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Build a better skin barrier

Dry skin becomes more common with aging, and problems with dry skin can be even more pronounced during the winter.

“The air is dry inside because of heating, and outside because of a lack of humidity, and that takes moisture out of your skin,” explains Dr. Kenneth Arndt, a Harvard Medical School professor. Dry skin can lead to itching, flaking, and even infection in severe cases.

But you don’t have to suffer. Moisturizing is a simple way to keep your skin hydrated and healthy.

“Think of it as putting a barrier between your skin and the cold, dry air,” says Arndt. He advises moisturizing your skin after exposure to water. “If you soak in a tub or wash your hands, your skin gets very flexible and spongy. But afterward the water evaporates and you’re worse off. So instead you should seal it in.”

Arndt recommends a heavier ointment with an oil base. Look for occlusive ingredients that block the evaporation of water, such as petrolatum, cetyl alcohol, lanolin, lecithin, mineral oil, paraffin, and stearic acid. And don’t be confused by promises that lotions are allergy-tested (there’s no government standard for that kind of claim) or full of vitamins (the amounts used are too small to have much effect).

The most important thing to know is that pretty much all moisturizers work well if you use them often.

Women: Get up and move

Whether you walk, dance, or Zumba, doing it every day might reduce your risk of getting breast cancer, according to a study published online in the journal Cancer.

According to the study’s authors, 10 to 19 hours a week (about two hours a day) of exercise had the greatest benefit. Women who worked out that much had a breast cancer risk about 30 percent lower than that of inactive women. The intensity of the workout didn’t matter in this study.

Age also didn’t seem to matter. Physical activity reduced breast cancer risk in women both during their reproductive years and after menopause. What did make a difference in the study was the women’s weight – especially after menopause. Gaining a significant amount of weight essentially wiped out the benefits of exercise on breast cancer risk in older women.

Because this study didn’t assign women to different interventions (exercising vs. staying sedentary) – it merely asked women about their exercise habits – it couldn’t confirm that exercise reduces breast cancer risk. What this study does do is give women of every age another reason to lace up their sneakers and get moving.

Even if you have to squeeze 10-minute bursts of exercise into your day, try to get moving for a total of 30 to 60 minutes on most, if not all days of the week.

Excitement over ‘smart pill’

Figuring out who’s taking their pills is about to get easier. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved a “smart pill” that can tell whether a medication has been taken as prescribed.

Made by Proteus Digital Health, the small pill is made primarily of silicon and embedded with a microchip sensor no bigger than a grain of sand. When activated by stomach acid, the sensor transmits a signal to a skin patch that indicates that a medication has been swallowed. The patch sends the information to a smartphone app, along with the wearer’s heart rate, temperature, and activity level. The battery-operated patch must be changed weekly.

With about 50 percent of people not taking their medications properly, U.S. doctors are excited about the potential of this technology, particularly in diseases where medications are vitally important to survival or the prevention of serious side effects. It is also expected to help doctors refine dosages and measure benefits.

Compiled from News wire services