6 Indulgences that boost your health

Some of the best things in life-chocolate, coffee, sex, chocolate, sex-are seriously good for you too. "We tend to think good health requires hard work," says Susan Love, MD, the famed breast cancer expert and coauthor of Live a Little! Breaking the Rules Won't Break Your Health. "We forget that the very things that make us happy make us pretty healthy too." Here are six surprisingly easy ways power up your health, with pleasure:

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1. Refuel with iced coffee. Ignore the coffee police: There's no reason to skip your afternoon pick-me-up. Caffeine helps prevent DNA damage that leads to skin cancer, according to leading dermatologists. Your favorite brew is also a bounty of antioxidants. People who down 3 to 4 cups daily have a 25% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who drink less, according to an analysis of more than 450,000 people. To get the most out of each cup, choose a dark roast, suggests Dave Grotto, RD, author of 101 Optimal Life Foods: "It contains more bioactive compounds."

Double your pleasure: Savor a square of dark chocolate with your cappuccino. The confection boosts blood vessel function by a whopping 129%.

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Throw a steak on the grill. Eating beef in moderation is just fine. A 4- to 6-ounce serving (particularly from grass-fed cattle) gives you a good dose of heart-healthy and brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids, plus zinc, which strengthens bones. To avoid heterocyclic amines, or HCAs (carcinogenic chemicals that develop when animal products are charred), Grotto recommends microwaving beef until halfway done, then finishing it on the coals. You can also marinate it first to lessen HCA formation.

Double your pleasure: Serve a tasty potato salad on the side. When spuds, especially waxy varieties such as Yukon gold and fingerling, are boiled and chilled, they form a type of fiber called resistant starch that may block your body's ability to burn carbohydrates. The benefit to you: You burn more belly fat.

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3. Sip sangria. It's more than a sensational drink. Sangria boosts cardiovascular health, thanks to the resveratrol in red wine, plus antioxidants from added fruits and juices.

Double your pleasure: Serve a side of homemade guacamole. Avocado is a major source of MUFAs, those wonderful monounsaturated fatty acids that target dangerous belly fat. It's also full of saponins, a fiber compound that, Grotto says, "soaks up cholesterol like a sponge."

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4. Sneak off to the movies. Any hilarious flick will do the trick. Laughing reduces blood levels of the harmful stress hormone cortisol. Other studies show that a good chuckle is as good for blood vessel health as aerobic exercise. After just 15 minutes of laughing at a funny film, subjects' blood vessels relaxed and expanded, improving the vessels' flexibility and providing more protection against heart disease.

Double your pleasure: Munch on some plain popcorn while you watch. This snack is high in fiber and antioxidants that help reduce cancer risk and improve heart health.

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5. Take a guiltless siesta
. If you love to nap, you're in good company. Winston Churchill, JFK, and Albert Einstein were all fans of an afternoon snooze. Perhaps they knew what recent research has found: Napping increases memory and learning power. Also, scientists say regular nappers are 34% less likely to die of heart disease.

Double your pleasure: Program an MP3 song list with three or four of your favorite blissful tunes you can listen to while you drift off. Multiple studies show that music is a major relaxant, relieving stress, slowing heart rate, and lowering blood pressure.

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6. Get it on: Perhaps the sexiest health news ever: Regular orgasms provide remarkable physical benefits. People who have more frequent sex have lower blood pressure, half the risk of fatal heart attacks, sounder sleep, less pain, and better immunity. No surprise: Their marriages benefit too. And remember, getting hot and heavy can burn lots of calories.

Double your pleasure: When you're not in bed, spend the weekend hanging out with your partner. According to a just-published study in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, people who spent Friday evening to Sunday afternoon leisurely with loved ones experienced better moods, greater vitality, and fewer aches and pains. Schedule a recreation that's new to both of you-whether learning to play tennis or attending a modern-dance performance. Novel experiences stimulate brain growth.

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