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The Guide to Healthy Living

You're feeling fit at the start of a new school year. Now keep it that way.

You're feeling fit at the start of a new school year. Now keep it that way.

By Gini Kopecky Wallace

Here comes another school year—and another round of all the demands and challenges that can take a toll on your health if you're not careful. Here's how to protect it.


Guard against germs. "The illnesses we probably see most in educators are things they pick up from children—colds, upper respiratory infections, and gastrointestinal illnesses," says Miriam Alexander, M.D., of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "So the most important things to emphasize are frequent hand-washing, covering coughs, and getting a flu shot—and the first two should also be encouraged in children."

Waterless hand-sanitizers, as well as germ-killing wipes or sprays, also can help clean coughed-on or sneezed-on surfaces, suggests Robert R. Orford, M.D., president of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. That's what he does and, he says, "I rarely have a cold—and I see patients every day."

How I Stay Energized

Where's that Energizer bunny? He's not marching in the ranks of new teachers. The work is exhausting. Some days, you go home ready for bed. On a community forum, a recent poster complained, "I am a new teacher who is tired all the short, I need help!" Fortunately, there are answers. Molly Hastings, a third-grade teacher from Sunnyvale, California, in her third year of teaching, recommends regular exercise. "A workout after a long day [makes] a huge difference," she advises. "Remember, teaching is a 'vacuum' that will suck up any and all of your energy. Stop before you get exhausted and do something that fills you."

Watch your back. "I think all educators are at some risk of musculoskeletal injury because they're always setting up classrooms, taking things down, lifting supplies and equipment," says Carol M. Stephenson, of the CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Basic pointers from Stephenson and Alexander: Never try to lift anything while leaning, twisting, or reaching. To lift properly, bend your knees, keep your back straight, tighten your abdominal muscles, hold the object close to your body, and let your thighs do the work.

Prevent accidents. Teachers are also susceptible to injuries from "slipping, falling, getting hit by things, walking into open doors, tripping over cords, stuff like that," says Orford. "It's a matter of being aware of your environment and any dangers in the area and of knowing how to set up a projector so it's not a tripping hazard." Working with chemicals and power tools also requires taking basic precautions, he says.

"Wearing protective eyewear and a lab coat is important." To order a free CD-ROM of NIOSH's comprehensive "Safety Checklist Program for Schools," or to download materials from it, go to

Eat a little smarter. Does your cafeteria post nutritional information about the foods on offer? Talk to your cafeteria manager about ways to make that information available to his or her colleagues and students. Even if your cafeteria menu is heavy on pizza and mac and cheese, you can still take small steps toward eating healthier, says Todd Whitthorne, president of Cooper Concepts, Inc., a division of the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas. "Instead of having French fries five days a week, have them three times, or two," says Whitthorne, who frequently addresses groups on taking charge of health. "Or if you have five soft drinks a day, decide you'll have one and replace the others with water."

Stretch your legs. Taking short breaks during pressure-filled days is essential, says Orford. Whitthorne encourages teachers to go for a brisk walk. "One of the best ways to deal with stress is through physical activity," he says. "If you can carve out 30 minutes most days of the week"—in 10-, 15- or 30-minute chunks—"the physical and mental-health benefits are enormous." Ask colleagues to walk with you. "People who exercise together are more consistent and have more fun."

Set limits. Sometimes, the only way to reduce the endless demands placed on educators is "to learn to say no in some situations," says Stephenson. She understands how difficult that can be; she has teachers in her family. "But you have to be realistic about what you can do without wearing yourself out. Seriously. Nothing is more important than your health. You should not have to sacrifice that to be a good teacher."

Let it Be. Let it Go.

As yoga classes for students in public schools grow in popularity, you might be asking yourself: Hey, what about me? Can't I use a little emotional balance and self-help? (After yet another meeting with test-crazy administrators, one uncomfortable parent conference, and two kids asking why their heads itch, yes, you could use it...) So try these poses, from "The Yoga Deck," illustrated by Olivia H. Miller and published by Chronicle Books.

A Political Playlist

Mix some tunes that match the party's theme. A few to try: "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey, "Not Ready to Make Nice" by the Dixie Chicks, "Politik" by Coldplay, or Neil Diamond's "America."

A Themed Cocktail or Mocktail

Whether you add a splash of the hard stuff or stick to Shirley Temples, give it a jazzy name that fits your theme. Try an Obama-rama (Malibu rum and fruit mixers to honor his time in Hawaii) and the Raising Arizona martini (a straight martini for a "straight talker"). Or, come up with your own names and don't forget the chips and dip to go with it!

Swag Bags

Gift bags don't have to be limited to those on the Hollywood A-list; they don't have to be frivolous; and they don't have to cost you a penny. Send off your guests with literature about the candidate, buttons, yard signs, bumper stickers, and anything else their campaign office can load you up with.


With 95 cents and a crying stomach, where do you turn?

Sometimes the very best option is a Post-It on the faculty lounge vending machine. "Delivery man: More healthy choices, please!" But, if you're feeling hungry and you just can't wait until he arrives next Tuesday, consider that there are some selections that are healthier than others.


Avoid - Lots of people listen when Snickers asks, "Hungry? Why Wait?" It's the No. 1 seller in vending machines. You might say, "What? It's got peanuts! It's good for me!" Yeah, right. You're eating about a quarter of the daily recommended allowance of saturated fat.

Best Option - Did you know chocolate contains a chemical called phenylethylamine that triggers feelings of well-being and contentment? Yummm…chocolate… Opt for a Nestle's Crunch instead. Total calories? About 200.

Salty Snacks

Avoid - The number-two seller in vending machines is Doritos. But they're not a great idea—and not just because you'll leave orange prints on homework papers. Like a lot of snack foods, they're high in calories and saturated fats.

Best Option - You already know what's a better choice, right? Your pal: The Pretzel. Oh, pretzel! You are crunchy and salty, and you do not make my hands dirty. How I love you. And best of all? Most varieties have fewer than 100 calories and 1 gram of fat per serving.

Baked Treats

Avoid - You do know that a serving size is one Pop-Tart, right? You might be fooled since they come in pairs. But even if you stop at just one, they're not exactly health food. With 200 calories, you might as well have the chocolate bar!

Best Option - Oh no, Mr. Bear! You have no feet anymore! How will you run from my voracious appetite? These little pets are truly your friends. Animal crackers, by the numbers: About 125 calories per ounce.

Protein Power

Avoid - The trail mix looks healthy—with its colorful mix of fruit and nuts—but take a look at the black-and-white numbers. Aagh! Some varieties have more calories and fat than a McDonald's Big Mac!

Best Option - Full of anti-oxidants and protein, a bag of roasted peanuts is an excellent choice. They also contain a chemical called resveratrol, which may have anti-aging benefits. (After a day in the classroom, you could use that.)

Other Sweet Stuff

Avoid - The Rice Krispies Treat is a sneaky one. No fat! How could it possibly be bad for you? With 90 calories, it's not terrible. But it's basically all sugar. No protein. No fiber. Nada.

Best Option - If you're craving sugar, opt for the Life-Savers instead. For one thing, they're usually the cheapest thing in the machine. For another, each one has just 10 calories. Not bad.

Photos: Meiko Arquillos; Cheese Fries: Paul Visconti, Product Shots: Groff Creative, Inc.

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