Every week, we’re bringing you a roundup of the latest health and wellness news to hit the wire. This week, we dish out tips on avoiding cold and flu germs, the type of workout that keeps your body young, and why Americans aren’t living as long.  

Ways to stay healthy this season

The holidays bring more opportunities for fun and a lot more opportunities for cold- and flu-causing microbes. The authors of “Did You Just Eat That? Two Scientists Explore Double- Dipping, the Five-Second Rule, and Other Food Myths in the Lab” (W. W. Norton & Co., November 2018), gave their tips for avoiding the germiest situations in this Washington Post article. Here’s some of their advice:

  • Steer clear of the dip. George Costanza of the TV show “Seinfeld” was right: Double-dipping is like putting your whole mouth right on the dip. On average, between 100 and 1,000 bacteria are transferred from your mouth to the dip when you dunk your cracker in again.
  • Don’t share the popcorn. An ABC “20/20” report found that seats and armrests in theaters in New York and Los Angeles contained fecal matter, which can be transferred to most of that bucket of popcorn you’re diving into. Similarly, ditch that popcorn bowl your whole family is dipping into, in favor of individual bowls.
  • Wash your hands after handling a menu. While you may be concerned about the safety of your entree, what you should really be aware of are the germs on those menus that everyone’s touching all day. In the authors’ study, they detected more than 2,000 bacteria on samples of 108 randomly tested restaurant menus.

To nix all that bacteria, remember to follow these hand-washing rules:

  • Start with a 10-second warm water rinse.
  • Spend at least 10 to 15 seconds lathering and scrubbing.
  • Rinse off all the lather.
  • Dry with paper towels.

Cardio keeps you young

Different types of workouts confer different health benefits. But cardio is king when it comes to anti-aging, according to this article in Health. A new study published in the European Heart Journal found that endurance exercise such as running, swimming and bicycling, as well as high-intensity interval training, both slowed signs of aging at the cellular level when compared with weightlifting.

In the study, a team of German researchers compared groups that sweated it out in thrice weekly 45-minute sessions with groups doing no workouts and one doing resistance movements on machines.

The white blood cells of the cardio group showed changes to their telomeres—the caps at the ends of chromosomes lengthened, and telomerase, an enzyme involved in maintaining those caps, increased, boosting their regenerative capacity and overall cellular health.

Telomeres shrink over time as we age, and as they do, cells die instead of continuing to divide, increasing our risk for heart disease, cognitive decline and other age-related concerns. Scientists speculate that it might be that cardio raises the levels of nitric oxide in the blood, which increases blood flow and helps with blood pressure.

Just don’t give up your weights yet: Two sessions of resistance training a week are still recommended under current guidelines to protect bone health and preserve muscle mass as you age.

U.S. life expectancy drops

One bit of bad news: U.S. life expectancy dropped last year for the third consecutive year, Time reports, as deaths from suicide and drug overdose continued to increase, outpacing reductions in fatal heart disease and cancer—the two leading causes of death in the U.S.

The average American could expect to live 78.6 years as of 2017, down from 78.7 the year before. It is the first multiyear decline in life expectancy since the 1960s.

Photo credit: Jacob Ammentorp Lund, Thinkstock