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After three years in second place, we’re back on top. By Benjamin Freed
Washington is once again the fittest city in the nation. Image via Shutterstock.

After sagging to second place for the past three years, Washington has reclaimed its place as the fittest of the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas, according to an annual report from the American College of Sports Medicine. The American Fitness Index ranks mortality rates, chronic illnesses, and resources and policies that promote healthy living.

The Washington area scored highly on most of the index’s metrics, including low rates of death from cardiovascular disease and diabetes; a high number of parks, pools, and tennis courts per capita; a larger-than-average percentage of residents using non-car transportation; and a preponderance of farmers markets.

But the rankings suggest better “community health” than how individual Washingtonians care for themselves. While 81 percent of Washington-area residents exercise at least once every 30 days, the region still showed worse-than-ideal rates of obesity (24.1 percent), asthma (8.6 percent), and diabetes (8.5 percent). Residents could probably eat a bit better, too, with 16.3 percent eating three or fewer servings of vegetables per day and 34.1 percent consuming two or fewer servings of fruit per day.

As for the segments where Washington excels, the report counted 28.5 farmers markets for every 1 million residents and 14.1 percent of people who rely on public transportation to get to work, far outpacing the target rate of 4.3 percent.

Minneapolis held the top spot from 2011 to 2013, but fell back to second this year. Portland, Oregon, Denver, and San Francisco filled out the top five, while Memphis, Tennessee, bottomed out at No. 50.

See the full breakdown of the report’s Washington statistics online.

Posted at 03:02 PM/ET, 05/28/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Salt therapy is said to relieve symptoms of respiratory ailments such as allergies. By Paulina Kosturos
Maryland’s first Himalayan salt cave is slated to open on May 9. Image via Shutterstock.

On May 9, the first Himalayan salt cave in Maryland opens at Bethesda’s Massage Metta. Salt caves are touted for their healing benefits, which fans say include easing seasonal allergies, stress, eczema, and psoriasis. Himalayan salt is considered the purest salt form in the world, and is packed with natural minerals. When the salt is inhaled, it supposedly loosens mucus and draws water into airways, alleviating sinus issues.

Owner and lead massage practitioner Janine Narayadu first discovered the effects of salt caves after visiting one in Asheville, North Carolina, which she says “recharged” her body. Narayadu’s experience in North Carolina and observation of local children inspired her to open her own cave. “We have so many children in our area that suffer from allergies,” she says. “This is a way for them to find respite from the pollen in the air.”

Narayadu’s cave is made up of about 32 tons of imported salt rock from the Himalayas. It features a halo generator that crushes salt into a fine power and disperses it into the air. Patrons will be able to lounge in the cave for 45 minutes before, during, or after a massage.

Groupon deals for Massage Meta are currently available; Circe of Alexandria (123 N. Washington St., Alexandria) offers similar services.

Posted at 03:25 PM/ET, 04/28/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
This week, the hospital became the first in the area to offer nitrous oxide for pain relief during labor. By Vicky Gan

Nitrous oxide, a.k.a. “laughing gas,” is moving beyond the dentist’s office to the delivery room. Starting this week, moms at MedStar Washington Hospital Center can use the drug for pain relief during labor. The blend is half nitrous oxide, half oxygen, and is less concentrated than the one used by dentists. Patients self-administer the drug by breathing it in through a face mask, putting the mask on and taking it off to adjust the dosage as needed. “It’s controlled by Mom,” says Loral Patchen, the hospital’s director of midwifery. “She makes the decisions about how long she wants to breathe it.”

Nitrous oxide dulls the pain rather than blocking it completely as an epidural does; women will still be able to feel their contractions, which can help them know when to push. Since the drug passes out of the system quickly, there’s little risk to the patient, and side effects are minor, ranging from nausea and dizziness to feelings of loopiness. By allowing patients to retain mobility and sensation, nitrous is an especially attractive option for women seeking a natural birth experience. “Our goal within the practice is to be able to offer women a greater range of options,” Patchen says. “There’s a lot you can’t predict with birth and labor, and it’s nice to have the flexibility that if we need to adjust, we can.”

The use of nitrous oxide during childbirth isn’t new; it’s been administered in other countries for years and is available at about 20 other hospitals in the US, including University of California, San Francisco, Vanderbilt, and Dartmouth. But adaptation in the states has been slow due to cultural taboos and a lack of appropriate equipment. According to Mike Civitello, a product sales manager for Porter Instrument, which manufactures MedStar’s nitrous apparatus: “It takes hospitals a long time to adopt new things.” MedStar Washington Hospital Center is the first in the Washington area to offer the drug. For now, the option will be limited to patients in MedStar Washington Hospital Center’s midwifery practice, but Patchen says if demand is sufficiently high, the hospital may add it to the general obstetrics program in the future.

Posted at 10:01 AM/ET, 04/01/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The results may surprise you. By Melissa Romero
It must be all that hiking: A recent poll found that Vermont had the highest percentage of residents who exercise regularly. Image via Shutterstock.

Washingtonians often like to pat themselves on the back for our top-notch exercising habits, but are we really the fittest area in the country?

Not quite, according to a recent Gallup poll that measured how much each state exercises. Vermont came out on top, with 65.3 percent of residents reporting that they exercise for at least 30 minutes three or more days per week.

Since Gallup began tracking Americans’ exercise habits, Vermont has taken the top spot three times, the last being in 2009. This year, Hawaii, Montana, Alaska, and Colorado rounded out the top five.

To be fair, only state residents were polled, so the District was not included in Gallup’s survey. Just half of Maryland’s residents reported exercising 30 minutes three days or more per week. Virginia fared a little better, with 52 percent of residents reporting regular exercise.

Overall, the survey found that fewer Americans exercised regularly in 2013 than in 2012. Gallup noted that colder temperatures in 2013 might have played a role in the national average dip.

And it looks like Vice President Joe Biden’s home state has some work to do in the fitness department. Delaware came out on the bottom of the list, with just 46.5 percent of residents exercising regularly. West Virginia, Alabama, New Jersey, and Rhode Island weren’t far above that.

Posted at 12:06 PM/ET, 03/12/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Boating in DC will have kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, and pedal boats available for rent. By Melissa Romero
Standup paddleboard classes will be offered at the National Harbor boathouse. Photograph by Andrew Propp.

In addition to a massive Ferris wheel, this spring National Harbor will get its own boathouse.

Key Bridge Boathouse announced Wednesday night it will open another location in May at 165 Waterfront Street, Fort Washington. The boathouse, called Boating in DC, will offer rentals for kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, and pedal boats.

In addition to rentals, Boating in DC will offer standup paddleboard classes similar to those at Key Bridge Boathouse, including SUP Fitness and Yoga Standup Paddleboarding.

When it opens, Boating in DC will be Boston Outdoor Recreation’s third area location. In 2013 the company took over Key Bridge Boathouse in Georgetown and soon after opened a second location at Ball Park Boathouse, the first kayak rental shop on the Anacostia River.

Posted at 10:51 AM/ET, 03/06/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The updated labels are intended to be easier to read and understand. By Melissa Romero
Michelle Obama and the FDA announced a proposal on Thursday, February 27, to update the official Nutrition Facts labels to better reflect today’s health and nutrition research. Photographs courtesy of the FDA.

If all goes according to plan, nutrition labels will be getting a big makeover, thanks to a proposal issued by the US Food and Drug Administration and First Lady Michelle Obama.

Yesterday the FDA announced its proposal to update the Nutrition Facts label in order to better reflect the latest health and dietary research and allow consumers to make healthier food choices. “You as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into your local grocery store, pick up an item off the shelf, and be able to tell whether it’s good for your family,” Obama said in her announcement at the White House.

If the proposal gets approved, it would be the first time the labels have been updated since 2006. The Nutrition Facts labels first appeared on food packages 20 years ago.

The proposal is the First Lady’s latest efforts to prioritize healthy eating as part of her Let’s Move! initiative, which recently celebrated its four-year anniversary.

Here are some of the major changes proposed by the FDA:

• Include the number of grams of added sugar

• Increase the font size of number of servings per container and calories. The serving size requirements will be updated to reflect how much people actually eat today.

• Include information about certain nutrients the US population typically does not get enough of in their diets, such as potassium and vitamin D. Vitamins A and C will no longer be required on labels.

• Remove “calories from fat,” as “research shows that the type of fat is more important than the amount,” the FDA wrote in its proposal.

The changes will not go into effect immediately. The FDA is accepting public comment on the proposal for the next 90 days.

Posted at 10:03 AM/ET, 02/28/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
But the company won’t fess up to any wrongdoing. By Melissa Romero
Popchips has agreed to a $2.4 million settlement and will remove the all-natural claims from its labeling. Photograph by Flickr user snowpea&bokchoi.

And the so-called “all-natural” fallout continues. Popchips announced this week it will drop the “all-natural” tagline from its products as part of a $2.4 million settlement of a class-action lawsuit.

It will also stop using the phrases “healthy,” “healthier,” and “low-fat.”

Instead, Popchips will refer to its products as “naturally delicious” chips that use “natural flavors,” according to Food Navigator, which first reported the news

The settlement, which will undergo a final hearing on March 13, means Popchips customers who purchased the company’s products between January 1, 2007, and November 14, 2013, will each receive Popchips vouchers worth up to $20 or $10 in cash. (You can already submit an online claim form.)

Despite the settlement, the snack company still denies any wrongdoing. Its decision to settle, according to court documents, is “in its best interests” to “avoid further expense, inconvenience, risk, uncertainty, and burden resulting from continued litigation.”

Tonya Kelly, et al v. Popchips, inc. joins a number of recent class-action lawsuits that have resulted in multimillion-dollar settlements and removal of all-natural claims from products marketed as healthy. Last year, Naked Juice settled a $9 million class action lawsuit and admitted its bottled juices contained GMO and synthetic ingredients.

Posted at 11:48 AM/ET, 02/27/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The national franchise is opening multiple studios throughout Washington. By Melissa Romero
Pure Barre Bethesda opened January 20. Co-owners Katie Shearin and Marybeth Coleman will open a second location in Alexandria on February 3. Photographs courtesy of Shearin.

Washington is getting a slew of area Pure Barre studios with the recent opening of the company’s first-ever Bethesda location, followed by another in Alexandria next week.

Pure Barre opened in Bethesda on January 20 at 4930 Hampden Lane. Owners Katie Shearin and Marybeth Coleman will open a second location at 429 John Carlyle Street in Alexandria on February 3.

Pure Barre is a national franchise that first came to Washington in spring 2013 with locations in Fairfax and Dupont Circle. The 55-minute workouts involve isometric exercises performed at the barre—think pulsing squats—and on the mat that target the arms, core, and thighs.

The opening of the two studios will bring the number of Pure Barre studios in Washington to five (a Rockville location opened in early January). According to Pure Barre’s website, barre fiends can expect locations in Capitol Hill, McLean, and Reston in the near future.

Pure Barre Bethesda and Alexandria. 4930 Hampden La., Bethesda, 301-642-2864; 429 John Carlyle St., Alexandria, 703-303-8146. First class is $15.

Posted at 10:19 AM/ET, 01/29/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
From thicker running shoes to the new Sriracha sauce, there's plenty to look forward to in health and fitness in the new year. By Melissa Romero
A recent survey found that gochujang, a fermented Korean condiment, is likely to be a popular flavor in 2014. Other health, nutrition, and fitness trends expected for the new year are high-intensity interval training, non-minimalist shoes, and more kombucha. Photograph by Flickr user KayOne73.

In 2012 we looked into our crystal ball and checked out what was in store for health and fitness in 2013. Our predictions were right on the mark, from the explosion of more themed races to the growth of Paleo dieters. Here, we anticipate seven trends to expect next year, from new exotic flavors in healthy dishes, to even more stylish workout clothes, to a new crop of running shoes that could change the face of the minimalist movement. 

More exotic flavors
Step aside, Sriracha, there's a new spicy sauce in town. A recent survey conducted by Sensient Flavors says gochujang, a fermented Korean condiment, is going to be popular in 2014. Other flavors expected to rise in the ranks: rhubarb, green coconut, and burnt calamansi. 

High-intensity interval training
The workout that involves short, high-intensity bursts of exercise is going to be the top workout of 2014, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. However, health professionals surveyed cautioned that with the rise of this type of training comes high injury rates. 

A boutique gym for every neighborhood
Goodbye gym chains, hello boutique studios. We love that almost every neighborhood in Washington has become home to small gyms that offer group fitness classes in intimate settings. And there are plenty more studios on the way for 2014

Read More

Posted at 10:30 AM/ET, 12/23/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
You’ll have to go elsewhere to find the Greek yogurt. By Melissa Romero
Whole Foods Market announced today it will stop selling Chobani yogurt products in early 2014 since they contain genetically-modified organisms, or GMOs. Photograph by Flickr user Provisions.

Need to satisfy a craving for Chobani Greek yogurt? Don’t go to Whole Foods.

Whole Foods Market announced Wednesday it will stop selling Chobani yogurts by early 2014 since the yogurt company’s products contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. In a statement, it said the phaseout of Chobani will allow them to “make room for product choices that aren’t readily available on the market.”

The decision is part of the grocer’s plans to sell more non-GMO products. In March 2013, it began labeling its products to indicate whether they contained GMOs. Its goal is to label all products by 2018. 

It hasn’t been the best time for Chobani, which had to issue a voluntary recall on its products in September due to a mold problem. In response to the Whole Foods announcement, Chobani said, “Though we have limited distribution within Whole Foods, they have been a wonderful and an important partner of ours over the years.”

Posted at 04:00 PM/ET, 12/18/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()