Unlikely health boosts
Staying healthy isn't always about slogging for hours on a treadmill, self-administered colonic irrigation or a lentil and mung bean diet.
You know the healthy lifestyle drill; take some exercise, eat healthily, don't smoke, blah blah. But did you know that dancing can improve your memory and staying positive can add years to your life? Here's our top run-down of the small, seamless and surprisingly easy lifestyle adjustments you can make to improve your health and your mood.
Calm your nerves... with pet power
Feeling frazzled? Anxiety levels on overload? A dose of deep breathing and cup of chamomile tea could help; but so can having a pet. Whether your animal companion is a tarantula, budgie or hamster, studies show that pets can help ease your nerves and boost your heart health to boot. Experts say a pet can reduce feelings of loneliness and help aid recovery after illness. And the simple action of stroking a dog or cat, even watching fish in a tank stimulates the production of endorphins, natural feel-good chemicals and reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Keep your heart healthy... have a laugh
It's no quack theory; laughter really is the best medicine. Having a giggle has been shown to boost blood flow, increase tolerance of pain and soothe stress. Even if we're not chuckling with our mates, simply spending time with them is a wholesome enough pursuit. Health boffins say that the more sociable we are, the greater the quality of our lives; gregarious people have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, healthier hearts, better mental health and are more likely to be proactive about their overall health.
Boost your mood... with a song and a dance
Grab your diamante-encrusted spandex because research shows that as well keeping you fit, dancing can lift your mood and help keep your mind active. Complex routines stimulate our grey matter, while energetic music is scientifically proven to beat the blues. And that singing in the shower habit you've got? If anyone complains, just tell them that it's part of your healthy attitude to life. Singing - whether you've got the raw talent of Charlotte Church or a strangled cat - has anti-depressant qualities and is also said to boost circulation, tone abdominal muscles and improve lung capacity.
Improve your social skills... have a family meal
Have you always dismissed family gatherings as synonymous with strife and disquiet? Think again. US research shows that we're more likely to be good communicators, be healthy and socially adjusted if we have regular socials with our clan. We're also less likely to be depressed, develop eating disorders, smoke, drink or do drugs. So get setting that table!
Give your brain a work-out... play some games
Persevere with that taxing cryptic crossword. Doing any kind of word or number game, be it Suduko, Scrabble, playing a musical instrument or knitting, is the equivalent of going to the gym. They're all activities that require you to concentrate hard, keeping the brain active and helping to stave off dementia in the long-term.
Live longer... be positive
Eating 'x' and 'y' is all very good but our attitude to life can also affect our longevity. Countless studies show that optimists stay healthier for longer than downbeat grumps. For instance, one recent report found that glass-half-full types recover from heart problems faster. Experts say that this is because if we're happy and content we tend to be less stressed, so physically and mentally equipped to deal with illness.
Feel energized... go wild in the country
Nothing beats the bracing sight of some rolling countryside and a sharp intake of sea air - and there's scientific evidence to prove it. You don't have to relocate to the Outer Hebrides to feel the benefits - or even take a day-trip out of the city; any kind of interaction with the natural elements can help reignite your va-va-voom. A simple walk in the park, keeping a window box or the sound of birds singing will suffice. And keep yourself surrounded with plenty of plants - studies show that a bit of foliage can help combat energy-sapping chemical pollution; the humble peace lily, for example, is said to deter nasties such as ethanol and benzene.
Keep in shape... get plenty of sleep
Using the adjective 'good' when talking about a night's sleep is underselling its benefits. Not only does a quality dose of shut-eye keep you mentally alert, boost your concentration and mood but US research shows that it helps keep us in shape too. Scientists recently revealed that we're less likely to be overweight and more likely to have a healthy relationship with food, if we get a sufficient amount of sleep. It's also vital for cell renewal - so your skin and body will thank you for getting the recommended eight hours.
Written by Antonia Kanczula
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