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The perks of sex extend well beyond the bedroom…

There are many surprising health benefits of sex such as relieving stress, boosting your immunity, and more.

Sex is not only pleasurable, did you know it’s also good for you? It’s true. The benefits of sex range from slashing stress levels to lowering your risk of cancer and heart attacks. Sex facilitates bonding and feelings of intimacy with your partner. This kind of connectedness does more than make you feel warm and fuzzy, it actually reduces anxiety and boosts your overall health.

How would you like a stronger immune system or better sleep? Action between the sheets can help you get all of this and more.

1. Get Less Colds & Boost Your Immune System

Sex can help boost the immune system.

More sex equals fewer sick days. That’s what the results of studies comparing sexually active people to those who are not sexually active say. Sex boosts your body’s ability to make protective antibodies against bacteria, viruses, and other germs that cause common illnesses. Of course, there’s more to cultivating a robust immune system than having a healthy sex life. Eating right, exercising, getting adequate sleep, and keeping up to date with vaccinations all contribute to having strong and healthy defenses against contagious illnesses.

2. Boost Your Libido

Sex boots your libido.

Believe it or not, the best antidote for a waning libido is to have sex! Having sex actually boosts desire. And if pain and vaginal dryness make it challenging for some women to have sex, sexual activity can help combat these problems, too. Sex boosts vaginal lubrication, blood flow to the vagina, and elasticity of the tissues, all of which make for better, more pleasurable sex and heightened libido.

3. Improve Women’s Bladder Control

Sex improves women’s bladder control.

Urinary incontinence affects about 30% of women at some point in life. Having regular orgasms works a woman’s pelvic floor muscles, strengthening and toning them. Orgasms activate the same muscles that women use when doing Kegel exercises. Having stronger pelvic muscles means there’s less risk of accidents and urine leaks.

4. Lower Your Blood Pressure

Sex lowers your blood pressure.

Are you one of the millions of people who suffer from high blood pressure? Sex can help you lower it. Many studies have documented a link between intercourse specifically (not masturbation) and lower systolic blood pressure, the first number that appears on a blood pressure test. That’s good news for individuals looking for an easy adjunct to lifestyle (diet, exercise, stress reduction) and medication strategies to get blood pressure into a healthy range. Sex sessions cannot replace blood-pressure lowering drugs to control high blood pressure, but they may be a useful addition.

5. Counts as Exercise

Sex counts as exercise.

Like every other kind of physical activity, sex burns calories, too! Sitting and watching TV burns about 1 calorie per minute. Having sex increases your heart rate and utilizes various muscle groups, burning about 5 calories per minute. Regular sex cannot replace sessions at the gym, but a having an active, healthy sex life is a nice way to get some extra physical activity.

6. Lower Heart Attack Risk

Sex can lower heart attack risks.

Want a healthier heart? Have more sex. Sexual activity helps keep levels of hormones, like estrogen and testosterone, in check. When these hormones are out of balance, conditions like heart disease and osteoporosis may develop. When it comes to protecting heart health by having sex, more is better. One study in men showed that those who had sex at least 2 times a week were 50% less likely to die of heart disease than their less sexually active peers.

7. Lessen Pain

Sex can lessen pain.

Sexual stimulation (including masturbation) and orgasm can help keep pain at bay. Both activities can reduce pain sensation and increase your pain threshold. Orgasms result in the release of hormones that can help block pain signals. Some women report that self-stimulation through masturbation can reduce symptoms of menstrual cramps, arthritis, and even headache.

8. May Reduce Prostate Cancer Risk

Sex can lower prostate cancer risks.

There are male-specific health benefits of sex, too. One study showed that men who had frequent ejaculations (defined as 21 times a month or more) were less likely to develop prostate cancer than those who had fewer ejaculations. It did not matter if the ejaculations occurred through intercourse, masturbation, or nocturnal emissions. Of course, there’s more to prostate cancer risk than frequency of ejaculations, but this was one interesting finding.

How the small, neighborhood pharmacy prevails

In 1960, a teenaged Delbert Cranford got an after-school job as a stock boy. And it was there at Mann Drug in Asheboro, North Carolina — while lining up shelves of shampoo and aspirin — that he figured out his future.

“I watched the pharmacist help people, and I started to think about what I wanted to do when I was done with high school,” Cranford says. “I already knew I enjoyed chemistry and I wanted to help people, so I decided I’d study pharmacy.”

Cranford went on to run his own drug store, Denton Drug in Denton, North Carolina, in addition to becoming part-owner of several other drug stores in the area, including Asheboro Drug and Randleman Drug.

During his 50-plus years in the business, Cranford has seen the world of pharmacy change. And perhaps more importantly, as a successful businessman, he has learned how to adapt to those changes and stay competitive — even when the big box retailers and chain drug stores started popping up around town.

“I think we have been successful because we get to know our customers. They are like family to us,” Cranford says. “We know what they need and we know their situation. And they trust us.”

John Norton, spokesman for National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), says independent community pharmacies play an important role in healthcare and that for many people, a pharmacist is the most accessible healthcare provider.

There are currently about 22,500 independent pharmacies in the United States, and these pharmacies dispense nearly half of the nation’s retail prescription medicines, Norton says.

All told, independent pharmacies are an $81.4 billion marketplace annually. They fill 1.38 billion prescriptions a year — about 201 a day, per pharmacy — and employ 314,000 people on a full- or part-time basis.

Staying nimble

Prior to the 1980s, small, independent pharmacies were the norm, NCPA’s Norton says, and there were more than 40,000 of them in the United States. But between 1980 and 2000, chain drugstores such as Walgreens and Rite Aid and big retailers like Walmart spread widely across the country.

By 2000, more than 17,000 independent pharmacies had lost the fight against these Goliaths and shuttered their stores.

Interestingly, though, as Norton points out, the independent pharmacies that weathered that boom are still going strong. Since 2000, the number of independent drugstores has held at roughly 22,500. Today, 40 percent of all pharmacies are independently-owned shops.

So how do they survive when the chain stores have been the demise of many small retailers? Those in the business offer five tips for staying in the trade:

1. Seek new revenue sources

Jesse Pike Jr., a third-generation pharmacist and owner of Pike’s Pharmacy in Charlotte, North Carolina, says success as an independent pharmacy owner can come down to ingenuity.

For example, to boost revenue, his store handles medications for a nearby retirement community with 200 residents. Each morning he picks up refill requests and returns twice more to deliver medication. He also has a partnership to serve the local homeless and women’s shelters to ensure they get the medications they need.

“We’ve created these partnerships and it’s kept us in business,” says Pike, whose grandfather opened the family’s first pharmacy in Concord, North Carolina in 1919. “You have to cultivate new business. If you sit on your haunches as an independent pharmacy, you’ll become a dinosaur.”

Independent pharmacies offer a wide range of services that many of the larger, chain pharmacies and big box retailers do not.

For example, according to NCPA statistics, the top services offered in 2014 were

  • Delivery (78 percent of independent stores offered)
  • Patient charge accounts (77 percent)
  • Immunizations (71 percent)
  • Compounding (65 percent)
  • Sale of durable medical goods (56 percent)

By offering specialized services, independent pharmacies can become destination stops for customers in need of these services.

Consider compounding. Back before drugs were manufactured in bulk, a pharmacist created and mixed them by hand. Known as compounding, this process requires skill, experience and equipment that many larger retailers don’t care to invest in.

It is still needed at times today, Cranford says. For example, if people are allergic to red dye — an ingredient in certain medications — they cannot use the manufactured version. But a pharmacist skilled in compounding can create the same medication, minus the dye.

Additionally, Pike says medications for animals also often require compounding, since proper doses need to be adjusted for a variety of factors, including breed and weight.

3. Be convenient

At his stores, Cranford says they have worked to find locations that are easily accessible.

Whether it’s due to aging, illness or simply impatience, many people don’t want to have to walk through a big box store to retrieve a prescription. Cranford says they have picked locations that allow customers to park right by the door, and they keep shop sizes small so that customers can get in and get out quickly. And if they don’t want to come in at all, there’s a drive-through.

At his store, Pike says convenience is always a consideration. He is always happy to chat and provide information but will not hold up a customer who is in a hurry.

“If you aren’t convenient, the customer cannot waste the time to come to you,” he says. “And they won’t.”

4. Educate your customers

One misconception that owners of independent drugstores face is that because of economies of scale, chain and bigger retailers can offer lower prices.

But that’s the not case, Cranford says. First, many small pharmacies join with other independents to buy so that they can take advantage of bulk-pricing discounts. For example, his stores are part of a co-op that buys for 700 shops.

Second, customers with insurance or prescription cards will pay the same co-pay regardless of which pharmacy they visit.

“Back when I started, pricing was a big thing,” he says. “But with insurance and prescription cards, price is not an issue anymore.”

5. Keep it simple

While many independent drugstores stock more than just prescription medications, most keep it pretty simple compared to their chain-store counterparts, which can stock everything from a family-sized inflatable pool to a slow cooker.

Cranford offers some over-the-counter medications, greeting cards, beauty products, and a few racks of $1 items. But all these combined only make up 15 percent of his business, with the remaining 85 percent prescriptions.

At Pike’s Pharmacy, the product line-up is much the same. Barring a rack of greeting cards, the focus is largely on health products. And prescription, over-the-counter and old-fashioned medicines are in the spotlight.

Both men admit it’s a vast change from the past. The pharmacies they worked in as younger pharmacists sold a large variety of goods, and some even included a soda fountain. Both also admit being a little nostalgic for the latter, but say the business model of today’s streamlined pharmacy is a lot more sensible for most pharmacy owners.

“It’s so labor-intensive to have a soda fountain,” Pike says. “Have you ever made a real, old-fashioned milkshake? It takes considerable time, and the profit just isn’t there.”

The future

For his part, Cranford thinks the small, independent community pharmacy is here to stay. Now semi-retired himself, he sold his business interests to his daughter and son-in-law, Lora and Michael Griffin, both pharmacists. They run the stores today.

“I guess I’m an eternal optimist,” Cranford says. “But I think the best-kept secret is to go into the business. I think there’s a future in it.”

Pike agrees, saying the neighborhood drugstore is a fixture that won’t disappear anytime soon. His daughter is now the fourth generation of Pike pharmacists and he believes as long as independent pharmacies keep adapting to the changing market they can prosper, even in challenging times.

“Our neighborhood has been through some tough times,” he said. “But all through it — no matter what — there was a need for the corner drugstore.”

First Bank might be new to Raleigh, but for more than 80 years, this independent community bank has been a supporter of the entrepreneurial spirit throughout the Carolinas. Visit localfirstbank.com/hiraleigh or stop by one of our locations in Raleigh, Apex, or Fuquay-Varina. Member FDIC.

Back Off of Blue Light

Block blue light to improve nighttime sleep.

Smart phones, e-readers, tablets, computer screens, TVs, and digital clocks emit blue light, a short frequency of light that may be harmful to the eyes and disrupt sleep. Minimize screen time for several hours before bedtime to get a good night’s rest. Wearing orange tinted glasses that block out blue light may also be helpful. Apps are available for your computer, tablet, and smartphones that prevent the screens from emitting blue light. Besides blue light exposure, it makes sense to power down several hours before bedtime to maximize your chances of getting a good night’s rest. Cover up any displays that may be visible from your bed, like a digital clock. Black out curtains can block out ambient light from outside.

Nap If You Are Sleep-Deprived

Napping can be a healthy habit.

Naps are a good way to get some extra rest if you are tired, but too long of a nap will make sleeping at night harder. The best naps are under 20 minutes. Any longer than that may interfere with nighttime rest. Short naps are proven to boost alertness, mood, and performance. Take a nap in a cool, dark room for maximum benefits. Avoid napping too late in the day as this can also negatively affect nighttime rest. Naps longer than 10 to 20 minutes are associated with sleep inertia which is grogginess and disorientation that occurs for a few minutes up to 30 minutes after waking up from deep rest.

Clock-Watching Increases Anxiety

Turn your alarm clock around to help you fall asleep.

One of the worst things you can do if you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep is to watch the clock. Watching the seconds, minutes, or hours tick by when your wide awake may produce a lot of anxiety which will not help you sleep better. Avoid the temptation to watch the clock. Turn the clock around so you can’t see the display. Instead, do something productive to pass the time and make you sleepy. Read a book, get up and do some light chores around the house, or have a cup of tea (decaf) or warm milk to help you fall asleep. Anything you can do to distract yourself and pass the time when you can’t fall asleep is helpful

Bright indoor lights inhibit the production of melatonin, the hormone that helps you fall asleep. Put dimmer switches on indoor lights and lower the lighting level in your home for at least 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. If you like to read before bed, read by a light using a low wattage bulb to avoid being exposed to levels of light that will make it hard to fall asleep. Use heavy black out curtains on bedroom windows to keep light outside from sneaking in and wreaking havoc on your sleep schedule.

Keep Noise to a Minimum

A fan can drown out ambient noise.

Quiet Supports Healthy Sleep Patterns

Keep the bedroom as quiet as possible to help you nod off at night. Some noise is unavoidable. Traffic outside, a barking dog, and dripping faucets can be distracting. Wear earplugs at night to drown out ambient noise. You can use a fan or a white noise machine to mask sounds. Fix leaky faucets, squeaking doors, and other noisy distractions around the house. Ask family members to keep the noise down after hours and respect your bedtime routine.

Avoid Tobacco for Better Sleep

Snuff out the cigarettes to ward off sleep disorders.

Nicotine has an effect on neurotransmitters, brain chemicals that influence mood and sleep. Nicotine is a stimulant and can make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. Studies have proven that nicotine increases insomnia, daytime sleepiness, and sleep problems. Nicotine use suppresses restorative REM sleep. Smoking increases sleep-related respiratory problems. See your doctor if you’d like to quit smoking. There are medications and nicotine-replacement products that can help you wean off slowly and quit. Don’t be discouraged if you fall off the wagon. Many people try to quit a few times before they finally kick the nicotine habit for good. Many people are concerned about weight gain when they quit. Your doctor can advise you about diet and exercise strategies to combat that.

Keep Pets Off the Bed

Pets may prevent you from getting good sleep.

Many people sleep with pet cats or dogs on their bed, but pets may keep you from getting much sleep. If they wake up, move, or make noise at night, it may wake you up. If you’re the kind of person who has a hard time falling asleep if you wake up at night, it makes more sense to keep pets out of the bedroom. There are other reasons to make your bedroom off limits to pets. If you have allergies or asthma, pet fur and dander could provoke your symptoms. Pets who go outdoors also track pollen into the house. You can teach your pet to sleep in his or her own bed in another room.

Establish a Relaxing Nighttime Routine

A relaxing bath can help you drift off to sleep.

It is an especially good idea to avoid stress and do relaxing activities in the evening. Do not work at night. Avoid emotionally upsetting conversations, scary movies, and thrilling novels. If you are a worrier, scribble your thoughts and feelings down in a journal to help get them off your mind. Wind down before bed by taking a warm bath, listening to relaxing music, meditating, or reading a soothing book. Meditating for as little as 10 minutes a day benefits both body and mind.