TIME medicine

You Asked: Is It Bad to Hold in a Sneeze?

Holding in Sneezes
Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

Pulled muscles and perforated eardrums are a couple of the calamities that could befall a sneeze suppressor.

Spend some time reading medical case studies—a great way to ruin a pleasant morning, by the way—and you’ll be shocked at the unlikely ways people manage to hurt themselves. Focus on sneeze-related accidents, and you’ll notice a trend: Bad things happen when people hold in their sneezes. A fractured larynx, acute cervical pain and facial nerve injuries are just a few of the documented mishaps caused by a stifled achoo.

“I’ve seen patients with a ruptured eardrum or pulled back muscles, and you hear about cracked ribs,” says Dr. Michael Benninger, an otolaryngologist—that’s an ear, nose and throat doctor—and chairman of the Head and Neck Institute at Cleveland Clinic.

While sneezes (and the schnozes that expel them) come in many sizes, a whopper sneeze can blast air out of your nose at 500 miles per hour, Benninger says. If you redirect that force inward, your suppressed sneeze can send waves of force rippling through your head and body.

MORE: Don’t Sneeze In Space: When Astronauts Get Sick

Usually that’s not a big deal. After all, most of us have bottled a sneeze here or there without issue. But Benninger says a preexisting musculoskeletal injury or weakness, odd ear or throat physiology or some other anatomical quirk could lead to an adverse reaction to a held-in sneeze.

While such reactions are unlikely, Benninger says sneezes aren’t meant to be caged. “Sneezing probably cleanses the nose of irritants, viruses and those types of things,” he explains. He uses the word “probably” because there’s research to suggest sneezing might perform other functions, from signaling to people that you’re sick to resetting the homeostatic environment in your nose.

“I’ve read reports that people sneeze differently in different cultures—almost like a learned behavior,” he says. He adds that everything from your lung capacity to the structure of your face and nose can play a role in how forcefully you sneeze, and the potential of your sneeze to cause or exacerbate an injury.

MORE: The 7 Best Food Combinations For Weight Loss

His advice? Don’t hold in a sneeze. “If you feel one coming on and you want to stop it, rubbing your nose can help,” he says. For patients who may feel pain when sneezing—those who’ve recently undergone surgery or broken a bone—Benninger advises opening your mouth wide to minimize a sneeze’s strength. “It’s like forcing water through a pipe,” he says. “If the air can escape through your nose and mouth, that creates less pressure than forcing it through a smaller opening.”

Just make sure that when you sneeze, you’re doing it into the crook of your arm, not your hand. “We know sneezing can project smaller particles 10 to 12 feet, so it’s important to cover your mouth,” Benninger says. “But if you sneeze into your hand, everything you touch is going to be contagious.” Your clothes help absorb particles, and you probably won’t be touching much with the inside of your arm, he adds.

Gesundheit! And safe sneezing, everyone.

TIME Research

You Asked: Why Is My Stomach Growling?

Why Stomachs Growl
Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

Grumblings are an important part of digestion, and they may play a role in obesity and gut disorders.

You know a rumbling tummy is a sign you haven’t eaten in a while. But there’s a lot more going on down there than a quaking plea for more food.

Like street sweepers cleaning up after a parade, the gastrointestinal contractions you feel are your gut’s way of cleansing your empty stomach of left-behind food particles, bacteria overgrowth and other debris, says Dr. Toku Takahashi, a professor and gastroenterologist at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Takahashi says the rumbling is just one phase of a larger process called the migrating motor complex (MMC), which ensures your stomach and intestines stay active and continue to clear away detritus between meals. He says a poorly functioning MMC has turned up in patients with abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms of indigestion or the presence of harmful microorganisms.

Aspects of your gut’s grumbling may also affect your risk for weight issues like obesity.

Feelings of hunger come from your brain, but they’re based on chemicals signals your brain receives from your gut, says Dr. Jan Tack, a professor of medicine who studies gastrointestinal disorders at Belgium’s University of Leuven. According to Tack, there’s mounting evidence that both hunger and the different phases of the MMC are triggered by a “forgotten” gut hormone called motilin.

“The hormone is ‘forgotten’ because rats and mice do not express it, so it is under-studied,” Tack explains.

Gut chemistry quickly gets complicated. But Tack says both obesity and hunger appear to be linked in some ways to your motilin levels. “We have shown that motilin-induced hunger signaling is altered in people experiencing unexplained weight loss and obesity,” he says.

Tack says a person’s motilin levels also seem to change after bariatric procedures like gastric bypass surgery. Motilin may also affect the ways you experience pleasure or a sense of reward after eating, he adds.

All of this research is very new. But manipulating motilin and the resulting MMC response may eventually emerge as a novel way to treat obesity, dyspepsia and other gut-related health issues, Tack’s research suggests.

In the meantime, one thing is certain: It’s normal and healthy to experience a grumbling stomach in between meals.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

You Asked: Can I Trust Allergy Warnings On Food Labels?

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

You can, but deciphering some of those label statements can be tricky.

When you’re trying to shop for a child with a severe peanut allergy, wishy-washy language is the last thing you want to see on a food label. So when you read warnings that begin “May contain traces of…” or “Manufactured on equipment also used for…” you may be left scratching your head.

Believe it or not, all of those “may contain” statements are voluntary under current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations. While not required, food manufacturers sometimes choose to include them if there’s a chance an allergen snuck its way into your food.

“A manufacturer might use the same equipment to make different products,” explains Megan McSeveney, a press officer with the FDA. Even after cleaning this equipment, a small amount of an allergen may inadvertently end up in the next product the machine processes. In this situation, a manufacturer might include a “may contain” advisory statement, McSeveney says.

The FDA is working on new rules that would tighten regulations on this kind of cross-contamination. But for now, if you or a loved one has a severe allergy, your only safe bet is to read “may contain” as “likely contains” when it comes to label warnings, the FDA says.

That raises some important questions. For one, if “may contain” statements are voluntary, doesn’t that mean a lot of potentially contaminated food products don’t include any warnings at all? And couldn’t haphazard food manufacturers just slap on a “may contain” statement to make up for their shoddy practices?

“Companies cannot use voluntary advisory labeling in lieu of good manufacturing practices,” McSeveney says. She says the FDA can seize products with inaccurate allergen information or take other actions to ensure compliance. But, in most cases, “firms generally recall such food products from the marketplace voluntarily when they become aware of a problem,” she says.

Basically, no one is trying to hoodwink consumers—or expose someone with an allergy to a potentially harmful ingredient.

If a food product is made with any one of the eight major food allergens—milk, egg, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts and soybeans—then its label has to identify that allergen either in its ingredients list or in a “contains” statement right next to the ingredients list, McSeveney explains. Also, she says this identification has to feature the allergen’s “food source name”. That means if a product contains something like casein, which is a type of milk protein, the label has to include the word “milk” somewhere in the ingredients list or accompanying “contains” statement.

When it comes to potential allergens outside of that list of eight—gluten, for example—the FDA does not require a manufacturer to include a warning. You still may see statements like “gluten-free” on food labels. But McSeveney says that, much like “may contain” statements, any “free” from statements are voluntary. Though optional, they’re still subject to the FDAs general misbranding requirements. So rest assured, food manufacturers can’t simply lie to you without repercussions.

Though there’s certainly room for improvement in the current labeling system, up until 2006, the FDA didn’t mandate any allergy warnings. So historically speaking, the world today is a lot less uncertain for food allergy sufferers.

It might be an unsatisfying answer, but the bottom line is that life comes with an implicit “may contain” warning.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

You Asked: Is It Healthy to Sweat A Lot?

You Asked Healthy Sweat
Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

If you’re hot, perspiration is normal—even lots of it. But there are other times when excessive sweating could be cause for concern.

Here’s the tricky thing about using sweat as a barometer for health: “A lot of it comes down to biological variation,” says Dr. Craig Crandall, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

Crandall says if you examined two people—same height, sex and build—one might produce twice the volume of perspiration as the other. “It could just be one person has more sweat glands,” he explains. “Everybody’s baseline is different, so it’s hard to say what amount of sweat is ‘healthy’.”

Still, patterns emerge when you look at big groups of people.

A 2010 study from Japan examined how fit men and women sweat in response to exercise, and compared their sweating rates to those of unfit people. Fit people not only perspire more, but they also start sweating sooner during exercise, says study coauthor Dr. Yoshimitsu Inoue of Osaka International University. Men also tend to sweat more than women, Inoue says.

Crandall says the differences between fit and unfit people has to do with each person’s capacity for heat generation. “A high fitness level allows you to exercise at a higher workload, which generates more heat, which in turn leads to more sweat,” he explains.

He says men tend to sweat more than women for the same reason overweight or obese adults often sweat more than thin people: Their bodies are larger, which leads to greater heat generation during activity.

Crandall’s own research has found people sweat more after spending time in hot climates. “An athlete training here in Texas versus someone up in Montana may sweat differently in the same conditions,” he says. “Their bodies adapt in response to hot or humid environments.”

So sweat is complicated. But most of the research suggests perspiring in response to heat or exercise—whether you sweat a little or a lot—doesn’t mean much about your health.

Of course, there are other forms of sweat that have nothing to do with heat regulation.

People sweat when they’re nervous, and Crandall says nervous sweat tends to come from different glands than exercise- or heat-induced sweat. “The sweat glands that are sensitive to emotions are mostly under the arms, in the palms, and in the soles of the feet,” he says. While that’s unfortunate for nervous sweaters, there’s no evidence that people who sweat a lot due to worry are less healthy than those who aren’t as emotionally sweaty.

There’s also a condition called hyperhidrosis, which is excessive sweating either all over your body or in one particular area, such as your palms or pits. Excessive means up to four or five times what most people would sweat, says Dr. Adam Friedman, a dermatologist and residency program director at the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

While the cause of this pernicious perspiration is often not identifiable, it can stem from an infection or illness, certain medications or an underlying endocrine condition like thyroid disease, Friedman says. Because of these links to health concerns, he says people who sweat all the time, day and night, should speak with a doctor.

Regardless of how much you perspire, exactly what you’re perspiring doesn’t vary much from person to person. Crandall says, “Sweat is basically water, sodium chloride, and potassium”—all of which you have to replenish after sweating heavily, he says.

And no, despite what you may have heard from the detox circuit, sweating does not rid your body of “toxins”. “It’s not like parts of the junk food you ate are going to escape through your sweat,” Crandall says. “There’s just no evidence of that.”

TIME public health

You Asked: Is My Air Conditioner Killing Me?

You Asked Air Conditioner Killing Me
Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

It can be unhealthy for you—and it’s certainly bad for the planet. It could also save your life.

In the summer, many of us can’t bear to live without it, but even so, cool air is a modern luxury that sometimes seems to freak people out.

“We had forms of heating for a very long time before we ever had air conditioning,” says Dr. Stan Cox, senior scientist at The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, and author of Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World. Cox points out that as recently as the 1960s, only 12 percent of Americans had some kind of AC in their homes. While heat was an absolute necessity for people to live in cold climates, Cox says, air conditioning is more of a newcomer on the climate-controlled front.

And research suggests that a little freaking out is warranted. “If you have a badly maintained or badly designed AC system, whether it’s in your home or office or vehicle, it can become contaminated and potentially harmful,” says Dr. Mark Mendell, an epidemiologist with the California Department of Public Health.

Mendell studied the health effects of air conditioning systems while with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He says worsening asthma problems and allergies are two health issues that can stem from contaminated AC units. He also mentions an ominous-sounding phenomenon: sick building syndrome.

“We started seeing it in the 70s and 80s,” Mendell says. “People in office buildings started saying the building was making them sick.”

He says sick building syndrome was associated with a range of seemingly unrelated symptoms: nasal congestion, breathing problems, headaches, fatigue and irritated skin. His own research has linked AC systems in office buildings to many of those same symptoms.

“The most likely explanation is that there may be some microorganisms growing in the system that may have some subtle effect on certain people,” Mendell says. “But it’s not clear how many people are sensitive to this or how big of a problem it is.”

Unlike heating systems, the process of cooling hot air creates a lot of moisture and condensation, which must be channeled away, Mendell explains. If your AC system does a bad job of this, whether due to poor maintenance, damage or shoddy design, it can become a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi. To protect yourself, he says, your best defense is a well-maintained and routinely serviced AC unit. (HVAC repairmen, you owe this guy!)

But Mendell is also quick to point out that AC has been firmly linked to many health benefits. “Outdoor air pollution is common in urban environments, and especially in heavy traffic,” he says as just one example. “AC filters out the particles in outdoor pollutants.”

Exposure to airborne pollution particles can raise your risk for hospital admissions and premature death due to cardiovascular issues, says Dr. Michelle Bell, a professor of environmental health at Yale University. Bell’s research found the use of well-maintained AC use lowered a person’s risk for these health complications. “Use of central air conditioning causes less outdoor air pollution to penetrate indoors compared to open windows,” she says.

Both Bell and Mendell also say that during intense heat waves, AC saves lives.

If this seesawing between AC’s benefits and risks feels disorienting, you’re not alone. “Anyone who does research on these systems will admit there’s still a lot of things we don’t know,” Mendell says.

What isn’t in doubt, though, is air conditioning’s very real and harmful impact on the planet.

“The headline issue is its contribution to greenhouse warming,” says Cox, the Land Institute environmental researcher. Indoor heating has long been a bigger contributor than AC to the accumulation of harmful greenhouse gasses, Cox says. But the U.S. population’s southward shift has allowed AC to catch up—and maybe draw even.

Despite his concern for the planet, Cox says that AC can be life saving and beneficial. But he takes issue with what he calls our “lavish” use of any climate control conveniences. Setting our thermostats a bit higher in summer and a little lower in winter would benefit the environment without affecting anyone’s health, he says.

In fact, a little thermal discomfort could be good for you. People tend to eat more and gain more weight when the temperature is perfectly cozy, Cox says. “When we’re a little cold or a little warm, our metabolism runs faster,” he says. Research backs him up: One recent study found exposure to cold temps—enough to make you shiver—may increase your body’s stores of healthy, energy-burning brown fat.

Cox adds that your body can adapt to a range of temperatures. (This is why you break out the shorts and T-shirts on that first 65-degree spring day, but the same thermostat reading in autumn sends you hunting for jeans and sweaters.) So if you can cut out the heat or cold for a week or two, your body will often acclimate to temperatures you found unpleasant at first—and easing up a bit on the AC will make the planet thank you, too.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

You Asked: Do I Worry Too Much?

You Asked Do I Worry Too Much
Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

Frequent fretting is unproductive and not so hot for your health.

As human beings, our ability to predict trouble—and outwit it—is one of those cerebral superpowers that set us apart from birds and beasts. But nonstop worrying can be crippling to your life and your immune system.

“Just having a thought about some potential bad thing that might happen—everyone has those,” says Dr. Michelle Newman, director of the Laboratory for Anxiety and Depression Research at Pennsylvania State University. “But if you have difficulty stopping the worry once it starts, that’s one of the ways we define what’s called pathological worry.”

Newman, who is also editor of the journal Behavior Therapy, cites more characteristics of out-of-control worrying, like fixating on things over which you have no control—or which have a low probability of happening—and “catastrophizing” them. Worrying about a loved one who’s driving and picturing the horrible ramifications of an accident is one example; imagining a string of events that might lead to your losing your job and your home is another.

Anxiety is a related feeling that often goes hand in hand with worrying. While it can be a little tricky to separate the two, Newman says the technical difference is that worrying is “verbal-linguistic” while anxiety is “physical.” If you feel tense or on edge while thinking about your job security or your child’s long car trip, you’re experiencing both worry and anxiety. Feel those emotions “more days than not” for a period of six months, and you meet the American Psychiatric Association’s criteria for a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD. Basically, you’re a chronic worrier.

“I like to say that chronic worry is a process looking for content,” Newman says. “You’ve gotten into the habit of looking for something to be concerned about, and you always find it.”

That’s bad news for several reasons. First and foremost, incessant worrying and anxiety can increase your blood pressure and heart rate and has been linked to an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease. “Anxiety can also over-activate your immune system,” says Dr. Wesley Moons, formerly of the University of California, Davis, and now CEO of his own consulting firm, Moons Analytics.

While at UC Davis, Moons and his graduate student Grant Shields found that people who reacted to stressful situations with anger experienced a smaller immune system response than those who reacted with anxiety. Shields says the sorts of immune system responses his research linked to anxiety could hurt the body’s ability to fight off infection or disease and have been tentatively linked to higher mortality rates.

“That’s not to say getting angry is a healthy reaction to stress,” Moons adds. “But in terms of your immune system, anxiety appears to trigger some different and potentially more detrimental responses.”

But isn’t there a benefit to lots of worrying? After all, if your mind is tackling contingencies and potential threats, you can act now to prevent them—right?

Unfortunately, Newman refutes this idea. “Mostly worrying becomes a process unto itself that doesn’t lead to problem solving or helping you in any way,” she says. If you’re worrying about something, she says, you’re not taking steps to address the source of your worry, if that’s even possible.

When you boil it down, worry is really a failure to live in the moment, Newman says. Activities that attempt to anchor your mind to the present—including yoga and meditation—may help combat incessant worrying. Exercise, massage and other things that alleviate physical tension are also helpful, she says.

Another great way to reign in your worrying is to set aside a specific time and place for it. Select a spot you can get to easily every day, but that isn’t a place where you normally spend time, Newman advises. (A quiet bench in your backyard, maybe, or a chair in your guest room.) Your goal is to give yourself 20 or 30 minutes a day in that space, devoted only to worrying. “The rest of the day, you tell yourself you aren’t going to worry because you will at that time and place,” Newman explains. “The idea is that by isolating your worry, you can control it.”

She says that focusing on a favorite relaxing setting—your “happy place”—also has proven worry-reducing benefits. “Close your eyes,” she says. “Try to vividly picture that place—the sights and smells and sounds you would feel and hear.” Hopefully the place that you see is worry-free.

TIME Cancer

You Asked: Can Deodorant Give You Cancer?

You Asked Deoderent Cancer
Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

There may be reasons to worry—though hard proof remains elusive.

If you’ve seen the 1989 film Batman—the one with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson—you’ll recall that the Joker terrorizes Gotham City by slipping toxic chemicals into cosmetics: while no single item is lethal, combining deodorant with shampoo and lipstick could kill you.

It’s hard not to think of that movie while chatting with toxicologists who study the potential risk of deodorant and antiperspirant ingredients, especially parabens and aluminum. However, according to the American Cancer Society’s website, there is no “clear” or “direct” link between parabens or aluminum and cancer. The National Cancer Institute site says “more research is needed.”

The FDA, for its part, says “FDA believes that at the present time there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of cosmetics containing parabens. However, the agency will continue to evaluate new data in this area. If FDA determines that a health hazard exists, the agency will advise the industry and the public.

But “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” says Dr. Philip Harvey, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Applied Toxicology.

Dr. Philippa Darbre, an oncologist at the University of Reading in the U.K., has published more than 30 research papers on those substances found in underarm deodorant and other personal care products. She says that many of these ingredients are concerning on their own. But the health risks of each may be greater—and more difficult to identify—when you consider the complex chemical cocktails that form when they combine.

For example, her research has detected parabens—a category of chemical that acts as a preservative in some underarm and personal care products—in women’s breast tissue, though how those parabens got there and what happens when they are in breast tissue is unknown.

In Darbre’s experiments, combining different parabens with human cells creates activity that may contribute to the development of cancer. But attempts to find these links in humans—as opposed to in petri dishes—have produced inconsistent results. One 2002 study found no correlation between underarm product use and breast cancer; a 2003 study did find ties. Darbre says both studies have flaws and leave many important questions unanswered.

Like Darbre, Harvey has looked into the ways cosmetics interact with your body. He says wiping these chemicals under your arms and on the sides of your chest or breasts “could provide a route of almost direct exposure to underlying tissue containing estrogen receptors.”

Both parabens and aluminum are “estrogenic” chemicals—meaning they interact with your body’s hormones or cells in ways similar to estrogen. That’s concerning, because excess estrogen plays a role in promoting the growth of cancer cells, according to the National Cancer Institute. While many experts think cosmetic chemicals like parabens have only “weak” estrogenic activity, Harvey doesn’t agree. He says, “It is often quoted that parabens are thousands of times less potent than estrogen in terms of their estrogenicity. This can be misleading and ignores actual exposures.”

Harvey says his own calculations suggest these cosmetic chemicals may “significantly add to estrogenic burdens.” Because of that, he says he questions the wisdom of including any chemical with known hormonal activity in your personal care regimen.

But until he and other researchers are able to explain—and demonstrate—the ways these chemicals cause health problems, no regulatory changes are likely.

That’s because unless a chemical is proven harmful, regulators allow you to eat it, smoke it, brush with it or slather it on your body. Finding that proof of harm is a difficult, costly and time-consuming proposition. Darbre says researchers can’t simply mix some human cells and some chemicals in a test tube and watch for cancer to pop up.

So where does that leave deodorant and antiperspirant users? Largely in in the dark, Darbre says. “People want a simple fix,” she says. “Unfortunately it is not simple.”

Until more is known, consumers are in a bind. “Avoiding certain publicized chemicals is only the tip of the iceberg,” she says. Darbre says she switched to a twice-daily regimen of underarm cleaning with soap and water. (“No one has yet complained!” she jokes.) Frequent pit scrubbing may seem unnecessarily laborious—or just plain weird. But if you’re concerned about the chemicals you rub on your body, regular bathing might seem like an attractive alternative.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

You Asked: Is It Better to Sleep In Or Work Out?

Peter Oumanski for TIME

Sleep and exercise are both vital. But if you can’t seem to fit in both, you can sometimes substitute a little of one for a little of the other.

When it comes to your health, there are few absolutes. But that’s not the case with sleep and exercise. You need both, period.

“I couldn’t choose between the two,” says Edward Laskowski, MD, a resident and professor of physical medicine at Mayo Clinic. “Sleep and exercise are like food and water.”

Not only are both necessary, but it’s difficult to get healthy doses of one without the other. “When you look at the research, regular physical activity is important for high-quality sleep, and high-quality sleep is important for physical performance,” says Cheri Mah, a sleep medicine researcher at Stanford University and the University of California, San Francisco.

But when pressed to choose one that’s more important, Mah grudgingly decides on sleep. “Sleep is foundational,” she says. While specific needs vary from person to person, she says most of the scientific literature suggests adults need a minimum of seven hours of good sleep every night. “Lots of individuals think they can operate on less, but when you test them, you find they’re not performing at their best,” Mah says. “They get used to feeling tired, and they think that’s the norm.”

Sleep is the base on which a healthy mind and body stand, she explains. From your immune function to your mood, energy, appetite and dozens of other health variables, if that base is wobbly, your health will suffer.

But let’s assume you’re getting your seven-plus hours every night. Can you sacrifice some zzzs a few times a week in order to fit in regular exercise? Yes, but with caveats, says Dr. Phyllis Zee, director of the Center for Circadian and Sleep Medicine at Northwestern University.

Regularity is very important for sound, restorative sleep. Mess around too much with your sleep and wake schedule, and all of your body’s circadian rhythms can be thrown out of whack. Not only will you feel sleepy at odd hours, but you may also struggle to fall asleep at night, and your appetite and energy will fluctuate in unhealthy ways, Zee says.

Say you typically go to bed around 11:00 p.m. and rise at seven. Zee says the midpoint of your night would land near 3 a.m. As long as you’re maintaining your seven-to-eight-hour average and that midpoint lands between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., Zee says you’re fine skipping a half hour of sleep a few days a week in favor of a morning run or gym visit.

Not fine: Rising two hours early to attend a morning yoga class or to fit in a lengthy bike ride.

“Even on weekends, you want to keep that regularity of when you go to bed and when you get up,” Zee stresses. Your body doesn’t understand what a weekend is, so it doesn’t react well if you stick to one schedule during the workweek and adopt a radically different schedule on Saturdays and Sundays. The same goes for your workout days.

But if you’re falling short of your seven hours a night, Zee, Mah and Laskowski all say the same thing: It’s time to reorganize your schedule in a way that makes room for both adequate sleep and regular exercise.

There may be some exceptions for people with insomnia or those who can’t seem to sleep at night. For them, rising at the same time each day and incorporating regular exercise might help alleviate sleep woes, even if it means sacrificing a little sack time in the short term.

But for the rest of us, making time for sleep and exercise can come down to cutting out activities that aren’t as important.

“Almost everyone could forgo 30 minutes a day of internet or TV time,” Mah says. Both the CDC and American Heart Association recommend a minimum of 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week. Along with your seven-plus hours of sleep, those are you bare-minimum goals when it comes to healthy rest and physical activity.

“There are so many unique benefits that each have, it’s hard to pull them apart,” Laskowski says. “The real danger is when you only make adequate time for one of them.”

TIME Diet/Nutrition

You Asked: Can I Scrape Mold Off of Food and Eat It?

Can I eat moldy food
Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

Believe it or not, you can eat food with fuzz. But only when it comes to certain stuff.

Nobody wants to waste food. So when you see something hairy in your cream cheese or suspicious spots on your bread, it’s tempting to scrape the mold away and chow down. But in most cases—including the two just mentioned—munching moldy food is a bad idea, says Kristin Kirkpatrick, a registered dietitian and wellness manager at Cleveland Clinic.

Kirkpatrick says that when visible mold is present, its tentacles—called “threads”—have likely penetrated deep into your food, contaminating even those parts that appear to be mold-free.

The health risks of mold exposure are many. “Mold can produce toxic substances, called mycotoxins,” says Katie George, a clinical dietitian at the University of Kansas Hospital. These toxins can cause respiratory problems, allergic reactions and illness. George says aflatoxin, a specific type mycotoxin found in nuts and grains, can even be cancer-causing.

Mold is usually easy to spot. It often appears as a blue or green discoloration, which can grow a hairy coat if left long enough, Kirkpatrick says. If you’re examining foods in jars—things like pasta sauce or salsa—it’s best to check the underside of the lid and rim of the container for suspicious growths.

Just don’t sniff your foods, Kirkpatrick warns, which could lead to you inhaling mold spores. If you’re worried about mold but don’t see any growths, use common sense. “If the food doesn’t look the way it normally would, and especially if it seems moisture-soaked, toss it,” Kirkpatrick says.

The exceptions: Hard block cheeses like parmesan, cheddar or Swiss. “With those, the mold generally won’t penetrate deep into the product,” Kirkpatrick says. But don’t start scraping, which can release mold spores into the air or allow them to spread to your countertops or other foods. The only safe way to remove that mold is to cut away an inch of cheese all the way around the spot, she says. “You’ll probably cut away some safe parts, but that’s a good rule of thumb.”

A similar rule applies to some super-dense meats, like hard salami or cured ham. If mold is present, Kirkpatrick says you can cut it away and still enjoy these meats. But again, avoid scraping.

She also advises tossing the moldy bits in your trash—not your sink, where they could release spores or be splashed onto nearby countertops or dishes. Be sure not to use the same knife to prepare food that you used to remove the mold, too.

If you want to cut down the risk of mold in the first place, make sure you keep the inside of your fridge clean, George says. If bits of food or spilled condiments sit for weeks or months, the mold they harbor could spread to other foods—even fresh stuff. She also recommends keeping every food covered in your refrigerator to avoid cross-contamination.

Also, toss any prepared foods—things like casseroles or dinner leftovers—after two days. “Forty-eight hours is probably pretty conservative,” Kirkpatrick says. “But why take the chance?” Playing it safe is especially important for people with weakened immune systems, she says.

Her final piece of advice is probably your best course of action when it comes to moldy food: “When in doubt,” she says, “throw it out.”

TIME Research

You Asked: Are Self-Tanners Safe?

You Asked: Should I Use Spray Tanner?
Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

These products are safer than sun exposure—but only if you avoid the sprays.

To bake, or to fake? It’s a classic tanning conundrum. Sitting under the sun causes skin damage and cellular changes that raise your risk for skin cancer, and even among adults under 40, melanoma rates are on the rise.

“In order to get a natural tan from ultraviolet light, your skin has to be injured,” says Dr. Darrell Rigel, a clinical professor of dermatology at New York University. You know this, and you worry about it. But unlike ultraviolet rays, sunless self-tanners don’t mean you have to damage your skin. “These products contain an ingredient that stains the outermost layer or your skin,” Rigel says.

In most cases, that ingredient is dihydroxyacetone (DHA). When it combines with amino acids in your skin, DHA causes a browning reaction—the same type of reaction that occurs when you make toast or grill meat, explains Dr. Adam Friedman, director of dermatologic research at Montefiore-Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

That may sound scary. But the browning only takes place in your skin’s “stratum corneum”—the topmost layer composed of dead cells, Friedman says. “Our bodies make a form of this stuff,” he adds, referring to DHA. “So I’m not concerned about it from as safety standpoint. When used topically, I think it’s the only safe way to have a tan appearance.”

For anyone who’s read up on self-tanners, Friedman’s statements may raise eyebrows. A few years ago, a much-cited report from ABC News raised concerns about spray-tanning salons and the risks of inhaling DHA and other self-tanning ingredients. Subsequent research supported the idea that inhaling spray-on tanning chemicals could potentially raise your risk for asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or cancer.

“Stretched flat, your lungs are the size of a tennis court,” says Dr. Reynold Panettieri, a professor of pulmonary medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “So inhaling these self-tanning agents could have all sorts of potential health consequences.”

But what about self-tanners you spread on your skin? The ABC News report cited Food & Drug Administration data suggesting that small amounts of DHA might seep through your skin and into your bloodstream. If true, that could also raise health concerns. But since that FDA data came to light, follow-up studies have failed to find evidence that DHA penetrates your skin’s protective barriers.

Dr. Rigel was one of several experts who voiced concern to ABC News following their DHA investigation. But when it comes to DHA in lotions, Rigel says his concerns have since been assuaged. “There’s no data to show that DHA is harmful when applied topically,” he says. “Pregnant women and children may want to avoid it just as a precaution, but this is benign stuff.”

Panettieri agrees. “Based on what we know today, DHA is really pretty safe when applied to the skin correctly,” he says. Correct application means avoiding the sensitive skin around your eyes and on your lips, as well as cuts or abrasions—more reasons to be wary of spray-on options. Panettieri says rubbing DHA into very thin or broken skin could let it enter your system. “Even if DHA got beyond the skin, any risk is hypothetical,” he’s quick to add.

Both he and Rigel say that compared to the well-established risks of sun exposure, topical self-tanning lotions are a safer option. Friedman agrees, and says his only concern is that some people might have an allergic reaction to DHA or other ingredients in self-tanners—a risk that comes with almost any cosmetic.

But Friedman adds one big warning: Self-tanners do not offer your skin any protection from sun damage. “Some people think these self-tanners act like sunscreen,” he says. “They don’t.” In fact, some research suggests DHA may actually increase the amount of damage your skin sustains from sun exposure.

Of course, new research could always surface new risks. And not as much is known about less-common tanning chemicals. But for now, if you’re craving a little color, self-tanning lotions with DHA seem to be your safest option.

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