Cleaning out, feeling good

May 9, 2009 6:51:05 AM PDT
Getting rid of just a few items around your home could mean a healthier, happier you. Sharon Liao, Health Editor with Shape Magazine, joined us with tips. Clear out expired meds

Why should you check the dates on medications prior to taking them?
Before you reach for that econo-size bottle of ibuprofen, check the date on the label: Nearly two-thirds of people take expired drugs on occasion. The danger with old medications is that they may not be effective. With allergy medication, you may sneeze and wheeze unnecessarily; with blood pressure medication, you could put your heart at risk.

So what should we look for?
Go through your medicine cabinet and discard any bottles or pills past their prime. Instead of dumping them down the drain or flushing them, which can contaminate drinking water, put them in a sealable plastic bag and throw it in the trash.

Clear out heavy-duty spray cleaners

Why are spray cleaning products dangerous?
Those gleaming counters and floors may come at the expense of breathing easy if you use industrial-strength products. Researchers have found that people who scrubbed their homes with aerosol or spray cleaners at least once a week were nearly 50 percent more likely to develop asthma symptoms, like shortness of breath, than those who didn't.

What exactly happens to your health?
Breathing in the chemicals found in furniture and glass cleaners, along with air fresheners, can cause inflammation in the lungs," says study author Jan-Paul Zock, Ph.D.

How can we protect ourselves?
To safeguard your airways, switch to non-spray liquid cleaners (this minimizes the amount of chemicals you inhale) or choose a spray that's free of artificial substances, such as those from Method, Ecover, and Seventh Generation.

Clear out last week's leftovers

How long should you save leftovers for?
When was the last time you saw the back of your fridge or picked through your pantry? Hanging on to those week- or several-months-old leftovers may raise your risk of becoming one of the 76 million people who suffer from food-borne illness every year. According to a new study subjects were up to three times more likely to drink a smoothie past its expiration date if they already owned it. After you throw away expired products and leftovers that are more than three days old, make sure your refrigerator thermostat is set to 40ºF.

Are there certain foods we should be extra careful with?
When it comes to the freezer or pantry, the concern is more about food quality than safety. Some foods-like steaks or chicken-are fine for up to a year, but most leftovers and frozen meals will start to get freezer burn after six months, which affects flavor and texture. Canned foods can last for years, but if you haven't used them in a year, chances are you never will; donate your nonperishables to a food bank.

Clear out those 3-pound dumbbells

Why are dumbbells something you should consider getting rid of?
If you've been working out with light weights for years, you may not reap the results you want. Varying your workouts will help build lean muscle mass, which boosts metabolism and calorie burn.

How can you tell if you're lifting the right amount?
You should start to feel fatigued by the last few reps of a set, or after about a minute. If you think you can keep going for a while, it's time to bump up the weight. You may also want to consider picking up some resistance bands to take your workout up a notch. A recent study found that women who used these elastic bands along with dumbbells gained two to three times the body strength as those who only lifted weights.

shelf-life smarts

Some expiration dates aren't clear-cut. Here's when you need to replace a few common products.

Smoke alarm batteries: 1 year, or sooner if they chirp
One in five homes doesn't have a working smoke alarm-mainly because the batteries are dead or missing. Set a specific date, like a birthday or the first of the year, to replace the batteries.

Eye makeup: 6 months
Mascara, eyeliner, and shadow contain preservatives that slow the growth of infection-causing bacteria. But micro-organisms can still grow in the container or tube over time.

kitchen sponge: 1 month
These scrubbers can breed bacteria. A dirty sponge could spread more germs on your counters. Between replacements, disinfect your sponge by microwaving it (make sure it's sopping wet) for two minutes.

Loofah: 2 months
This skin smoother collects sloughed-off cells, which bacteria can feed on. Hang it up to dry after every use and toss it in the washing machine weekly.