herb) calms a sore throat. But for stronger remedies, make sure you consult a trained herbalist. And don't forget to tell your doctor about the yerbas you're using.

6. Get a shot
Latinas suffer from cervical cancer at almost double the rate of non-Hispanic white women. One big reason: We're less likely to get regular Pap smears, which are the key to catching cervical precancers before they turn lethal. The good news: You only need to get a Pap test once a year, according to the American Cancer Society. Even better news: Last year the FDA approved a new vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV), a common STD and the most important risk factor for cervical cancer. Doctors say the shot works best on teens who are not yet sexually active, but women ages 19 to 26 may also benefit.

7. Make him use un gorro... la manga... a condom!
We know you know this, we really do. But since the AIDS case rate for Latinas is now nearly six times that of non-Hispanic white women, and the Latino rate of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis infection is two to three times that of non-Hispanic whites—we can't repeat it enough! Even if a partner shows no STD symptoms, that's no guarantee he's not infected. Use a condom, every time. ¡Punto!

8. Keep an eye on your hermanita
Almost one in seven Latina high school students has attempted suicide, far more than any other group of adolescent girls. "The biggest factor we're seeing is family conflict, especially when there's tension between the parents? expectations for girls and what's expected for them in U.S. culture," says Dr. Fortuna, who coauthored a recent article on Latina teen suicide attempts. Good communication between mothers and daughters is the key to reducing this trend. Involving girls in bicultural after-school activities like bailes folklóricos or soccer can help, too. So if you've got a sister or prima who seems stressed, make it a point to talk to her and her mom.

9. Talk about sex
A recent University of California, Santa Barbara, study shows that children of mothers who talked openly to them about sex (including discussing their own experiences) were more likely to hold off on having sex themselves and less likely to engage in unprotected sex. Even if your child is in elementary school, "start talking to her about puberty and her body," says Laura Romo, a professor at the school and one of the study's authors. "Parents sometimes think they don't have influence over their teens, but this study suggests that isn't true."

10. Coge un take-it-easy
Claro, our lives are hectic. But rushing all day without a break can take a toll on your health, Trinidad says. A little relaxation can go a long way: A recent Duke University study showed that just 15-20 minutes of meditation twice a day reduced stress levels. Start by inhaling through your nose and drawing air deep into your abdomen. Then exhale through your mouth, Trinidad says. To clear your mind, silently repeat a calming word or phrase.

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