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How to Eliminate Muscle Cramps

There are two kinds of people in this world: People who have had muscle cramps and people who will experience them sooner or later. Muscle cramps happen to almost everyone, and for a lot of different reasons. Vigorous exercise can certainly make you susceptible to muscle cramps, but it’s not the only cause. In fact, regular exercise (when done properly) can make muscle cramping less frequent and less painful. So What Exactly Is a Muscle Cramp? A muscle cramp is simply an involuntary contraction (spasm) of the muscle fibers. It can happen to any muscle, but is most common in the calves, thighs, and hands and feet. It can affect a small part of a muscle, the whole thing, or even a whole group of muscles that typically work together (e.g., writer’s cramp).  A cramp can last anywhere from a few seconds to 15 minutes or more, or come and go multiple times over an extended period. Sometimes, a muscle will cramp in response to a certain kind of movement (usually one that shortens the muscle, such as when your calf muscle cramps when you point your toes), or during/after a particularly ambitious exercise session or activity you’re not accustomed to. But it can also happen when you’re not using the muscle at all. For example, some people often experience a ''charley horse'' (calf muscle cramp) while sitting still, or even while lying in bed at night. This is especially common in the elderly, but young people can experience it, too. Medical professionals have identified several different kinds of muscle cramps. Some, like tetany and contractures, are associated with various medical conditions or medications, and you may need medical help to deal with those specific types. Other muscle problems can masquerade as cramps. For example, if you experience leg pain during moderate walking but goes away after you stop walking, you may be suffering from ''intermittent claudication,'' a symptom of  circulation problems (not a cramp) that warrants a trip to your doctor.  

Related Note: If you have severe and/or persistent problems with muscle cramps that don’t seem to be related to any of the common situations described below, or if your cramps don’t respond to the basic suggestions offered here, you should see a medical professional to get to the root of the problem.

The most common type of cramp is called a ''true'' cramp. Symptoms may include sharp, sudden pain, inability to use the muscle, visible bulging, twitching or firmness, and sensitivity to pressure. Unlike strains and sprains, true cramps aren’t the product of damaged muscle tissue; and the cramp itself doesn’t injure the muscle beyond making it a little sore for a while. True cramps are typically caused by a temporary situation such as dehydration, vitamin or mineral deficiencies, or muscle fatigue brought on by too much exercise--problems you can correct and/or avoid on your own. Knowing what causes a cramp isn't much consolation when you’re in the middle of a painful episode of cramping. Therefore, it pays to know how to stop the cramp quickly or, better yet, head it off before it happens. How to Stop a Cramp Many simple muscle cramps can be stopped quickly by moderately stretching the cramped muscle. If you have cramps in your feet or toes, you can often ''walk it off'' by simply standing up and/or walking around in bare or stocking feet. For hand cramps, try pressing your hand against a flat surface. For a calf cramp, straighten your leg in the air while lying on your back and pull your toes toward your head using a towel. Alternatively, lean into a wall with your heels flat on the floor and your feet 2-3 feet from the wall—just far enough to produce a light stretch. For other muscles, you can learn specific stretches for the muscle that is affected. Sometimes, massaging a cramped muscle will help release it. If you suffer from rest cramps (e.g., cramps that happen while sleeping or during extended sitting), lightly stretching those muscles before sleeping or sitting may help prevent the cramps. When a cramp comes on during a workout session, stop the exercise long enough to stretch the muscle. You can further help a cramped muscle relax by contracting the opposing muscle group (e.g., contract your quads to help relax a cramp in your hamstrings). Massage the muscle for a little while while you get yourself rehydrated, consuming a sports drink with electrolytes if possible, then resume your activity. If the cramping continues, then overuse or fatigue is the likely cause--and the only thing that may stop that is stopping your workout session completely.  How to Prevent Muscle Cramps Upset nerves are a primary cause of common muscle cramps. There are three very common and preventable problems that can make your nerves unhappy: dehydration, vitamin deficiencies and electrolyte imbalances, and overdoing your activity without appropriate preparation. Luckily, you can prevent all of these situations. Here's how.

  • Stay well hydrated. Being dehydrated, whether from heavy sweating during physical activity, overall poor fluid intake, or use of certain medications, can make you especially vulnerable to muscle cramps during or after physical activity. If you live in a hot, humid area and/or sweat a lot during your exercise, or you’re restricting your food and beverage intake for weight loss, you’ll need to take extra precaution to make sure you’re well-hydrated before you start your activity.   Dehydration problems can start to set in when you lose more than 2% of your body weight through sweating or inadequate fluid intake. If you’re not sure whether you need to worry about this, try weighing yourself before and after a typical workout or activity. If you do lose more than 2% of your weight, you’ll want to drink enough water (on an ounce-for-ounce basis) during your activity to keep your weight loss under that 2% target. And even if you don’t lose that much, make sure you take in enough fluids after your activity to get back to your pre-exercise weight. Typically, drinking a half-liter of ordinary water per pound of lost weight should do the trick. Learn more about your fluid needs during exercise.
  • Eat your vitamins and minerals. There’s some evidence that being deficient in vitamins B-1, B-5 and/or B-6 can increase the likelihood of muscle cramps in some people, so keep an eye on your diet to make sure you’re not shorting yourself on your B vitamins. Likewise, a diet that is     too low in sodium, potassium or magnesium can cause muscle cramp problems, because your body also loses these electrolytes in sweat. If necessary, you can replenish these minerals during or after extended exercise by using sports drinks with added electrolytes; but unless you do more than an hour of high-intensity exercise, it’s usually better to get these vitamins and minerals from the food you eat, especially if you’re trying to keep your calorie count down.
  • Always warm-up and cool-down properly. Muscle fatigue is a major contributor to muscle cramping, and it can be brought on if you skimp on your exercise prepartion and cool down periods. To minimize this problem, follow these simple principles:
    • Always include 5-10 minutes of a lower intensity warm-up before using a muscle for high-intensity activity, and allow for a similar cool-down period afterwards.
    • Avoid over-stretching cold muscles, which can irritate them and reduce performance; save intense stretching for after the exercise or activity, or after your warm-up. Remember: Stretching is not the same thing as a warm-up.
    • Start slowly with any activity that uses different muscles than your typical workouts, uses your muscles in a different way (e.g., cycling instead of jogging), or involves significantly longer periods of activity. Build up your time, intensity, and frequency gradually over time.

Muscle cramps are a normal part of life for many exercisers, but they don't have to be. Start using these tips to minimize your cramps in no time.

Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=225

Smoothie Smarts

Dig out the blender! (Don’t worry, nothing high-tech.) Throw in a few simple, nutritious ingredients, give it a whirl and you’ve got a super-quick breakfast, snack, or mini-meal. Who can resist these icy cold, frothy concoctions, fondly known as “smoothies”? Kids as well as adults love them! Follow these simple guidelines and blend up your own batch today. For the Calorie Conscious To help keep calories under control, avoid smoothies made with high-fat and high-calorie ingredients like ice cream, whole milk, and cream. Instead use low fat items such as skim milk, low fat yogurt, fat-free frozen vanilla yogurt, frozen ice milk, fruit juice, silken tofu, soymilk, soy yogurt, and rice milk. When a recipe calls for peanut butter, use it in moderation. (Although high in protein and the healthy monounsaturated fat, the calories can add up quickly, due to the total fat content.) And be careful with the portion size—one cup (8 ounces) is the standard, not the entire contents of the blender. Fruitylicious! The very best smoothie is creamy and thick, NOT watered-down or icy. A great trick for adding thickness to your smoothie—without adding additional calories—is to freeze the fruit before making the smoothie (or buy frozen fruit). Start in the fresh produce section of the grocery. Select berries, bananas, pineapple, kiwi, watermelon, cantaloupe, peaches, pears, plums, mango, anything. Grab the familiar as well as the unusual. When fresh stuff is unavailable or too pricey, check out the fruit choices in the freezer section. Canned fruit can also be used as a nutritious, tasty alternative, without the extra expense. Once you arrive home:

  • Immediately place frozen fruit in the freezer.
  • Open canned fruit and rinse off syrup.
  • Lightly rinse the fresh fruit.
  • Peel and remove the skin if necessary (banana, kiwi, melon, etc.).
  • Cut larger fruit into (ice-cube size) chunks.
  • Lightly spray a cookie sheet with a baking spray and arrange fruit in a single layer.
  • Place cookie sheet in freezer.
  • Once frozen, remove fruit from sheet, place in freezer bags, and return to freezer until ready to use.
Luscious Liquids If your smoothie doesn’t contain fruit, you may want to freeze the liquid ingredients to add thickness and creaminess, preventing a watery consistency. All liquids work well, including juice, milk, and coffee. Freeze the liquid in ice cube trays. Once frozen, you can store the cubes in freezer bags until ready to use. Yogurt Benefits Many smoothie recipes use yogurt as a main ingredient. Yogurt adds body and creaminess, as well as protein and calcium. Since yogurt is a cultured product it also contains live, active, friendly bacterial cultures such as L. Bulgaricus, S. Thermophilus, and L. Acidophilus. These help to keep the stomach and intestinal tract healthy and the immune system strong. Soy Alternatives Perhaps you prefer the non-dairy route when creating your smoothie. Soy products add creaminess and protein while also helping to lower blood cholesterol levels, decrease the risk of heart disease and some cancers, improve bone health, and help with menopausal effects. Try using soymilk, soy yogurt, and soft silken tofu. Nutrient Boosters Because of healthy ingredients (milk, fruit, juice, etc.) most smoothies are naturally nutrient-dense. However, if you feel you need to boost the nutritional value even further, you can add protein, soy, or non-fat dry milk powders to your smoothie. Smoothies are also perfect ways to sneak in some ground flaxseed or wheat germ too. Sweetening Power If you find the smoothie to be a tad on the tart side, then add a little sweetness of your choosing: sugar, maple syrup, fruit spreads, or artificial sweeteners all work well. Spicing It Up Spices and flavorings give your smoothie zest without adding a lot of extra calories. Try adding vanilla, almond, coconut, or lemon extracts. Sprinkle in some nutmeg, cinnamon, malt powder, coffee (instant or brewed), coconut, or cocoa powder. Leftovers for Later You don’t have to toss leftovers down the drain. Simply pour the smoothie mixture into Popsicle molds and freeze. Watch your children come running for this special, after-school treat. You’ll find them refreshing too! Ready, Set, Go! To get you started, try one of the following recipes: Blueberry Orange Smoothie: A frosty treat that's low in fat. Tropical Smoothie: You don't have to go on vacation for a taste of the tropics! Strawberry Soy Smoothie: This dairy-free smoothie packs protein and calcium into one tasty package. Then move onto other SparkPeople smoothie recipes. Check your local library for recipe books dedicated to the creation of smoothies. Don’t be afraid to experiment and have fun by adding different fruit combinations and coming up with your own fabulous concoctions! Have you found that blender yet?Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=490

Sneak It In and Tone It Up

If you think that you're too busy to fit in a full workout, think again. Plenty of research shows that small bouts of exercise can add up and provide just as many heart-healthy benefits as longer workouts. You don't even have to be at the gym or wearing workout clothes for it to count. You can squeeze in little bits of activity here and there so that even when you're too busy for a full workout, you can stay active and burn calories. Below are simple and inventive ways to transform the must-do activities of daily life into mini-workouts. Cleaning the House Unless you're lucky enough to have a housekeeper, most of us probably have cleaning on our to-do lists. Instead of seeing it as a chore, start thinking of cleaning as a serious double-duty workout. Simple and easy cleaning, such as dusting, taking out the trash, straightening and changing the bed linens, can burn up to 170 calories per hour for a 150-pound person. And heavier duty tasks such as sweeping the floor, washing windows and cleaning the garage can burn more than 250 calories an hour. To up that calorie burn even more, get creative! When scrubbing the bathtub, take fewer breaks, and scrub extra hard to work your muscles (don't forget to switch arms). While vacuuming, add some lunges instead of letting your arms do all the work. When cleaning the stove, don't just bend over; squat down to get to those hard-to-reach places. When doing laundry, use the bottle of detergent as a dumbbell and do a few bicep curls on your way out of the laundry room. Or sneak in a few push-ups on the kitchen counter before you start scrubbing. The opportunities when cleaning are endless, and how awesome is it to have both a fit body and a clean house? At Work We've all heard the advice to take the stairs instead of the elevator and park at the back of the lot to get more walking in, but there are even more easy ways to squeeze activity into your workday. Instead of emailing or calling a coworker, walk over to his or her office for that report you need. Or suggest trading the normal sit-down meetings (which normally also feature not-so-great pastries and sweet treats) for walking meetings. Walking meetings aren't perfect for all types of business, but the activity and break from the norm can encourage new thoughts and unique solutions to problems, making it great for brainstorm sessions. If you have a buddy at work who is also looking to get fit, invite him or her to an active lunch break where you go for a brisk walk outside, climb a few flights of stairs or even hit the work gym if you have one. Plus, having a buddy can certainly help you to avoid office temptations (like the vending machine at 3 p.m.) and remind you to take a break to be active no matter how stressful or busy your day is. You can squeeze plenty of activity in on your own if you don't have a like-minded coworker. Try this printable 15-minute desk workout that you can do anytime, as long as you have an open wall and a chair! Better yet, stash a pair of dumbbells or a resistance band in your drawer or locker to use during breaks or while you talk on the phone. If you have the space, play a workout DVD or one of SparkPeople's online workout videos on your laptop and have a co-worker join you. Unless you have a shower at your workplace, go for yoga and Pilates DVDs that will tone your muscles and give your mind a break from work without leaving you a sweaty mess. During Your Commute Most of us spend more time in our cars than we'd like, either commuting or driving kids to and from various practices (or both!). Instead of having this time be completely passive and sedentary, make the most of it with a few simple exercises that are safe behind the wheel. The first thing you can do is throw any self consciousness out the window, turn up your favorite tunes and "car dance" your heart out—just be sure to watch the road and save your most complicated dance moves for sitting at a stoplight. If you're a female, you can also do Kegels, which help with core strength. Sitting in the car is the perfect time to work on improving your posture. Most of us allow our shoulders to round and our heads to push forward when we drive. Instead, sit with your back straight (adjust your set back to help with that), your chin tucked in toward the tag of your shirt, and your shoulders relaxed down and back away from your ears. Try to keep your abs engaged and sit with perfect posture for as long as possible, adjusting it each time you notice you're slacking. Sitting tall is hard work and takes effort. Simple adjustments like these can also help alleviate tension as well as pain in your shoulders, neck and back. And anyone, male or female, accomplished dancer or not, can stretch when stuck in traffic. Shoulder, triceps, neck and spine stretches are perfect for stoplights and also tame your tension; hold each for 30 seconds (or until the traffic starts moving, whichever comes first). Sure, they won't burn mega calories, but they're definitely better than nothing, especially if you tend to skimp on flexibility training! And if you really want to turn your transportation time into a workout, consider walking or biking to work or your destination whenever possible. Getting Ready Getting ready in the morning may seem like a weird time to sneak in activity, but you totally can. Make it part of your morning routine to do a few stretches, jumping jacks or push-ups. Just a few minutes of activity first thing in the morning can wake you up and get your endorphins going. Just be sure to start slow and easy if you just woke up, as your muscles may be tight from not moving for hours while you slept. Try squats and lunges while you blow-dry your hair or pump out a few calf raises while you brush your teeth. I personally love to stretch in the shower, as the warm water helps loosen up muscles. It's good for you, and it feels great. Yard Work Mowing, trimming bushes and gardening are huge calorie burners. A 150-pound person can easily burn 200-400 calories an hour working in the yard. And for those who love power tools, just remember that automatic tools do most of the work, meaning you'll burn fewer calories than if you mowed the lawn with a push mower, for example. So when in doubt, go with the manual option. It might take a little longer to trim that tree, but you'll be getting in quite a workout and keeping your body in tip-top shape. And don't be afraid to get creative. When working in the yard, there are ample opportunities to squat or lunge to pick up tools or do a few reps with bags of soil or mulch! When it's snowy outside, you can burn 400-plus calories an hour shoveling the powdery stuff. Shopping Save time and get fit by making your shopping a full-out workout. Power walk through the store, and unless you absolutely have to, forgo the cart for a handheld basket. As the basket gets heavier, you can build some serious muscle carrying it around the store. Just be sure to carry the basket on both of your arms so that they both get an equal workout. And if you do have to use a cart, do some small lunges while pushing it out to your car and really use your arms to push the buggy. TV Time Many of us watch our favorite television shows to relax after a hard day. While it may be tempting to plop on the couch and veg, don't. After a long day the last thing your body needs is to sit down; moving will make you feel better and get you closer to your goals. Vow to do push-ups, crunches, jumping jacks or some sort of exercise during each commercial break. Performing these moves during the commercials of an hour-long show can help you burn at least 100 calories more than sitting, and you still get to enjoy your guilty-pleasure show. Remember that while you may work out regularly, that's only a few minutes out of your entire day that you're actively moving your body, which is designed for physical activity. Squeezing in short bursts of exercise is great for beginners and experienced exercisers because it burns calories, tones muscles, strengthens your heart and helps you achieve an active lifestyle, the benefits of which are far reaching. So start thinking of more ways you can get active on the job, at home and throughout the day!Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=1442

An Exerciser's Guide to Skin Care

There’s no disputing the fact that exercise is good for the human body. So it stands to reason that exercise would also benefit the body's largest organ: its skin. But does working up a sweat actually do anything good for your skin—or make you more prone to breakouts?   Exercise and Acne: Is There a Connection? While your heart, lungs, muscles and bones arguably gain the most benefit from exercise, the positives of leading an active life aren’t a stranger to your skin. In fact, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), exercise increases blood flow to the surface of your skin and brings oxygen and nutrients to your whole body—skin included.   Then there's the other benefit of exercise: sweating. Sweat is made mostly of water, with small amounts of ammonia, urea, salts and sugar. When you sweat, these impurities are flushed from your skin. But what does that mean for people who are prone to acne? It might help, but it doesn't necessarily hurt, say the experts at the Children’s Hospital of Colorado (CHC). Sweat in itself neither fights acne nor causes it; but the increased blood flow, unclogging of pores from sweating, and stress reduction that result from exercise may all benefit the acne sufferer, says the CHC.   While working out can be beneficial to your overall skin health, you’ll want to avoid doing anything to exacerbate existing skin problems or cause irritation. Avoid wearing clothing that rubs against your skin during exercise, and if you wear a helmet, hat, sunglasses or other protective equipment while you move, clean it often as these sweaty surfaces can collect dirt and oil that can be transferred to your skin.   Exercising or not, you should always avoid touching your face to prevent blemishes and clogged pores. Be especially aware of this when you’re working out. Touching your face can transfer oil and bacteria (which thrive in moist, humid environments like the gym) to the skin, leading to possible acne flare-ups. If you need to wipe excess sweat, blot your skin with a clean, dry towel and avoid rubbing or wiping the skin with your hands, shirt or towel.   For those with longer hair, wearing hair back and keeping your hair or bangs off of your face can prevent additional dirt and oil from clogging your pores. Plus, a ponytail can keep you from touching your face and hairline if your hair frequently gets in the way. When it comes to makeup, most makeup on the market is noncomedogenic—so it shouldn’t clog pores even if you wear it while working out. Keep in mind, too, that over-washing your face can lead to irritation, so a pre- and post-workout wash may be too much for your skin. Your best bet may be to go to the gym sans makeup and wait until after your workout to apply it. Get more post-workout beauty tips.   Other Dermatological Drawbacks While it seems odd to point out the negative aspects of exercise, there are a few issues to be aware of when it comes to skin health. These drawbacks don’t outweigh the many benefits of exercise, but knowing the potential for problems will help you avoid them.   The biggest drawback, particularly for athletes and gym-goers, is the possibility of contracting a skin condition. Outbreaks of ringworm, herpes, and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) are highly contagious among both athletes and average exercisers, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Physical contact, shared facilities and equipment, and poor hygiene all contribute to the incidence of MRSA. Athletes and exercisers should also watch out for ringworm and athlete’s foot, two fungal infections that are easily spread by close contact. The AAD advises that after working out or competing, athletes should shower immediately and make sure they wear flip-flops not only in the shower, but also when walking around in the locker room. This advice holds true for casual exercisers using communal locker rooms and showers at health clubs, too.   In addition to these conditions, working out can negatively affect those with chronic skin conditions as well. For people who have rosacea—a skin condition characterized by flare-ups of flushing and persistent redness, bumps and pimples—any activity that causes flushing or overheating of the face can spark a rosacea flare-up, according to the National Rosacea Society. Managing your workout can reduce the incidence of flare-ups, and the NRS recommends working out during the cooler parts of the day, working out in more frequent but shorter intervals and drinking cold fluids. Lower-intensity exercises and water exercise may also help.   The positive effects of exercise far outweigh the negatives, so check out these tips to keep your skin at its best when fitness is part of your lifestyle.   7 Skincare Tips for Exercisers

  1. Protect your skin from sun exposure. Wear sunglasses, a hat and other protective clothing when exercising outdoors. Sunscreen is the unbreakable rule. If you’re going to be working out in the great outdoors, wear protective clothing and apply sunscreen liberally to sun-exposed skin, even when it’s cloudy. The AAD recommends reapplying every two hours and after swimming and sweating, so if you’re working up a sweat, be generous with the sun block. For exercisers, look for "sport" sunscreens that are designed to stay put even when you sweat.
  1. Cleanse gently. To prevent acne flare-ups and scars, gently clean your skin with a mild cleanser twice a day (morning and night) and after heavy exercise.
  1. Avoid tight clothing. Tight clothing that rubs sensitive and acne-prone areas can irritate and aggravate preexisting conditions. Wear lightweight, breathable and unrestrictive clothing and change out of it soon after a tough workout.
  1. Wear flip-flops. Don’t walk barefoot through the gym or locker room. Wearing flip-flops to shower can protect your skin from fungal infections.
  1. Wash your hands. To avoid spreading germs, wipe equipment down before and after use and wash your hands after you work out.
  1. Avoid touching your face. Touching your skin increases the risk of clogging your pores with bacteria and oils, especially if your hands are already picking up bacteria and germs from touching workout equipment.
  1. Hydrate. Drink plenty of H20 to replace water lost during workouts. Proper hydration will keep your entire body functioning properly.
  Even though some experts aren’t sure whether exercise helps specific conditions like acne, most do agree that working up a sweat will benefit the skin as a whole. So what are you waiting for? Go get that healthy glow the best way possible—by getting your sweat on!   Sources National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). "Healthy Skin Matters," accessed September 2011. www.niams.nih.gov.   Children’s Hospital Colorado. "Can Exercising Improve My Acne?," accessed September 2011. www.childrenscolorado.org.   National Rosacea Society. "Will Exercise Cause My Rosacea to Flare Up?," accessed September 2011. www.rosacea.org.   American Academy of Dermatology. "Athletes Prone to Rash of Skin Conditions," and "Sunscreens," accessed September, 2011. www.aad.org.   U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health. "Acne Fact Sheet," accessed September 2011. www.womenshealth.gov.   Nemours Center for Children's Health Media. "Tips for Taking Care of Your Skin," and "What's Sweat?," accessed September 2011. www.kidshealth.org.   American Academy of Dermatology, "7 Acne Skincare Taboos," accessed September 2011. www.skincarephysicians.com.Article Source: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=1671

Mall of America's first-ever black Santa makes history

Santa Claus is making history at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, after being open for 24 years.

WCCO reported that the first black Santa is coming to the mall's The Santa Experience photo studio.

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Larry Jefferson, from Dallas, is the history-making Claus.

"It gives the kids an opportunity to have a Santa who looks like them," Jefferson said. "It gives them something to identify with, but Santa is still just Santa."

Landon Luther, co-owner of the Santa Experience, told the Star Tribune the search for a Santa "for everyone" began months ago.

Luther went to a Santa convention in Branson, Missouri, and found Jefferson. Out of about 1,000 Santas, Jefferson was the only Santa of color there.

"It was like finding a needle in a haystack," Luther told the Star Tribune.

Despite making history, Jefferson is modest.

"It’s no big deal. I’m still Santa, I just happen to be a Santa of color," he told WCCO.

"I was doing an event, and one child said, ‘Santa, you’re brown,’ and I said, ‘Yes, I am, but Santa comes in many different colors.’ He said, ‘Oh,’ so I gave him a candy cane, he ran off with other kids," he said. "Kids are just kids. They're very innocent. They just love Santa."

Mall visitors can make an appointment to have photos taken with Santa Larry Thursday through Saturday at the Mall of America website.

"This is a long time coming," Luther said. "We want Santa to be for everyone, period."

Super-Fit Trainer’s Cellulite Makes Her Thighs Look Like They're Smiling

Cellulite, belly jiggle, cottage cheese thighs—whatever you call it, it's normal. After all, nine in 10 women deal with it at some point in their lives. And thanks to the body-positivity movement, people are finally flaunting it. In a hilarious Facebook post, trainer and Greatist expert Jessi Kneeland jokes about her cellulite (yes, even super-fit people get it!), making her thighs look like they're smiling. Props to you, Jessi, for embracing your body the way it is—and for the record, we think your thighs look damn good:

Google and NORAD Santa tracker 2016: It’s never too early to look for the jolly old elf

Both the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the search engine Google powered up their radar Thursday in anticipation of the annual one-night, round-the-world-flight of a certain resident of the North Pole.

For more than 60 years, NORAD has turned all of its tracking capabilities toward following the progress of Santa Claus and his reindeer as he takes flight on Christmas Eve. For the hardcore Santa follower, NORAD’s website does not disappoint.

In the run-up to the big day, visitors can head to the website to watch a movie, play some games, hear some music and learn about St. Nicholas, his elves and his sleigh. NORAD also has a presence at the North Pole (check out the Secret Santa Files).

You can go to NORAD’s tracking site here. 

Over at Google, it’s been only 12 years since Santa has been on their radar, literally, and they have pulled out all the Christmas stops this year.

Google’s Santa Tracker includes Santa’s Village which opened Thursday. There is a countdown clock there, too, and as we move toward Dec. 24, the village unlocks new games and experiences for visitors. 

Google also reminds users that you can search for Santa directly in Google Maps and google.com in addition to using the Santa Tracker. You can even go into Street View to look at the cities he is visiting as he makes his trip to deliver toys.

 This year, Santa’s Village has some new games – sliding penguins and dancing elves, as Google notes – in addition to games available only on the Android app.

“As we get closer to the big day, you can ask your Pixel device or Google Home "Where is Santa". The answer may surprise you,” Google says on the site.

While the two sites have different features, where the come together is when they go into tracking mode on Christmas Eve. You can watch Santa as he leaves the North Pole headed on his worldwide voyage in real-time. He visits countries around the world through the day and brings it home to the United States by Christmas Eve night. 

Oh course, you really should be in bed by that time.

World AIDS Day 2016: Officials push for testing, awareness

Officials worldwide are pushing for HIV/AIDS awareness, testing and treatment access as health officials mark World Aids Day on Thursday.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 36.7 million people across the globe are living with HIV/AIDS. The illnesses claim more than 1 million lives each year, the agency said.

However, the World Health Organization noted that in 2015 the epidemic claimed fewer lives than it had at any point in nearly two decades. Health officials credited the expanded use of antiretroviral therapy, which has brought the number of HIV-related deaths down by 45 percent since 2005.

"With access to treatment, people living with HIV are living longer. Investing in treatment is paying off," said Michel Sidibe, executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAID), in a statement Thursday. "AIDS is not over, but it can be if we tailor the response to individual needs at particular times in life."

The agency is behind what's known as the "90-90-90" goals, which aim to raise the number of people who know their HIV status, get them treatment if needed and have that treatment be effective.

"The success we have achieved so far gives us hope for the future, but as we look ahead we must remember not to be complacent," Sidibe said. "We cannot stop now."

In America, health officials encouraged leaders to strengthen commitments to end HIV infections with the day's theme, "Leadership. Commitment. Impact."

"Thirty-five years ago the first documented cases of AIDS brought about an era of uncertainty, fear, and discrimination," President Barack Obama said Wednesday. "But in the decades since those first cases, with ingenuity, leadership, research, and historic investments in evidence-based practices, we have begun to move toward an era of resilience and hope -- and we are closer than ever to reaching an AIDS-free generation."

About 39,500 people were diagnosed with HIV infection in the United States last year, health officials said. More than 1.2 million people are living with HIV – and about one in eight don't realize it.

Between 2005 and 2014, new HIV diagnoses fell by 19 percent, according to the CDC.

"We are winning against the AIDS epidemic, but we are not seeing progress everywhere," Sidibe said.

Health officials estimate that 2.1 million people are newly infected by HIV annually, a majority of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite the large number, the World Health Organization said the number of new infections was at its lowest point in the last 25 years.

Countries are working toward goals set by UNAIDS. By 2020, the health organization aims for 90 percent of all people living with HIV to know their status, 90 percent of all people diagnosed with HIV infection to receive antiretroviral therapy and 90 percent of all people who are getting antiretroviral therapy to have viral suppression.

The push is credited with revving up global efforts to fight HIV. As of June 2016, 18.2 million people were receiving antiretroviral therapy for HIV infection, up from the 7.5 million receiving treatment at the end of 2010, according to the CDC.

World AIDS Day was the first-ever global health day recognized by officials. It was launched in 1988 and is held on Dec. 1 each year to increase awareness, show support to those living with HIV and remember those who have died.

What If You Celebrated Your Stretch Marks Instead of Hiding Them?

We know the models we see in magazines are blemish, cellulite, and stretch-mark free thanks to Photoshop, but we're still embarassed when we see photos of ourselves with those "imperfections." Erin Motz, the blogger behind "Bad Yogi," has a simple, revolutionary idea: We should celebrate our cellulite and stretch marks. "These are not things to be ashamed of!" she writes in an empowering Facebook post. "It’s like having eyebrows or ears. They’re just there!" She even uses the example of one of her bodybuilder friends who loves his stretch marks because they show his muscles (and body) are changing. Motz's message is making us (and tons of fans in the comments) want to celebrate, rather than pick apart, our bodies:

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