FEATURES Know where you stand on the health-o-meter
Remember how thrilled you were when you found out that eating chocolate was good for you? Well, we’ve got more happy news: The latest research shows that the simple pleasures in life, like going out for lunch, laughing and even having sex, boost your immune system. Here are 10 ways you’re improving your health by doing things unconsciously.
1 You hang out with friends two or three times a week.
There’s no need to feel guilty about indulging in a gossip-fest with your girlfriends. Researchers have found that women with large social networks (more than six close relationships) weighed less and had lower rates of smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and depression than women with fewer friends. These women also reduced their risk of dying from heart disease by more than half. That’s not all. Women having close relationships with pals had low blood levels of interleuin-6, a protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer. Strong social ties may be protective against disease, perhaps because they buffer the effects of daily stressors. Top that: Go on a girlfriend getaway, even if it’s just for a weekend. Women who take at least two trips a year are less likely to be tense, depressed or tired than those who rarely get away.
2 You drink three cups of coffee a day.
So what if the cashier at Starbucks greets you by name? Drinking two cups of coffee every day slashes your risk of both Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s, by 40% and 20% respectively. Top that: Need an afternoon caffeine boost? Drink two or more cups of tea. You’ll reduce your risk of ovarian cancer by 46%, according to a study from Sweden – perhaps because of the antioxidants in tea.
If you’re getting six or seven hours of sleep a night and feeling energized and alert, you’ve got nothing to worry about.
3 You watched your favourite comedy again last weekend.
Go ahead, crack up: Laughter can actually be as healthy for you as exercise. A study found that watching a funny movie made viewers’ blood vessels expand more effectively, while a stressful film caused vessels to narrow, restricting blood flow. When you laugh, your body releases endorphins, chemicals that help counteract the effects of stress. Top that: Having a crazy day at work? Close your eyes and visualize yourself at home watching your favourite comedy. Just anticipating a humorous event can boost your mood by increasing the body’s production of endorphins as much as 25%.
4 You never sleep for eight hours.
Rest easy: Research shows that seven hours is actually best for your health. According to a study, women and men who slept about seven hours a night had the lowest mortality rates. The average woman sleeps about six-and-a-half to seven hours, which is close to the ideal. At least a 15% increased risk of dying was found among women who slept more than eight hours or less than four. (Researchers theorize that these women may be prone to conditions such as depression or sleep apnea.) The bottom line? If you’re getting six or seven hours of sleep a night and feeling energized and alert, you’ve got nothing to worry about. Top that: Schedule a.m workouts. Women who exercised for more than 30 minutes each morning were 60% less likely to have sleep problems than on days when they didn’t work out.