TIME

7 Ways Being Single Affects Your Health

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The link between relationship status and well-being is a complicated one. Despite plenty of sensational headlines—”Get married and get fat!” “Stay single and die young!”—it’s hard to say definitively whether being a spouse or a singleton (or something in between, as many Americans are today) is healthier overall.

That’s because every relationship and every person is different, says Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., a visiting researcher at the University of California Santa Barbara and author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. And because scientists can’t randomly assign study participants to either get married or stay single, it’s impossible to rule out other factors that could be at play.

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Still, trends do seem to exist among people in different types of relationships, with potential lessons that all adults—regardless of their marital status—can use to better their quality of life. Here are seven ways flying solo may affect your health, for better or worse.

You’re less likely to gain weight

A 2013 study in the journal Health Psychology shows that happily married couples tend to gain weight in the four years after getting hitched. Without the pressure to attract a new mate, the authors say, newlyweds can get complacent about their appearance.

A recent Australian study in the journal Body Image showed that women who feel pressured to slim down before their wedding gained more weight within the following 6 months. Married men were more likely to be overweight or obese compared to their peers who were single, in relationships, or engaged, according to a 2014 University of Minnesota study of young adults.

You’re more likely to exercise regularly

“Many single women and men care about their health and their well-being,” says DePaulo. “They exercise, eat right, and live overall healthy lifestyles.” In a 2004 study from the University of Maryland, for example, unmarried adults exercised more than married ones, including those without kids.

A British survey conducted in 2011 echoed these results, finding that 76% of married men and 63% of married women failed to meet the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity a week. Only 24 and 33% of single men and women, respectively, missed the mark.

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You may have more close friends

And you may be a better one, at that: A 2006 University of Massachusetts at Amherst study found that single people were better at maintaining relationships with friends, neighbors, and extended family than those who had tied the knot—both with and without kids.

Other studies have also found that single adults tend to do more volunteer work and keep in close contact with their siblings, says DePaulo. “Single people—especially single women—often have networks of people who are important to them,” she says. “They have ‘the ones’ rather than ‘the one.’”

You stress less about chores and money

One stereotype of single people is that they’re constantly worried about finding a mate—but that’s certainly not true for everyone. And in fact, there are plenty of areas where single people stress less than those in relationships. According to a 2005 University of Michigan study, for example, they do less housework than married people.

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Money woes may weigh less on single people as well. In a 2014 survey of more than 2,000 adults in relationships, one in three admitted to “financial infidelity,” or lying to a partner about money issues. Married people are also more likely to have credit card debt—not exactly a health issue in itself, but something that has been shown to detract from both emotional and physical wellbeing.

You may be stigmatized—but maybe not for long

Single people are often viewed as lonely and unhappy, says DePaulo, which can in turn have a negative effect on their overall health. But that may be changing: the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that, for the first time, the majority of adults in the United States are unmarried, with singles clocking in at 50.2%.

“I do think that as the number of single people continues to grow—to well over 100 million adults just in the U.S.—it will be increasingly difficult to maintain the stereotypes and caricatures of single people,” says DePaulo. “There are just too many single people who are happy and healthy and love their single lives, and too many people who know single people who are thriving, for the misperceptions to endure.”

In the meantime, DePaulo’s advice is simple. “Living your single life fully, joyfully, and unapologetically—even as other people are insisting, without any good scientific basis, that you must be less healthy than your married counterparts—is a good way to maintain your good health.”

HEALTH.COM: 12 Ways Your Relationship Can Hurt Your Health

Surgery may be more dangerous

Going under the knife carries risks no matter your relationship status, but a 2012 Emory University study found that single people were three times more likely to die in the three months following heart surgery (and 71% more likely to die over the next five years) than married study participants. Married people tended to be more optimistic about their recovery going into surgery, but they also had lower smoking rates than single people—an important factor in their higher five-year survival rates.

But even these findings aren’t definitive, says DePaulo. She points to a 2011 RAND Corporation survey on alumni of the Wounded Warrior Project, which found that veterans who had never been married reported higher levels of resiliency—the ability to bounce back after injury, illness, or hardships—than those who were married, divorced, or separated.

Your heart health may be at risk

Single adults are 5% more likely to develop heart disease than their married peers, according to a 2014 study of more than 3.5 million people presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 63rd Annual Scientific Session. (Divorced and widowed people in the study also had a higher risk.) “Not all marriages are created equal, but we would expect the size of this study population to account for variations in good and bad marriages,” said the study authors in a press release.

But other research hasn’t found that being married is any better for your heart. In a 2006 study from the University of Texas at Austin of more than 9,000 people there was no statistically significant difference in cardiovascular disease risk between those who were currently married or had never gotten hitched.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Sex/Relationships

7 Reasons to Have More Sex

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If you really need an excuse (or several) to heat things up in the bedroom, we’ve got you covered: Besides the obvious reasons one might have sex—love, pleasure, baby-making—science shows that there are quite a few health benefits of getting intimate. The next time your partner asks, “Was it good for you?” you can say yes—in more ways than one!

Sex burns calories

Yes, knocking boots counts as exercise—and it sure beats the gym! Depending on how physical you get, sex can strengthen muscle tone, increase your heart rate, and get your whole body working, says Justin Lehmiller, PhD, creator of lecturer in the department of psychology at Purdue University and author of The Psychology of Human Sexuality. And according to a 2013 study in which volunteers wore activity trackers while they did the deed, men burn about 101 calories per session, while women torch an average of 69. “Relatively speaking, that’s not a huge amount,” says Lehmiller. He points out, however, that sex in the study (from foreplay to orgasm) lasted an average of 25 minutes. “If you have sex for a longer period of time, you can have even more of those calorie-burning benefits.”

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Sex helps you sleep

After orgasm, the body releases a relaxation hormone called prolactin, says Kristin Mark, PhD, director of the Sexual Health Promotion Lab at the University of Kentucky. “If you’re not feeling particularly tired beforehand, having sex and reaching orgasm may certainly help you nod off a little more quickly than you would have otherwise.”

Sex lowers your blood pressure and stress levels

In a 2005 Scottish study, volunteers were asked to record their sexual activity for two weeks and were then given anxiety-inducing tasks, like public speaking or solving math problems out loud. Those who’d had sex over the study period experienced smaller blood pressure spikes, and recovered from them more quickly, than those who hadn’t. (Only penile-vaginal intercourse seemed to have this effect, not masturbation or other forms of sexual activity.)

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The study suggests two important benefit of regular sex, says Mark: Better blood pressure control, and better stress management overall. “Sex not only lowers people’s perceived levels of stress, but it also appears to help them handle stress more effectively,” she says.

Sex strengthens your heart

Regular sex may benefit the cardiovascular system in other ways. A British study found that men who had sex at least twice a week over a period of 20 years were less likely to have died from heart disease than those who got it on less than once a month. After 10 years, in fact, their risk of sudden death was 50% less than that of the group that had less sex, although that gap lessened over the next decade.

These sorts of findings only show a correlation, not causation, says Mark. “People who have healthy sex lives probably have overall healthy lifestyles.” Even so, she suspects there may be a connection: “Sex helps regulate hormones like estrogen and testosterone,” she says, “which impacts all kinds of systems in the body, including the heart.”

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Sex may protect against cancer

Some studies have suggested that men who ejaculate more frequently may have a reduced risk of prostate cancer—although the difference appears to be very small, and others haven’t found a conclusive link.

The benefits may be clearer for breast cancer prevention, however: A French study found that women who had sex at least once a month were less likely to develop breast cancer than those who didn’t. And while the disease is rare in men, those who orgasm less than six times a month appear to be at increased risk of breast cancer compared to those who do so more often, according to a Greek study.

Sex boosts immunity

Getting busy on a weekly basis stimulates the immune system and provides protection from the common cold, according to a Wilkes University study. Researchers gave college students questionnaires about their sex lives, then tested their saliva for levels of immunoglobulin A (IgA), an antibody that helps fight off viruses. They found that the students who had sex once or twice a week had 30% more IgA than those who had sex less frequently. (They also, however, had higher IgA levels than those who had sex three times a week or more, suggesting that in this case, maybe you can get too much of a good thing.)

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Sex relieves pain

Women often opt out because of headaches, or so the cliché goes—but, according to a 2013 German study, having sex may actually help them feel better. When study volunteers chose to have sex during a headache episode, about 60% of migraine sufferers and 30% of cluster headache sufferers reported partial or total relief.

Endorphins released during orgasm, as well as increased blood flow to the genital area, likely play a role in sex’s pain-relieving power, says Mark. “Pain sometimes has to do with blood flowing to one particular area, like the head, and sex can take some of that pressure off by redirecting the flow.”

13 Reasons to Have More Sex originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

11 Ways to Stop Overeating After Your Workout

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You must have sweated off hundreds of calories during that Spin class, so it’s totally okay to indulge in a bowl of ice cream when you get home—right? Not so fast. Research shows that people tend to reward themselves with rich foods and large portions after exercising, and that they often eat back all of (if not more than) the calories they just burned. There’s nothing wrong with small snack or a filling dinner after exercising, says Emily Brown, RD, a wellness dietitian at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. and former professional runner. But before you dig in, you have to understand your body’s true nutrition needs so you don’t end up gaining weight despite all your hard work. Read on for the smartest ways to refuel—and silence that rumbling belly.

Work out right before a meal

If you’re always hungry after you exercise—regardless of whether you ate beforehand or how many calories you burned—try to schedule your workouts before one of your main meals, says Brown. That way, you can refuel with calories you would have consumed anyway, without having to add extra snacks into your day.

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This strategy can work regardless of whether you’re a morning, noon, or nighttime exerciser. Have a small snack when you wake up and eat a larger breakfast after your a.m. run; hit the gym at lunchtime and pick up a sandwich on the way back to the office; or prep your dinner ahead of time so you can just heat it up when you get home from an evening barre class.

Make your workout fun

Thinking about exercise less as a chore and more as something you do because you enjoy it can help you eat less afterward, according to a 2014 Cornell University study. Researchers led volunteers on a 1.4—mile walk, telling half of them that it was for exercise and half that it was a scenic stroll. The “exercise” group ate 35% more chocolate pudding for dessert than the “scenic” group. In another experiment, volunteers were given post-walk snacks, and the “exercisers” ate 124% more calories than those who were told it was just for fun.

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Pair protein and carbs

When you do need a snack to recover from a tough sweat session, Brown recommends a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. “This will allow you to begin to replenish your energy levels and repair muscle damage resulting from the workout,” she says. For workouts less than an hour, keep your snack to 150 to 200 calories total—an open-faced peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a slice of turkey and cheese on crackers, or a handful of trail mix, for example. If you worked out for longer than an hour and aren’t eating a full meal soon, aim for half a gram of carbohydrates for every pound of body weight. A 140-pound person, for example, should refuel with 70 grams of carbs and about 18 grams of protein. (An energy bar or protein shake, plus one of the healthy snacks above, should fit the bill.)

Get milk

Low-fat dairy is another great recovery food with plenty of protein to help tide you over until your next meal, says Jim White, RD, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios in Virginia Beach. Plus, studies have shown that refueling with dairy—low-fat chocolate milk, specifically—helps improve subsequent athletic performances better than traditional sports drinks.

Stop eating out of habit

Sometimes, overeating after exercise is more a consequence of routine than anything else. “When you consistently consume a 500-calorie smoothie after you finish up at the gym, you start to get into that habit of consuming a smoothie no matter how long or intense your exercise was,” says Brown. Her solution? Choose different snacks for different workouts—the shorter the duration, the fewer calories you need to replenish— and always pay attention to your hunger cues. “It’s important for weight loss and weight maintenance to get in tune with your body and learn to eat in response to hunger, versus eating in response to boredom, stress, or the idea of rewarding yourself for exercising.”

Health.com: 14 Ways to Cut Portions Without Feeling Hungry

Don’t trust your tracker

Activity trackers like the Fitbit and Jawbone have become a trendy way to estimate physical activity expenditure throughout the day. But a 2014 Iowa State University study found that not all devices are accurate in estimating calorie burn during workouts. The least accurate device, the Basis Band, had an error rate of 23.5%.

Even the most accurate trackers can still only provide an estimate of true calorie burn, says Brown, and it’s not smart to base your refueling strategy entirely on their calculations. “You also want to get in the habit of eating in response to hunger and stopping in response to comfortable fullness. This is dictated less by numbers and more by listening to your body.”

Snack throughout the day

It may seem counterintuitive, but eating more throughout the day may be your ticket to consuming fewer calories overall, especially if you tend to pig out post-workout. “Incorporating two to three healthy snacks throughout the day will help regulate hunger between meals, increase energy, and keep metabolism bumped up,” says White.

Health.com: 20 Snacks That Burn Fat

Don’t overestimate

You may feel like you burned a million calories during your Spin class, but research shows that we tend to overestimate our energy expenditure during exercise—by as much as four-fold, according to a study from the University of Ottawa. When volunteers were then asked to eat back all the calories they’d just burned, they tended to consume two to three times more than what they’d actually expended.

One high-tech way to prevent overestimating your calorie burn: wear a heart-rate monitor. Most of these include a sensor worn around your chest and a wristwatch, which sync together wirelessly. Still, if your heart-rate monitor says you burned 600 calories, that’s not automatically an excuse to scarf down a 600-calorie sundae. “If you are trying to lose weight, you will need to consume fewer calories than you expend,” Brown says.

Drink water as soon as you’re done

Replacing the fluids you lost during a workout should be priority number one, Matt Fitzgerald, a certified sports nutritionist and author of Diet Cults and The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition. “Having a lot of water in the belly also reduces appetite—not a lot, but a little,” he says. “Guzzle water as soon as you walk in the door to quench your thirst and take up space in your tummy.” Just don’t consume massive quantities. Taking in too much water (or any fluid) can cause water intoxication due to excessively low levels of salt in the body.

Ask yourself if you really need to eat

You’ve probably heard that it’s important to eat something immediately after your workout to help your muscles recover. But the truth is, you might not need to, says Brown. Say you’ve just finished up a tough run and you know you’d like to hit the gym for weight training in the morning. In that case, yes, you should have something to eat. “But if you’re taking a few days off before your next hard workout, you probably don’t need to worry about refueling quickly,” Brown explains. If you’re not hungry, then don’t force yourself to eat, she says. “You’re going to eat those calories eventually, so why not save them for your next meal when you’re actually hungry?”

Refuel along the way

For workouts lasting longer than two hours—like a long bike ride or a marathon training run—sucking down a gel or sipping a sports drink will keep you from feeling ravenous afterward. “Research has shown that people eat fewer calories after exercise when they take in carbs during exercise,” says Fitzgerald. “In fact, their total calorie intake for the 24-hour period that includes the workout comes out to be slightly lower if they fuel up during it.” (Also important: You won’t run out of steam halfway through your training session.) Try to consume 30 to 60 grams of carbs—that’s 120 to 240 calories—every hour after your first hour. Avoid anything with protein, since it takes longer to for the stomach to digest.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

6 Things You Must Know About Money and Happiness

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If you were offered a well-deserved raise at work or a no-strings-attached wad of money, would you take it? You’ve surely heard that money can’t buy happiness, but it can certainly get you closer to an enjoyable life, right?

Yes and no, says Elizabeth Dunn, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and author of Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending. “It turns out, what you do with your money seems to matter just as much to your happiness as how much you make,” she says—good news for those of us without a sudden windfall or promotion in our near futures.

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Here are six facts that may surprise you—and tips on how to live the good life, no matter how much you’ve got.

Don’t sweat the six-figure job

“There is definitely a correlation between income and happiness,” says Dunn. “But actually, money buys less happiness than people assume.” And in some ways, it buys happiness only up to a certain point: A 2010 Princeton University study found that emotional well-being—defined by the frequency of emotions like joy, anger, affection, and sadness—tended to rise with salary, but only up to about $75,000. Beyond that, people continued to rate their lives as more satisfying, but they didn’t seem to experience any more happiness on a day-to-day basis.

Spend on experiences, not things

Material goods may last longer, but a 2014 San Francisco State University study shows that life experiences—like trips, fancy dinners, and spa treatments—provide more satisfaction in the long run. Researchers interviewed volunteers before and after they made purchases of both types, and found that afterward, most people viewed the intangibles as a better use of money. However, they add, an experience has to fit a person’s personality in order to have benefit; someone who doesn’t like show tunes, for example, probably won’t see the value in a Broadway play.

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Donate to charity

Giving to people or organizations in need “has a direct correlational effect on happiness that is basically equivalent to a doubling of household income,” says Dunn, citing research from a Gallup World Poll. How you give matters, too, she says: You’ll get more of an emotional reward by supporting groups you feel closely connected to, or when a close friend asks for your help. (In other words, accept that Ice Bucket Challenge already—the giving money part, at least!)

Pay it off early

“The pleasure of consumption can be dragged down by the pain of having to pay for it,” says Dunn. One way to get around that? Put money down for things as early as you can, even if you won’t actually experience them for a while—book trips months in advance, pre-order books and albums you’re excited about, or purchase credit for a service you can redeem at a later date. “Research shows that what lies in the future is much more emotionally evocative than what lies in the past,” she adds. “If we paid for something last year, it’s almost like our brain forgets we ever spent money on it.”

Health.com: Money Trouble? 14 Depression-Fighting Tips

Give thoughtful gifts

When money gets tight, it may seem wasteful to splurge on presents and tokens of affection—but Dunn’s research shows that spending money on others, especially a loved one, is one of the happiest things you can do with your money. (In one study, people who had been asked to spend $5 on someone else felt better at the end of the day than those who’d been asked to spend it on themselves.) It’s the thought that counts, too: Both givers and receivers are happier when a gift is a good fit for the recipient’s personality.

Use a debit, not credit card

Being in debt is negatively associated with happiness, and is linked to health problems such as depression and anxiety. It may be hard to avoid all forms of debt, but one way to keep from falling deeper into it is to make everyday purchases with debit accounts, rather than charging them. “Debit cards are way happier plastic,” says Dunn. “They provide a lot of the same conveniences as credit cards, but don’t have the same long-term problems associated with them.”

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This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

5 Weird Ways Stress Can Actually Be Good for You

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We hear over and over again that stress is unhealthy. And all that talk makes us, well, stressed. But getting worked up isn’t always a bad thing, says Richard Shelton, MD, vice chair for research in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Alabama Birmingham; after all, the body’s fight-or-flight response is meant to be protective, not harmful.

It’s only when stress becomes chronic, or when we feel we’re no longer in control of a situation, that it negatively affects our health and wellbeing.

Here, then, are five reasons you should rest easier when it comes to everyday stress—and how a little short-term anxiety can actually benefit your brain and body.

It helps boost brainpower

Low-level stressors stimulate the production of brain chemicals called neurotrophins, and strengthen the connections between neurons in the brain. In fact, this may be the primary mechanism by which exercise (a physical stressor) helps boost productivity and concentration, Dr. Shelton says. Short-term psychological stressors, he adds, can have a similar effect, as well. Plus, animal studies have suggested that the body’s response to stress can temporarily boost memory and learning scores.

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It can increase immunity—in the short term

“When the body responds to stress, it prepares itself for the possibility of injury or infection,” says Dr. Shelton. “One way it does this is by producing extra interleukins—chemicals that help regulate the immune system—providing at least a temporary defensive boost.” Research in animals support this idea, as well: A 2012 Stanford study found that subjecting lab rats to mild stress produced a “massive mobilization” of several types of immune cells in their bloodstreams.

It can make you more resilient

Learning to deal with stressful situations can make future ones easier to manage, according to a large body of research on the science of resilience. It’s the idea behind Navy SEAL training, Dr. Shelton says—although you can certainly benefit from less extreme experiences, as well. “Repeated exposure to stressful events gives [SEALs] the chance to develop both a physical and psychological sense of control, so when they’re in actually combat they don’t just shut down,” he says.

Health.com: 25 Surprising Ways Stress Affects Your Health

This idea may even hold true at a cellular level: A 2013 University of California San Francisco study found that while chronic stress promotes oxidative damage to our DNA and RNA, moderate levels of perceived daily stress actually seem to protect against it and enhance “psychobiological resilience.”

It motivates you to succeed

Good stress, also known in the scientific community as eustress, may be just the thing you need to get job done at work. “Think about a deadline: It’s staring you in the face, and it’s going to stimulate your behavior to really manage the situation effectively, rapidly, and more productively,” says Dr. Shelton. The key, he says, is viewing stressful situations as a challenge that you can meet, rather than an overwhelming, unpassable roadblock.

Eustress can also help you enter a state of “flow,” a heightened sense of awareness and complete absorption into an activity, according to research from psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow can be achieved in the workplace, in sports, or in a creative endeavor (such as playing a musical instrument), and Csikszentmihalyi argues that it’s driven largely by pressure to succeed.

Health.com: 13 Ways to Beat Stress in 15 Minutes or Less

It can enhance child development

Moms-to-be often worry that their own anxiety will negatively affect their unborn babies—and it can, when it’s unrelenting. But a 2006 Johns Hopkins study found that most children of women who reported mild to moderate stress levels during pregnancy actually showed greater motor and developmental skills by age 2 than those of unstressed mothers. The one exception: the children of women who viewed their pregnancy as more negative than positive had slightly lower attention capacity.

Health.com: 12 Signs You May Have an Anxiety Disorder

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Family

10 Myths and Facts About Breastfeeding

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August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month—and while breastfeeding rates in the United States continue to rise (nearly 80% of infants born in 2011 started to breastfeed), there’s still a lot that people don’t know about the topic. Does it hurt? Will my child not be as smart if I don’t do it?

We spoke with Kathy Mason, a registered nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant with Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, to clear up some common myths and misconceptions.

This guide is helpful for women making the decision whether to breastfeed their children—and for people tempted to comment on another woman’s choice on the matter.

New moms don’t make enough milk

MYTH

It’s true that women don’t produce milk for three to five days after giving birth, but they do make a thick, concentrated liquid called colostrum—and for the first few days, that’s all a newborn needs, Mason says. “Moms worry that they’re not producing enough right away, but it’s very normal for the baby to nurse and not take more than two teaspoons at a time.”

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It’s better for baby’s weight and IQ

MYTH

If you aren’t able to breastfeed your baby—or you decide not to—you can rest easy knowing that the beneficial effects of breast milk on babies’ weight and intelligence appear to have been overstated. A 2014 Ohio State University study looked at families in which one baby was breastfed and another was fed formula and found no “breast-is-best” advantage in one child over the other. Though Mason says breast milk does have one clear advantage over formula: It contains antibodies that protect baby from infection.

It helps you shed baby weight

FACT

Moms who breastfeed burn about 300 to 500 extra calories a day compared to those who feed their babies formula, and research shows that they do tend to slim down faster. Breastfeeding also releases hormones that trigger your uterus to return to its pre-baby size and weight faster. “When the baby starts nursing you can actually feel uterine contractions as it starts to shrink,” says Mason. “It’s nature’s way of getting your body back into shape.”

Health.com: 11 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Belly Fat

It’s normal to have difficulties

FACT

While most women should be able to breastfeed their newborns, it’s not always easy: In a 2013 survey published in Pediatrics, 92% of new moms had at least one concern on their third day of breastfeeding—such as the baby not latching properly, low milk supply, or breast pain—and only 13% breastfeed exclusively for six months as is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Unfortunately, we send moms home from the hospital after just two days, and the days immediately after that are the hardest ones for breastfeeding,” Mason says. Women having trouble should know where to turn for advice, she adds: Most hospitals have breastfeeding support groups or offer out-patient consultations, and moms can also take advantage of the La Leche League‘s toll-free breastfeeding helpline: 877-452-5324. Many hospitals have classes you can take before the baby arrives, so ask if you’re interested.

It may protect against postpartum depression

FACT

A 2012 study in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine found that women who breastfed were less likely to be diagnosed with postpartum depression over the first four months than those who bottle-fed. Researchers aren’t sure what the connection is, but Mason suspects it has to do oxytocin, the “feel-good hormone” produced when a baby nurses. “Plus, if breastfeeding is going well, it helps mom feel confident that she’s able to provide for her baby,” she adds. A 2011 study from the University of North Carolina suggests the opposite link may exist, as well: New moms who have negative breastfeeding experiences within the first two weeks had an increased risk of PPD.

Alcohol helps with milk letdown

MYTH

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, booze is not a galactagogue, which is a substance that promotes milk production. (Studies have shown that drinking beer can boost hormones associated with breast milk creation, but it’s actually the barley and hops that are responsible.) So what actually helps with milk letdown? Relaxation for mom, and skin-to-skin contact between mom and baby, Mason says. “When moms put babies up to their chests, their hormones just go wild,” she says.

You can’t breastfeed after breast surgery

MYTH

Mason has seen many women with breast implants nurse their babies successfully; these surgeries often involve incisions on the underside of the breast that don’t interfere with milk production or delivery. Women who have had breast reductions, on the other hand, may have more difficulty—especially if nerve endings around the nipple have been cut. “You may not know until you try to nurse,” Mason says.

It makes your boobs sag

MYTH

One reason many women with breast implants don’t breastfeed (or stop earlier than planned) is because they think it will change the appearance of their breasts, according to a 2011 study from the American Society for Plastic Surgeons. But, as the study authors point out, it’s the number of pregnancies a woman has—not whether she breastfeeds—that causes breasts to sag over time. That’s true with or without implants.

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It’s supposed to be painful

MYTH

“A lot of moms expect breastfeeding to hurt, and it is true that mom’s nipples may feel tender for the first couple of weeks,” says Mason. “But if the baby’s latching properly, there shouldn’t be real pain or soreness.” That’s why it’s so important to talk to a lactation consultant at the hospital (and perhaps after you go home) who can help you and your baby make the process as comfortable as possible, she adds.

It’s important to stay hydrated

FACT

Not drinking enough water can certainly affect how much milk you’re making, says Mason, which is why it’s important to stay hydrated (among other reasons). But you don’t have to go overboard, she cautions: “You don’t have to drink until it’s coming out of your ears; in fact, research suggests that overhydration can also decrease milk production, just as dehydration can.” Judge your hydration levels by your urine color, she recommends: light yellow means you’re drinking enough, dark means you should sip more.

Health.com: 14 Weird Reasons You’re Dehydrated

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Infectious Disease

9 Mosquito-Bite Facts You Need to Know

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Thanks to West Nile virus, mosquitoes have been in the news lately—and likely all over your backyard—but how much do you really know about them and the risks they pose? We spoke with Jorge Parada, MD, medical director of the Loyola University Medical System Infection Control Program and advisor to the National Pest Management Association, and learned some surprising facts about summer’s least favorite insect and their bothersome bites.

Not all mosquitoes bite

There are about 170 different mosquito species in North America (and 3,500 worldwide), says Dr. Parada, but not all of them bite humans. Of those that do, it’s only the females who are bloodsuckers—they use the protein to produce eggs. There are two species responsible for spreading disease in the United States: the Aedes aegypti and the Aedes albopictus, the latter of which is commonly known as the Asian tiger mosquito because of its black and white stripes.

It’s unclear whether the bugs are attracted to blood type

“Studies have claimed that people with Type O blood get bitten more than people with Type A or Type B, but these findings have been disputed,” says Dr. Parada. There’s also little evidence that wearing dark clothing attracts more mosquitoes, as is commonly believed.

…But we know they like CO2

More likely, mosquitoes are drawn toward people who exhale higher levels of carbon dioxide—like pregnant women or beer drinkers, as some studies have suggested. “Mosquitoes find hosts by detecting body heat and chemical signals,” says Dr. Parada. “It is possible that these factors contribute to increased production of carbon dioxide, making it easier for mosquitoes to sense human presence.”

Some people itch more than others

Almost everyone will feel the itchy aftermath of a mosquito bite, says Dr. Parada, although it can be worse for certain people who tend to develop more pronounced bumps or hives. “The itchiness is due to histamine release in our bodies in response to the mosquito’s saliva that’s injected while they’re drinking our blood,” he explains.

Yes, scratching makes bites worse

If you can resist, try not to scratch those itchy bumps: It only stirs up the skeeter saliva and increases your body’s histamine response, therefore making the itching worse, says Dr. Parada. “Additionally, over-scratching might cause breaks in the skin that can leave room for an infection.”

OTC meds can help

After a mosquito run-in, the best course of action is to wash bites using mild soap and cold water, which can provide some relief and also help reduce infection risk. If the bites still itch, treat them with anti-inflammatories or topical antihistamines, like Benadryl gel or over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream.

They can spread a scary new virus

Chikungunya is a viral infection transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito and there is currently no vaccine or drug treatment. Although it was first reported in North America on the Caribbean islands, two cases in Florida were discovered in July. “It’s likely only a matter of time before more locally transmitted cases are reported in the United States,” says Dr. Parada.

Symptoms typically start four to eight days after being bitten, last about a week, and include severe joint pain and swelling, fever, and headaches. “Chikungunya is generally not fatal,” says Dr. Parada, “but the painful symptoms have led people to say ‘It won’t kill you, but it may make you wish you were dead!’”

West Nile is still a threat

If that’s not enough to worry about, mosquitoes in North America still carry West Nile Virus, as well. “The total number of cases is down this year compared to recent years, but the disease is still a threat, especially in late summer and early fall when mosquitoes are most active,” says Dr. Parada.

Most cases of West Nile are mild and people will recover completely, but older adults, diabetics, and people with compromised immune systems are at risk of developing serious infections from the virus. Anyone experiencing a high fever, severe headaches, muscle aches, and nausea or vomiting should seek immediate medical attention.

Not all repellants are equal

Topical products containing the insect repellant DEET have been shown to keep mosquitoes at bay, but the concentration of this ingredient can vary widely—anywhere from 4% to 100%. (Lower concentrations may need to be applied more frequently, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that amounts over 50% don’t offer additional protection.)

Alternatives to DEET include products containing picaridin (another synthetic compound) or oil of lemon-eucalyptus, says Dr. Parada. So-called “spatial repellants,” like citronella candles or coils, may also help clear the air of mosquitoes, but there aren’t any peer-reviewed studies to support those claims. And if those mosquito-repelling smartphone apps sound too good to be true, that’s because they probably are: There’s no evidence that the ultrasonic frequencies they emit will actually deter the bugs.

More on Health.com

Mosquito-Borne Chikungunya Virus May Be Headed for U.S.

Scientists Seek to Take Bite Out of Mosquito Problem

Asian Tiger Mosquito Could Spread U.S. Disease

This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME

15 Myths and Facts About Cellulite

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ONOKY - Fabrice LEROUGE—Getty Images/Brand X

Truth, lies, and cottage cheese thighs

Got cellulite? You’re not alone: The cosmetic condition affects nearly 90% of women at some point during their lives, even women who are otherwise slender and fit.

As common as cellulite is, there’s also an awful lot of misinformation out there about what it is, what causes it, and how to get rid of it. So before placing blame, scheduling a cosmetic procedure, or spending a fortune on over-the-counter products, read up on the real story behind cellulite.

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Cellulite is caused by toxins in your body

Myth

Some over-the-counter cellulite products may claim to help remove impurities and toxins from the body. But neither their efficacy nor their claims about what causes cellulite are supported by science. Rather, cellulite occurs when underlying fat deposits begin to push through layers of collagen fibers, or connective tissue, under the skin (often in the buttocks and thigh areas, but also on arms, stomachs, and other common trouble spots, as well). Connective tissue can be weakened by hormones, lack of exercise and muscle tone, excess fat, and poor circulation, says New York City-based dermatologist Cheryl Karcher, MD. But the condition is not caused by “toxins.”

Women get more cellulite than men

Fact

Women tend to carry more fat around their hips and thighs. We also have less supportive connective tissue to keep it all in place. “If you think of a scaffolding outside a building that has those X crosses on them, that is sort of what men’s fat chambers have,” says David McDaniel, MD, director of the Institute for Anti-Aging and assistant professor of clinical dermatology at Eastern Virginia Medical School. It is estimated, however, that about 10% of men suffer from cellulite, as well.

Cellulite gets worse with age

Fact

Hormones also seem to play a role in the appearance of cellulite: As women age, their bodies produce less estrogen—a hormone that helps keep blood vessels flowing smoothly. Less estrogen can mean poorer circulation, which can also mean a decrease in new collagen production and the breakdown of older connective tissue.

Health.com: 13 Everyday Habits That Age You

Cellulite may be in your genes

Fact

It’s true that cellulite runs in families; if your mother and grandmother had cellulite, you have a better chance of also developing it. In fact, there’s even a genetic test on the market that can tell you whether you have a gene variant that puts you at higher risk for moderate to severe cellulite—but, considering that most women will develop cellulite in their lifetimes (and the fact that you’ll know it when you see it), it’s not exactly worth its hefty price tag. If you’re not one of the lucky ones with smooth-skinned relatives, take heart: Genetics is only one small part of the cellulite puzzle; factors like diet, exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight also play a role.

Cellulite only happens to out-of-shape people

Myth

Being overweight does make the appearance of cellulite more noticeable; the more fat you have underneath your skin, the more it’s likely to put stress on your connective tissue and bulge out of its weak spots. But cellulite also happens to women of all shapes and sizes, says Shira Ein-Dor, owner of the American Cellulite Reduction Center in New York City. “I even treat Victoria’s Secret models,” she says. “They’re very lean, they work out and eat well, they do everything right but they still have cellulite.”

Exercise can reduce the appearance of cellulite

Fact

A regular exercise practice cannot cure cellulite—but in many cases it can help prevent or reduce its appearance. Cellulite occurs when connective fibers underneath the skin become weak or lose their elasticity, but stretching and strengthening those areas (in addition to burning away excess fat overall) can help. “Firming and toning those muscles will in turn tighten the skin, giving the illusion that cellulite is less noticeable,” says Dr. McDaniel. Yoga routines that target the butt and thighs can help, as well as strength-training moves that build muscle and boost circulation.

Cardio is best for reducing all-over jiggle

Myth

Running or other forms of cardio can help keep weight off, which may reduce the appearance of dimples and dents. But to really smooth out your skin, you’ve got to strength train. One study by researchers at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts, found that adults who did three 30-minute aerobic workouts each week for eight weeks lost four pounds, but gained no muscle—and only slightly improved body composition. When they paired 15 minutes of aerobic activity with 15 minutes of strength training three times a week, however, they lost 10 pounds of fat, added two pounds of muscle, and saw a greater overall improvement in body composition. In other words, they looked better and lost some of the wiggle!

Skin-firming creams can cure cellulite

Myth

Despite what you might read on their labels, no topical creams—prescription or over-the-counter—have been shown to permanently reduce the appearance of cellulite. Studies have found, however, that products containing retinoids (labeled as retinol over-the-counter) may provide some temporary effects by creating a thicker skin cover that can help camouflage bumps. There is limited evidence that creams or scrubs with stimulant ingredients, like caffeine, ginger, and green or black tea, may also help by improving circulation and breaking down fat-cell stores, but they are less proven. “Mostly I think if these topical creams work—and I think most probably do little or nothing—they are more likely to help with slimming and body contouring, which is not the same as cellulite,” says Dr. McDaniel.

Health.com: The Best Strength Moves for Weight Loss

Skin fillers can even out dimply skin

Fact

Injectable dermal fillers like Restylane and Radiesse, used primarily to plump up sagging cheekbones and remove facial wrinkles, have also shown to be beneficial—at least temporarily—for cellulite-plagued sections of skin. “It’s like putting icing on a lumpy cake to make it look better,” says Dr. Karcher. “Especially if someone is really skinny and they have a few really deep divots, a filler can plump that up and even it out really well. However, the procedure can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars per leg, she adds, and the results tend to only last a few months.

Non-invasive procedures for cellulite really do work

Fact

Laser, radio-frequency, and massage techniques have been used for several years to reduce the appearance of cellulite—and while their results are not permanent, they are effective in the short-term, says Dr. Karcher. “These are going to work better than some drug-store cream, and they can be worth it if you have the time and the money to spend on them.” Some (like TriActiv and VelaSmooth laser treatments) require 10 to 15 sessions to significantly improve appearance, and require monthly maintenance appointments. Others (like the radio-frequency treatment Thermage CL) are more expensive but results seem to last six months to a year.

Health.com:16 Ways to Lose Weight Fast

Liposuction will make your legs (or arms, or tummy) look better

Myth

If cellulite is your problem, liposuction should not be your solution, says Dr. McDaniel. In fact, the cosmetic procedure could even make fat distribution more uneven, making its outward appearance even worse. Another vacuum-like (but non-surgical) procedure, however, known as Endermologie, has been shown to help: During Endermologie, a technician runs a suctioning device surrounded by rollers over a patient’s skin, pulling and squeezing trouble spots for about 30 minutes. Resultsare visible after about 10 visits (two per week), which can cost between $80 and $150 each.

Certain foods can help fight cellulite

Fact

Your diet alone can’t determine whether you will or will not get cellulite, but eating a well-balanced, plant-heavy diet can reduce inflammation throughout your body and help you maintain a healthy weight, says Dr. McDaniel. Staying hydrated—both by drinking water and by eating plenty of foods withhigh water content—will also keep your connective tissue strong and supple, and may even help you slim down. Aim to eat more cucumbers, radishes, tomatoes, and bell peppers, which (along with many other fruits and veggies) are all more than 90% water.

Only a dermatologist should perform cellulite treatments

Myth

A skin doc is a good place to start, and many dermatologists do perform treatments in their clinics. But cellulite is not a medical condition, says Ein-Dor, and a medical professional is not required to treat it. “I am not a doctor, but because I focus only on cellulite, I can provide many more options in my center than most doctors can provide in their offices,” she says. Medi-spas can also perform treatments such as Endermologie and non-invasive laser procedures—but Ein-Dor cautions that you make sure your technician is licensed and has received proper training on whatever device you choose. (If you want a surgical procedure like Cellulaze, however, you’ll need to see a dermatologist or cosmetic surgeon.)

The clothing you wear can make an impact

Myth

Yes, wearing compression-style leggings while you exercise can reduce thigh jiggle as you move—but it’s only a temporary effect, says Dr. Karcher, and you’re unlikely to see any change after you strip down post-workout. “For any clothing that claims to actually have lasting results, it’s just a marketing gimmick and it’s not true,” she adds. In fact, for some tight clothes, the opposite may be true: Elastic bands on underwear, for example, can actually contribute to the appearance of cellulite if they cut off circulation and limit blood flow.

Smoking can affect the appearance of cellulite

Fact

Cigarette smoke has been shown to reduce blood vessel flow and to weaken and disrupt the formation of collagen, allowing for the connective tissue to become stretched and damaged more easily and for underlying fat to show through. Plus, smoking can make you look bad (literally) in lots of other ways, as well: It causes premature wrinkles and aging, leave skin dry and discolored and can contribute tostretch marks, to name a few.

There’s no permanent cellulite solution

Fact (for now)

This one’s not exactly true or false, but scientists do seem to be getting better and better at finding long-term solutions for treating trouble spots. The most recent and promising procedure is a surgery called Cellulaze, approved by the FDA in 2012, in which an optic laser melts fat, breaks up fibrous connective tissue and stimulates the growth of new collagen, all through a pinhole-sized incision in the skin. “It’s great because it works on both those fibers that are pulling down your skin and on the fat globules that are popping through,” says Dr. Karcher. Recovery is quick, too: “You might be a little bit sore afterward, but you can have it done on a Friday and be back to work by Monday.” The treatment starts at about $3,500 per leg, but results seem to last at least a year or two.

This article originally appeared on Health.com

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