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SPECIAL ISSUE: GIFT GUIDE

Gifts with a healthy attitude

December 17, 2007|Shari Roan | Times Staff Writer

True health and fitness gifts can seem somewhat ironic at Christmas. Santa is the holiday's poster boy after all -- and just look at the guy. His belt size indicates too much visceral fat. Sleigh riding? Pretty darn sedentary. And about those cookies kids leave out . . . the man cleans his plate. In every house.

But the guy in the red suit may nonetheless drop off some practical gifts for those folks looking to get fitter, healthier or safer in the coming year -- or, more realistically, those folks who should get fitter, healthier or safer in the coming year. Here are some worthy of consideration.

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Easy on the ears

Many of the hottest holiday gifts will include ear buds -- which have practically evolved into a new body part for teenagers -- much to hearing experts' dismay. Because the devices channel sound directly into the eardrums, hours of listening to loud music or sounds through them (day after day after day) could cause permanent hearing loss.

"As a society surrounded by all these earbuds, we sort of need to go on a noise diet," says Andrew Vermiglio, a doctor of audiology and senior research associate at House Ear Institute in Los Angeles. That's where safe listening devices come in, with features to help prevent hearing damage. AirDrives Interactive Earphones leave the auditory canal open, protecting ears from potentially damaging decibel levels while allowing users to remain aware of their surroundings. These sell for $69 to $99 and are made by InAir Technology. Safe 'N Sound earphones ($29.99 from Yellowdays, LLC) direct sound away from the inner ear. And the iHearSafe ($19.99 from Ingemi Corp.) is a device that prevents volume from surpassing a potentially dangerous level.

Another option: headphones that capture and eliminate outside noise, such as traffic and conversation, so that listeners don't have to crank up the volume. High-tech models have microphones to detect and cancel ambient noise so listeners hear only what they want to hear. Models range in price from Philips USA's HN-110 Foldable Noise Canceling Headphones, for around $30, to the top-notch Bose QuietComfort 3 headphones at $349.

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Lunch minus the lead

Because many vinyl bags have been linked to high levels of lead that can rub off on food, manufacturers are offering lead-free thermal lunch boxes and bags for kids and adults. Many traditional stores carry them, as does Reusablebags.com, which has a wide range of bags and totes from about $4.95 to $31.95. If this sounds like a cheap gift, just add food.

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Pilates at home

Ideal for home use is the Pilates Arc ($129 through Dec. 31 from Balanced Body). This is a lightweight, three-in-one tool that includes a spine corrector, exercise arc and reformer wedge. According to Balanced Body, Pilates Arc is particularly useful for people who do a lot of desk work and have back and shoulder problems.

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Good eating written all over you

Now this is an effective way to walk the talk. New T-shirts by DietDetective .com wryly remind yourself and others to consume a healthy diet. Called FoodTees, the shirts depict a particular fruit, vegetable or other healthful food along with an admonition or description. A shirt with a pea pod says "live green"; a celery shirt says "stalker." The shirts are designed for men, women, children and babies (about $20 to $29).

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Smarter than the average scale

Today's food scales do a lot more than measure portions. They can analyze calories, sodium, protein, fat, carbohydrates, cholesterol or fiber. The Escali Cibo Digital Nutritional Scale (Escali $79.95) calculates total nutritional value for 999 foods. It's sleek-looking and easy to clean. Salter Nutri-Weigh Dietary Computer Scale 1450 ($99.99) has built-in nutritional values for 1,430 foods and the capacity to store as many as 100 new entries. It looks like a laptop computer and keeps track of foods consumed for two people so dieters can check their progress. And the EatSmart Nutrition Scale (HealthTools LLC, $75) allows users to calculate nutrients for foods with a USDA Nutrition Facts label.

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Get-well gift cards

The Pittsburgh-based insurer Highmark has partnered with Visa to offer a gift card for almost any out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. The card can be used for doctor's visit co-pays, prescriptions, vision or dental care, health club memberships, vision correction surgery or cosmetic procedures. The giver can suggest a specific use for the card ("Mom, time for that bone-density scan") or just give freely, knowing that a rhinoplasty is probably in someone's future. It is not tied to any health insurance plan but is intended for health-related expenses only and is electronically coded to try to prevent non-healthcare related expenses. The Health Gift Card can be purchased for amounts ranging from $25 to $5,000 ($4.95 plus shipping and handling from www.givewell.com or by telephone at [877] 850-3774).

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