TIME toxins

20 Things You Should Throw Away for Better Health

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Ready the recycling bin

When we talk about the steps you need to take to get healthier, they often involve buying new things: workout clothes, fitness equipment, ingredients for healthy recipes, and the list goes on. But becoming the healthiest version of yourself also means throwing away the stuff that’s holding you back—and we don’t only mean junk food. Get your recycling or garbage can ready!

Old plastic containers

Go through your collection of food-storage containers and toss anything made of clear, rigid plastic, and stamped with a 7 or “pc” (stands for polycarbonate). “These are the types of containers that maycontain BPA,” says Sonya Lunder, MPH, a senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group, who also advises tossing warped or cracked containers. While manufacturers have take BPA out of many of the newer polycarbonate containers, old ones still probably have it. And multiple trips through the dishwasher can up leaching of the chemical. Lunder also cautions against heating any type of plastic in the microwave because of chemical-leaching concerns. “Glass is safer in general,” she says.

Read more: 27 Mistakes Healthy People Make

Air fresheners

Though some companies have recently announced they’re phasing out phthalates, which are used to help fragrance linger longer, many air fresheners (solids, sprays, and plug-ins) still contain this type of chemical, which in large doses may have harmful effects on reproduction or development. “These products are simply chemical perfumes that you put in the air,” says Lunder, who argues that it’s much healthier to take care of the root cause of a smell than mask it with chemicals.

Antibacterial soap

Antibacterial soap is no more effective at killing bacteria than the regular stuff—and they may not be safe, according to a 2014 FDA report. Triclosan, the active ingredient in antibacterial cleansers, has been shown to alter hormone regulation in animals, and there’s also concern that the chemical may contribute to antibiotic resistance.

Your stash of diet soda

If you haven’t already, you may want to reconsider your diet soda habit—especially if you’re trying to lose weight. A much-buzzed-about study published in the journal Nature found that non-caloric sweeteners such as saccharin (Sweet-n-Low), sucralose (Splenda), and aspartame (Equal) may mess with the gut bacteria that play a key role in healthy metabolism. Researchers found a link between these sweeteners, altered gut microbes, glucose intolerance and metabolic syndrome (both precursors to Type 2 diabetes) in mice and humans.

Read more: 10 Reasons to Give Up Diet Soda

Worn-out running shoes

Most running shoes should be replaced every 300 to 400 miles, says Jason Karp, MD, exercise physiologist and author of Running for Women. For a runner who logs 30 miles a week, that’s about every three months. When shoes wear down, they lose their cushioning and are less capable of absorbing the impact of your foot landing with each step, so more force is transmitted to muscles, bones, and tendons, putting you at risk for injuries, he explains. If you’re not a runner, replace them about every six months, or as soon as you notice that the tread is looking worn out.

Frayed toothbrush

If you’re brushing in the morning and the evening like you’re supposed to, then your toothbrush bristles are probably becoming frayed and worn faster than you realize. “In my experience, bristles start to fray after about two months of use, so I recommend my patients replace their brushes every three months,” says American Dental Association spokesperson Ruchi Sahota, who is a practicing dentist in California. Worn-out brushes are less effective at cleaning teeth and fighting off decay.

Clutter

“In the end, we are what we think about, and what we think about is heavily influenced by what we keep around us,” says motivational speaker and life coach Gail Blanke, author of Throw Out Fifty Things. She calls the things that neither serve a specific purpose nor exist to make you feel good “life plaque”: “The more life plaque we pile around ourselves, the less we can focus on what we really care about,” she explains. Not sure where to start? Toss things that annoy you every time you see them, like socks that have lost their match, or your overflowing kitchen junk drawer. No matter what you decide to throw out (or donate), your goal is to whittle the physical objects down to only items that help you feel energized and accomplish your goals.

Read more: 20 Quick and Easy Ways to Get Healthier Fast

Clothes you don’t wear anymore

Take a peek in your closet. How many items have you not worn within the last year? Many people who’ve lost weight keep the bigger sizes around in case they regain it, while others hold onto the size 2 jeans they wore in high school, thinking maybe if they diet they’ll fit again. In either case, seeing these items every day can bring on anxiety. That’s not how anyone wants to feel when getting ready.

Leftovers lingering in the fridge

When it comes to highly perishable food that contains animal ingredients, the rule of thumb is to eat, toss, or freeze after three days, says Michael P. Doyle, PhD, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia. “Listeria is linked to scary things like meningitis, miscarriages, and even death,” he says. “It can grow to millions at refrigerator temperatures in under a week.”

Old mascara

Liquid makeup, including mascara, can harbor a lot of germs, says Thomas Steinemann, MD, an American Academy of Ophthalmology spokesperson who practices in Ohio. That’s why he recommends throwing tubes away two to three months after opening. “Each time you use mascara, you are brushing it and any germs onto your lashes,” he says. “You’re also contaminating the brush with even more bacteria present on your skin or eyelashes, then plunging it into a moist room-temperature environment, which encourages bacterial growth.” One of the primary functions of eyelashes is to keep debris and germs from entering your eye, so it’s important to keep the makeup you put on them as germ-free as possible, he adds.

Read more: 18 Makeup Mistakes That Make You Look Older

Dirty contact lens case

“Using a dirty lens case is one of the primary risk factors for getting eye infections,” says Dr. Steinemann, who recommends replacing you lens case at least every three months, as well as cleaning, air-drying facedown, and using fresh solution daily. “Even if you care for your lens case fastidiously, a grimy biofilm builds up on the surface that’s a magnet for dirt and germs,” he explains. “If you don’t change it out for a new one, you’re putting yourself at risk for a potentially serious eye infection like a corneal ulcer that can become infected and—even when healed—result in a scar that could affect your vision,” he adds. Don’t mess with your eyes, people!

Stale spices

Spices that have been hanging out in your cabinets for years probably won’t make you sick—but they won’t add any flavor to your food, which is key when you’re trying to cook healthy meals that don’t go overboard on fat or calories. Fresh spices can mean the difference between bland meals that makes you consider giving up on your goals and ordering delivery, and amazingly flavorful food that’s good for you and satisfying.

Old lip gloss

Anything that’s used around your mouth collects a lot of bacteria quickly, and the longer the bacteria sits in a moist tube, the more it grows. This increases your chance of infection if it gets into a cut or crack on the delicate skin of your lips. For this reason, experts recommend that you throw out lip gloss or other lip makeup no more than six months after you open it and begin using it, or by the expiration date, whichever is sooner.

Read more: 12 Strange-But-True Health Tricks

Musty, clogged air filters

If you have an air purifier at home, you get a gold star. “HEPA filtered air cleaning devices—the most efficient kind—are important because according to the EPA, indoor air quality is 25 to 100 times worse than outdoors,” says Philip Tierno, PhD, a microbiologist with New York University. In fact, the average 1,500 square foot house can accumulate 40 pounds of dust (40,000 dust mites per ounce). “One in five Americans suffer from allergies or asthma, which can be exacerbated by dust, mold, and bacteria in the air so a good filter system goes a long way,” he adds. Just don’t forget to replace the filter every so often or you could actually be growing mold and bacteria, and blowing contaminants back into your air. How often depends on what kind you have, so check with your manufacturer and use common sense. One telltale sign it needs to be tossed is a musty smell.

Stretched-out bras

When’s the last time you went bra shopping? The elastic in bras can get stretched out over time (the washing machine speeds up this process) which means less support for your girls. “Replacing a bra whenever it no longer lends comfort and support will help reduce back pain in heavier women, and can slow the natural process of aging in breast tissue,” says breast specialist Kristi Funk, MD. (That “natural process of aging” is sagging.)

Your kitchen sponge

Studies show the kitchen sponge is the germiest thing in the average American household, says Tierno. While some experts recommend microwaving sponges daily to zap bacteria, Doyle recommends skipping them completely: “When you use a sponge to clean meat juices, which can contain harmful microbes like salmonella, and it stays moist at room temperature, they grow quickly and studies show even the dishwasher doesn’t kill them.” He advises using a washcloth to clean dishes instead, grabbing a clean one every few days, and throwing the dirty ones in with your laundry. “Because it’s thinner, a washcloth dries quicker than a sponge between washes, which helps significantly slow bacterial growth,” he explains.

Read more: How to Keep Your Kitchen Germ-Free

Plastic cutting boards

Slicing and dicing on plastic cutting boards scores the surface (those lines you begin seeing after the first few times you use one). Once bacteria get into these tiny grooves and begin to grow, they can be very difficult to get rid of, says Doyle. He recommends switching to wooden cutting boards because wood contains resins that are naturally antimicrobial. Translation: when you score a wooden cutting board and bacteria seeps in, it dies instead of thrives.

Smart devices

You don’t need to toss your iPhone or Android out completely (phew!), but you should definitely unplug from time to time. Mounting research indicates that information overload—what happens when you use smart devices constantly—is linked to depression and anxiety. Recent studies suggest that this is particularly true for people who are overly attached to their smartphones and tablets, and for those who use multiple devices at once (which experts call media multitasking). Power down and stow your devices in a drawer at least a few times per week to give your brain a break‚ ideally on a set schedule (for example, weekdays after 9 p.m. or weekend mornings before noon).

Your chair

Global studies show that the average person sits 7.7 hours a day, and some estimate people sit up to 15 hours a day, says Robert Emery, professor of occupational health at the University of Texas School of Public Health. Excessive sitting impacts the body’s metabolic system, and can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and depression. But it’s not as simple as putting in more time at the gym, which may not even reverse “sitting disease,” adds Emery. The American Medical Association recommends switching to a standing desk for work as an excellent way to combat the health issues associated with too much sitting.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

Read next: 4 Cooking Mistakes That Make You Gain Weight

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TIME Cancer

Many Breast Cancer Patients Don’t Understand Their Condition, Study Says

The disparity is particularly pronounced for minority women

Many breast cancer patients don’t understand the details of their disease, according to a new study. While many believed they understood the grade, stage and type of tumor, only 20% to 58% identified those characteristics correctly.

The study, published Monday in the journal Cancer, found that minority women fared particularly poorly in identifying their tumor characteristics, a finding that remained true even as researchers controlled for factors like education. The lack of understanding about their own disease makes it difficult for patients to make informed medical decisions and to follow prescribed treatments, said study author and Harvard Medical School professor Rachel Freedman.

“Our results illustrate the lack of understanding many patients have about their cancers and have identified a critical need for improved patient education and provider awareness of this issue,” Freedman said.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

17 Ways to Age-Proof Your Brain

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Sharpen your memory with these surprising anti-aging tricks

What’s good for your body is good for your brain. That means eating a balanced diet with lots of fruits and veggies and not much sugar, saturated fat, or alcohol, as well as getting enough exercise and sleeping about eight hours a night. But evidence is accumulating that a whole host of other activities can help keep our brains young even as we advance in chronological age. There is no one magic activity that you need to take on, but trying a handful of the following will help.

Take dance lessons

Seniors who danced three to four times a week—especially those who ballroom danced—had a 75% lower risk of dementia compared with people who did not dance at all, found a 2003 landmark study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Why? “Dancing is a complex activity,” says study lead author Joe Verghese, MD, chief of geriatrics at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. “It’s aerobic so it improves blood flow to the brain which has been shown to improve brain connections. It also provides mental challenges.” While it can be hard to prove cause and effect (people with dementia may cut back on activities), the study enrolled people without dementia and followed them over time.

Play an instrument

Whether it’s the saxophone, the piano, or a ukulele, researchers found that playing an instrument for 10 or more years was correlated with better memory in advanced age compared to those who played music for less than 10 years (or not at all). Other research shows that even listening to music can help boost your brainpower. A study from the Stanford University School of Medicine found that listening to baroque music (Vivaldi, Bach) leads to changes in the brain that help with attention and storing events into memory.

Learn a foreign language

Being bilingual may help delay the onset of dementia. Individuals who spoke two languages developed dementia an average of four and a half years later than people who only spoke one language in a 2013 study published in the journal Neurology. Other research shows that people who speak more than one language are better at multitasking and paying attention. Experts say the earlier you learn, the better—growing up speaking two languages is optimal—but that it’s never too late and every little bit of language learning helps.

Play chess

Playing chess, bingo, checkers, and card games may help keep your brain fit. A 2013 French study found a 15% lower risk of dementia among people who played board games versus those who did not. And the effects seemed to last over the study’s 20-year follow-up. “The idea is that this helps build cognitive reserve,” says Dr. Verghese, whose study also found benefits to playing board games like Monopoly. “The more these activities buffer against the disease, you may be able to mask the effects of the disease for longer periods of time. It buys you extra time.”

Read more: 12 Unexpected Things That Mess With Your Memory

Read more of less

Reading, in general, is good for the brain. But reading fewer books and articles so you can give them each of them more focused attention may be even better. “Our brain doesn’t do very well with too much information. The more you download, the more it shuts the brain down,” says Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD, director of the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas. “It’s better to read one or two good articles and think about them in a deeper sense rather than read 20.”

Change your font

Next time you have to read through some documents for work, consider changing the typeface before you print them out. Chances are, the docs came to you in an easy-to-read font like Arial or Times New Roman, but switching it to something a little less legible like Comic Sans or Bodoni may improve your comprehension and recall of the information, according to a small study out of Harvard University. Likewise, a study at a Ohio high school revealed that students who received handouts with less-legible type performed better on tests than the students who were given more readable materials. It’s a version of the no-pain-no-gain phenomenon: When you exert more effort, your brain rewards you by becoming stronger. But make sure you keep things new by changing fonts regularly.

Single-task

If you think your ability to multitask proves you’ve got a strong brain, think again. “Multitasking hijacks your frontal lobe,” says Chapman, who is also the author of Make Your Brain Smarter. The frontal lobe regulates decision-making, problem-solving, and other aspects of learning that are critical to maintaining brain health. Research has shown that doing one thing at a time—not everything at once—strengthens higher-order reasoning, or the ability to learn, understand, and apply new information.

Read more: 25 Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

Write about your stress

In one study, college students who wrote about stressful experiences for 20 minutes three days in a row improved their working memories and their grade point averages. Students who wrote about neutral events saw no such improvements. “We hypothesized that stress causes unwanted, intrusive thoughts,” says study co-author Adriel Boals, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the University of North Texas in Denton. “Writing gets rid of intrusive thoughts then working memory increases.” If something’s bothering you, don’t bottle it up.

Take up knitting

Activities that put your hands to work, like knitting, crocheting, and gardening, are proven stress relievers, and they may also keep your brain young. In a 2013 survey of about 3,500 knitters around the world, there was a correlation between knitting frequency and cognitive function; the more people knitted, the better function they had.

Find your purpose

People who feel they’ve found their purpose in life have lower rates of depression and tend to live longer. Studies also show that this positive outlook also benefits the brain. In one study, those who reported having a strong purpose in life were more than twice as likely to stay Alzheimer’s-free than people who did not profess a purpose. To develop a sense of purpose, focus on the positive impact you have at home or at work. You could also try volunteering for a cause that’s meaningful to you.

Read more: 12 Ways to Improve Your Concentration at Work

Be social

Spending lots of time with friends and family, especially as you get older, may be one of the best buffers against mental decline. In one study, people who participated in social activities more often and who felt that they had ample social support did better on several measures of memory, as well as mental processing speed. “Social engagement is linked with mental agility,” says Carey Gleason, PhD, a clinical neuropsychologist at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison.

Play a video game

Companies like Lumosity charge you a monthly fee for brain-training games, but playing puzzle games on your kid’s Xbox may have the same effects—and depending on what you play, may be even more effective. In a Florida State University study, subjects either played games on Lumosity.com or played Portal 2, a popular action-puzzle game for computers, Playstation, and Xbox. Those who played Portal 2 scored better on problem solving, spatial skill, and persistence tests. Other research shows that playing Tetris may increase gray matter in the brain.

Use your time efficiently

Don’t spend an hour doing something that should take you 10 minutes. Conversely, don’t spend 10 minutes on something that deserves an hour. In other words, calibrate your mental energy. “Decide from the get-go how much mental energy you are going to spend on a task,” says Chapman. “Giving your full forceful energy all the time really degrades resources. You need to know when to do something fast and when to do something slow.”

Read more: 15 Diseases Doctors Often Miss

Write by hand

Sure, typing is faster, but writing longhand may be better for your brain. Studies have shown that students learn better when they take notes by hand because it forces them to process the information as they take it in. The cursive you learned in elementary school may be particularly useful. First graders who learned to write in cursive scored higher on reading and spelling than peers who wrote in print.

Take naps

Go ahead, sneak in a super-quick catnap: it’ll recharge your brain. One group of German researchers saw improvements in memory among people who dozed for as little as six minutes, although the results were even better among those who napped longer. Conversely, problems sleeping, including sleep apnea and insomnia, are associated with dementia. That research is still early (people with dementia have disturbed sleep), but bear in mind that sleeping seven to eight hours a night may help you live longer and, hopefully, healthier.

Wash the dishes

It may be easier than you think to get the optimal amount of physical activity. According to one study, washing the dishes, cooking, and cleaning can add to our daily activity total and are linked with a reduced risk of dementia. In the study, people with the least amount of total physical activity were more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s compared with people reporting the most activity. Even playing cards and moving a wheelchair counted.

Read more: 12 Worst Habits for Your Mental Health

Ramp it up

Whether it’s physical activity or mental activity, you need to keep pushing your limits in order to reap the benefits. “You need to challenge yourself to the next level so you get the benefits,” says Verghese. Don’t be satisfied with finishing Monday’s easy crossword puzzle. Keep going until you master Saturday’s brainteaser as well. The same with walking: keep lengthening your distance.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

Read next: This Is How Much Exercise Experts Really Think You Need

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TIME Innovation

Medicine’s Augmented-Reality Future Is Just Around the Corner

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How this new technology will change how your doctor treats you

This story was originally published at the Daily Dot.

Augmented reality is still a relatively new and unknown technology. People scoff at Google Glass face computers on the street while the device is being used by doctors as both a diagnostic tool and a way to train medical students.

The hardware and software that bends reality is expected to become a part of our everyday life. But when? In fields like healthcare, it’s already being used to treat patients and improve the quality of life for those suffering from things like mental illness and vision impairments.

Helen Papagiannis, augmented reality specialist and Ph.D researcher, studies practical applications of augmented reality, and at a HealthTech Women event in San Francisco, discussed some of the ways it’s already being used in work and research environments.

OrCam is helping visually impaired people “see” text. The Tel Aviv-based company created a wearable that clips onto a pair of glasses and contains a camera and a pair of sensors. It speaks to the wearer through a bone-conduction earpiece, describing what it sees. OrCam can tell when a person is pointing to a menu, book, or any other text, and can “read” the text to the wearer. This technology has allowed people to enjoy novels before bed, go out to lunch with friends without asking them to read the menu, and look at street signs while walking through a city.

In diagnostic environments, Evena Medical gives nurses and doctors complete vision of vascular anatomy with Eyes-On Glass—by slipping on a pair of glasses, they can see the veins underneath patients’ skin, making it easier to document the best care as well as insert needles quicker and more comfortably.

“In two to five years, the definition of augmented reality is going to extend,” Papagiannis said in an interview with the Daily Dot. “We’re not going to be calling it augmented reality anymore, it really will just be reality. It will be a combination of artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, all coming together.”

Read the rest of the story at the Daily Dot.

TIME Addiction

Typical American Smokers Burn Up at Least $1 Million During Their Lifetimes

Alaska smokers will spend over $2 million

American smokers spend at least $1 million dollars on cigarette-related expenditures over their lifetimes, according to a state-by-state analysis done by the financial consultancy company WalletHub.

The most expensive state for smokers is Alaska, where the habit costs over $2 million dollars on average. For a bargain, move to South Carolina, but that still comes in at nearly $1.1 million.

“I and most people really just think of the cost of cigarettes and taxes on the packs, but if you think about the healthcare costs, which can totally be avoided, healthcare insurance premiums, and in the workplace, bias against smokers, that can … add up,” said WalletHub spokeswoman Jill Gonzalez.

The study’s “average smoker” is someone who smokes one pack a day starting from the age of 18 (legal age to buy) and ending at 69 (the average age of death for a smoker).

So, if you’re looking for another excuse to quit, perhaps take a quick peak down millionaire’s row.

TIME Healthcare

When Can a Person Be Forced to Receive Medical Care?

'We subscribe to the principle that people should get to make decisions for themselves almost all the time'

Last week, the case of a Connecticut teenager, identified as Cassandra C., 17, made headlines. Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Cassandra wanted to forgo chemotherapy altogether—a decision her mother reportedly supported. But in early January, child services took the 17-year-old into custody and on Jan. 8 the state Supreme Court denied the teenager’s request to not receive the drugs.

The state’s interference in a personal decision about health care provides a rare lens into when and how health officials can mandate health care. Forced treatment is rare, but it happens when people, most often minors and the mentally ill, find themselves in extenuating circumstances.

“We subscribe to the principle that people should get to make decisions for themselves almost all the time,” says Paul S. Appelbaum, a psychiatry, medicine and law professor at Columbia University. “The exceptions to that rule are rare. What we’re seeing play out in Connecticut is really the exception, not the rule.”

Competent adults in the United States are almost always permitted to make their own health care decisions, even if that means forgoing a potentially life-saving treatment. Even in cases of highly infectious disease, state laws don’t typically allow forced medical treatment. Instead, sick individuals may be quarantined until they agree to comply with treatment procedures.

The most obvious exception to the principle applies to mentally ill patients deemed incompetent to make their own health decisions. Though laws vary for long-term involuntary treatment between states, most jurisdictions allow short-term hospitalization for individuals thought to be a risk to themselves or others.

Read more: Dangerous Cases: Crime and Treatment

Minors have no official say when it comes to decisions about their health care; parents or guardians are typically charged with making treatment decisions on their behalf. (Minors do have the right to petition the courts to show that they are “mature”—something Cassandra from Connecticut did—and therefore capable of making their own decisions. Cassandra’s petition was denied.)

If parents refuse a recommended treatment, the state typically works with parents to reach a mutually agreeable solution, says Appelbaum. If the parties still can’t agree, the case may go to the courts. “The legal principles here are fairly consistent, but their application is not necessarily straightforward,” said Appelbaum of the difficulty of resolving health care issues in court. “There is no algorithm.”

When brought to court, judges weigh a range of concerns, including the consequences of leaving an ailment untreated. Life-threatening conditions are much more likely to result in forced treatment than, say, a recommended cosmetic surgery, said Appelbaum.

“How long is a person actually supposed to live, and why? Who determines that?” Cassandra wrote in a op-ed in the Hartford Courant. “I care about the quality of my life, not just the quantity.”

The court, which had previously ruled Cassandra’s mother unfit to make decisions on her daughter’s behalf, rejected Cassandra’s explanation and ordered her to undergo chemotherapy.

“This is a curable illness, and we will continue to ensure that Cassandra receives the treatment she needs to become a healthy and happy adult,” said a statement from the Connecticut Department of Children and Families.

MONEY Health Care

The Good News and the Bad News About Health Care Costs

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The growth of health care costs is slowing, but we're still paying more and getting less

The latest study on health care premiums is a good news/bad news situation. The good news is that premium increases are slowing. The bad news is that you aren’t seeing the savings.

Out-of-pocket health care costs—defined as premiums plus deductibles—now account for 9.6% of median income, up from 5.3% ten years ago, according to the latest report from the Commonwealth Fund, a non-profit health care research group.

That’s partly because health care costs have been rising much faster than incomes. From 2010 to 2013, premiums increased “just” 4.1% a year. (That might sound like a lot, but it’s an improvement from the 5.1% yearly rise between 2003 and 2010.) Meanwhile, from 2003 to 2013, median incomes rose only 1.2% a year on average.

And even as wages have stalled, employers have asked workers to shoulder more of their own health care costs. Deductibles for single coverage have more than doubled since 2003. Today, on average, Americans need to spend 3.8% of their income before health insurance kicks in. And as premiums have gotten 60% more expensive, employers have asked employees to cover an even bigger share of the total cost. You’re paying more, in other words, but getting less.

Your move? Change the way you budget for health care. Here’s how to keep your costs down in 2015.

1) Consider a high-deductible plan.

Sometimes, but not always, a high-deductible plan actually provides a better value than a plan with a lower deductible. While high-deductible plans make you pay more out-of-pocket, you should pay less out of your paycheck every month. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average high-deductible plan for a single person has a $2,215 deductible and will cost you $905 in premiums. Compare that to the average single coverage PPO plan, which has a $843 deductible and will cost you $1,134 in premiums. If you rarely go to the doctor, you’ll save more every pay period with the high-deductible plan.

Employers love this kind of plan because it’s cheaper for them—remember, they’re still paying the bulk of your premiums—so 76% of employers offer financial incentives to encourage you to switch.

Before you make the jump, compare the amount of money you would save from lower premiums to the amount of exposure you face because of the higher deductible. Here’s how to decide which is right for you.

2) Use a health savings account.

About 70% of the Americans struggling with medical debt are actually insured, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. How does that happen? Well, the Commonwealth Foundation found that the average deductible for single coverage is $1,273—and 62% of Americans don’t have savings to cover a $1,000 emergency room visit, according to Bankrate.

That’s why Americans with high deductibles need an emergency fund to cover unexpected medical costs. The best place for that special health-emergency fund is a health savings account (HSA), a tax-advantaged savings vehicle. You qualify for one if your deductible is at least $1,300 for an individual plan or $2,600 for a family plan. If your employer doesn’t offer one, you can open it on your own. Try to save at least the amount of your deductible. Unlike the “use it or lose it” money in flexible spending accounts, HSA savings roll over year to year; and if you don’t end up spending it on health care, you can use it for anything in retirement.

3) Check the price tags.

It’s still way too difficult to figure out how much a given medical procedure will cost ahead of time. But insurers and employers are trying to make it easier to chose less expensive options when they are available and convenient. According to Mercer, 77% of large employers now offer a price transparency tool to help you look up doctors ahead of time to and compare typical costs and quality ratings.

Using it can help you save, especially on procedures like MRIs and CT scans. A study from the Journal of the American Medical Association found that consumers who used a pricing tool before choosing an advanced imaging service saved $124.74 on average.

TIME

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TIME Healthcare

Why Some Experts Want Mandatory Flu Shots For School Kids

Flu Outbreak Continues In Bay Area
A syringe filled with influenza vaccination is seen at a Walgreens Pharmacy on January 14, 2014 in Concord, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

'This is just part of being a good citizen and not hurting your neighbor'

How do you prevent elderly people from dying from the flu? Immunize preschoolers, infectious disease experts say.

A new policy mandating that preschool children receive flu vaccination went into effect in New York City earlier this month with exactly that goal in mind.

Young children respond particularly well to the flu vaccine, and giving it to preschoolers creates a ripple effect that diminishes the flu in the population as a whole. Even though preschoolers are just a fraction of the population, immunizing a critical percentage of the population from the flu could significantly diminish the chance of a widespread outbreak, a phenomenon known as herd immunity.

“This is just part of being a good citizen and not hurting your neighbor,” says Jon C. Tilburt, a medical professor at the Mayo Clinic. “It’s good for your neighbor’s kids and it’s good for grandma.”

Jane Zucker, an assistant commissioner at New York City’s Department of Health, says herd immunity “absolutely” shaped her department’s new policy, which mirrors similar rules that have been followed in Connecticut and New Jersey followed for years.

“There’s a good evidence base about the importance of vaccinating young children on community transmission, and [herd immunity] was really a strong influence on the decision to move forward,” she says.

Mandatory vaccination is nothing new in the United States. School children across the country have been required receive immunization for diseases like measles and mumps for years. But mandatory influenza vaccination hasn’t caught on as fast, even though vaccination for young children is strongly recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The constantly evolving nature of the flu and its less-than-perfect effectiveness are among the reasons why the requirement hasn’t taken root, says University of California San Francisco medical professor Barbara Koenig. The warnings of dangerous side effects propagated by the attention-grabbing anti-vaccination movement do nothing to further the cause of mandatory vaccines.

MORE: Why the Anti-Vaccine Crowd Won’t Fade Away

Health officials have begun to latch onto the idea, says Zucker. She says she’s been in touch with policy makers from other jurisdictions who say they are considering a similar measure, and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases sponsored a webinar on the topic last year, Zucker says.

Health experts say there is little risk of side effects, and they stress that in New York parents can obtain a religious or medical exemption. But parents should want to protect their own children with immunization, experts say. In Connecticut, the number of hospitalizations in the impacted age group fell by 12% following the implementation of a mandatory vaccination.

“There needs to be some individual direct benefit to the individual,” says Richard Malley, a doctor at Boston Children’s Hospital. “What we have here are vaccines that are recommended for children. They are disease sparing and, in some cases, they are life saving. They have a phenomenal effect on individual.”

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