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“C’mon, really?!”

That was my first reaction when I read about some of the unexpected health boosters described below. Many sounded too good to be true or just plain improbable. But when I thought about them further, I had to admit that they made sense. Here they are:

1. Friendly neighbors. Amazing as it sounds, when people feel like they are part of their neighborhood, have friendly neighbors whom they feel would help them out in a pinch, and trust most of their neighbors, their heart attack risk goes down—a lot. Specifically, living in a tight-knit neighborhood is correlated with a 17% reduction in heart attack risk, even when other factors are accounted for. This conclusion arose from a four-year survey of 5,000 adults with an average age of 70—two-thirds of them women, 62% of them married. I’ve always enjoyed my neighbors, but now I’ll appreciate them even more.

2. Telling the truth. I kid you not when I say that a recent study by PT blogger Dr. Anita Kelly and her colleagues revealed that honesty is the best policy when it comes to health. In this study, participants were divided into two groups, the Sincerity group and the Control group. The Sincerity group were given these instructions: “Throughout every day of the next five weeks, you must speak honestly, truthfully, and sincerely—not only about the big things, but also about the small things, such as why you were late....While you certainly can choose not to answer questions, you must always mean what you say.”

The results? The members of the Sincerity group experienced an average of seven fewer sickness symptoms—such as headache, sore throat, or nausea—during the five weeks. Although based on only 70 participants, I’m inclined to believe the study results. Lying is stressful, because, to paraphrase Mark Twain, it requires a better memory. I must admit that I enjoy the idea that virtue is not just its own reward but has health benefits, too.

3. Windows in your workplace. A small study compared 27 workers in windowless offices with 22 in workplaces with windows. The office workers with more light exposure had better sleep quality and longer sleep duration; they were more active; and they had better quality of life than those workers without windows. Exposure to light, especially in the morning, had beneficial effects on mood, alertness, and metabolism, according to one of the study authors, because light is a powerful agent for synchronizing biorhythms.

4. Green plants. Speaking of the workplace, offices enriched with green plants not only increased workers’ productivity (by 15%), but also made them happier. The simple act of adding attractive greenery made workers feel healthier, more engaged, and better able to concentrate. This study is part of a larger body of work suggesting that plants in the workplace can lower stress, increase attention span, improve air quality, and boost emotional well-being.

5. Blue water. A swimmer I’m not. I’m content to be a land mammal. So I was a bit skeptical when I heard about the new book, Blue Mind, which argues that water—being in it, on it, near it, or under it—can calm a frazzled mind and make a body healthier. But author W.J. Nichols collected oceans of research to support his point that cultivating "a blue mind” can benefit our health. Major benefits include stress reduction; increased physical activity; better mental health; a calmer state of mind; and rejuvenation for an over-stimulated brain. Stress reduction alone brings a host of related health benefits—less damage to all our bodily systems, a decreased risk of premature mortality, better memory, and improved self-control. Just looking at a body of water can be good for your body—as well as your mind. As I pondered Nichols' argument, I recalled wonderful vacations near the water—and realized that I still use photos from those vacations as my desktop background. Hmm...

6. Relating to nature. Natural light, green plants, blue water, better air quality? That sounds like being out in nature. Indeed, numerous studies show that if you spend time in nature, you are likely to be happier, healthier, and less stressed. “Nature relatedness” also contributes to maintaining positive mental health. This well-researched post by PT blogger Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell can point you to some excellent, well-controlled studies that highlight these conclusions. (Woody Allen, who is reputed to have said, “I am at two with nature," may be the exception to this rule.)

7. Moderate worrying. In their book, The Longevity Factor, authors Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin report on research showing that moderate worriers were likely to live longer, healthier lives because they can envision the worst and prepare for it. They are also less prone to taking foolish risks. This counter-intuitive conclusion was based on a long-term study of over 1,500 people.

Of course, along with these surprising boosters, good health has to be built on a strong foundation of nutrition, exercise, sleep, supportive relationships, and other good habits like flossing and using sunscreen.

What else out there is contributing to our good health—or robbing us of it—without us fully realizing it?

(c) Meg Selig, 2014

Meg Selig is the author of Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success (Routledge, 2009). Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Sources

  • Good neighbors, good heart: The story is here.
  • Honesty and health: Study by Anita Kelly.
  • Natural light study reported in Science Daily.
  • Plants: Science Daily article.
  • Love of nature and health: Blog by Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell.
  • Blue water: Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do, W.J. Nichols, 2014 (NY, Little Brown), pp. 126 ff.
  • Moderate worrying: See my review of The Longevity Project.

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