By: Hallie Levine
Haven't done a healthy thing all week? If you've had a latte, gossiped with pals or watched Wedding Crashers, you're in luck! 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, other simple ways you're improving your health without even knowing it.
You Drink Three Cups of Coffee a Day
So what if the cashier at Starbucks greets you by name? "Drinking three 8-ounce cups of coffee every day slashes your risk of both Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's, by 40 percent and 20 percent respectively. Enough studies have been done that we can say this with confidence," says Michael Roizen, MD, chair of the division of anesthesiology, critical-care medicine and comprehensive pain management at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
Top That: Need an afternoon caffeine boost? Instead of java, drink two or more cups of tea. You'll reduce your risk of ovarian cancer by 46 percent, according to a new study from Sweden -- perhaps because of the antioxidants in tea.
You Never Sleep for Eight Hours
Rest easy: Research shows that seven hours is actually best for your health. According to a 2002 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," says study author Daniel Kripke, MD, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California at San Diego. "We found at least a 15 percent increased risk of dying 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 a night and feeling energized and alert, you've got nothing to worry about," says Dr. Kripke.
Top That: Schedule a.m. workouts. Women who exercised for more than 30 minutes each morning were 60 percent less likely to have sleep problems than on days when they didn't work out, according to a study done at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.
You Eat Cereal for Breakfast
That bowl of bran may improve your mood. People who ate cereal felt more positive, did better at memory-related tasks and were less stressed than those who just grabbed a cup of coffee, according to studies at the University of Bristol in England. Cereal may also help you ward off a cold; research shows that those who eat it report fewer symptoms of respiratory illness. "Some brands are high in fiber, which helps reduce fatigue and increases energy; and they're fortified with micronutrients such as folate and magnesium, which may help boost your immune system," says Andy Smith, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Cardiff in Wales.
Top That: Toss in a handful of blueberries and half a banana and you'll get more than 200 milligrams of potassium, 18mg of magnesium, and 14mg of folate, which may help fight heart disease.
You Read the Newspaper This Morning
Your 20s and 30s are the best time in your life to build up brain reserve; you lose about 1 percent of your brain cells each year by the time you hit your 40s, says Zaldy Tan, MD, director of the Memory Disorders Clinic at the Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston and author of Age-Proof Your Mind. Mentally challenging activities, including reading and playing musical instruments at least three times a week, can provoke the growth of new cells and connections in the brain. "Someone who does the New York Times crossword puzzle four days a week has an almost 50 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer's than someone who does it once a week," says Dr. Tan.
Top That: Take ballroom dancing lessons. A study at Albert Einstein College of Medicine found it may be the most effective exercise in warding off dementia. "Ballroom dancing works your body and your mind -- it may be you need both to offer your brain protection," Dr. Tan says.
You Take Your Lunch Hour
It might seem virtuous to scarf down a sandwich in front of your computer every day, but a 15- or 20-minute break outdoors is a much smarter move. The sunlight can boost your mood, making you more productive for the rest of the afternoon, and it may also help prevent disease. A review of studies published in the American Journal of Public Health found that getting sufficient vitamin D significantly reduced the risk of developing colon, breast, prostate, and ovarian cancers. Fifteen to 20 minutes of daily sun exposure helps your body manufacture vitamin D, which can boost your immune system. Just don't go more than 20 minutes unprotected, as that increases the risk of skin cancer and sun damage. If you live north of Washington, D.C., however, you're probably not getting enough sun to produce vitamin D from November to March. Make up for it by taking a multivitamin that has at least 200 IU daily; and also load up on D-rich salmon and fortified milk and orange juice.
Top That: Spend your time outside strolling, not sitting. In a Harvard Medical School study, women who walked about a half an hour a day reduced their risk of heart disease by 35 percent.
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