In a New Yorker cartoon, a doctor is talking to a patient perched on the examination table. The doctor advises, “You will live a long and healthy life, if you abstain from anything that brings you joy.”
As we ordinary people try to apply health and psychology research to our daily lives, we often feel like that poor patient. But the studies summarized below recommend actions that are so easy and pleasurable that you may want to apply them to your life today: Eat chocolate. Kiss. Drink coffee. Think young for better sex. There are a few cautions, though, so be sure to heed the “warning labels" below.
1. Eat chocolate. It’s good for your heart.
In a 14-year study of more than 55,000 Danish men and women aged 50-64, those who ate chocolate had a reduced risk of atrial fibrillation — a dangerous irregular heartbeat that can increase the risk of stroke and heart failure — compared with those who ate no chocolate. The greatest reduction in risk occurred among those who ate two to six ounces a week. These intrepid eaters had a 20 percent reduced risk of heart problems. This study is consistent with other studies linking chocolate consumption with a reduced risk of heart disease, and dark chocolate, which contains helpful flavonoids, provided the most benefit.
Warning label: This is not a case of the more, the merrier: If you eat too much chocolate, you will gain weight, and becoming overweight or obese is a risk factor for heart disease. So be a moderate and mindful chocolate eater who savors every bite. (Learn more here.)
2. Kiss your partner before you leave in the morning.
Numerous studies have revealed the benefits of holding hands for better cardiovascular health. For example, a study from 2003 found that a 20-second hug with a loved one reduced blood pressure and heart rate. Holding hands can also relieve pain, reduce fear, and provide a feeling of security and comfort.
But I never would have expected the findings on the benefits of kissing cited by blogger Eric Barker in his May 2017 blog post. The following findings emerged from a 10-year study in Germany during the 1980s:
According to Barker, “Psychologists do not believe it’s the kiss itself that accounts for the difference but rather that kissers were likely to begin the day with a positive attitude, leading to a healthier lifestyle.” Or perhaps just knowing someone loves you inspires you to be more careful. I would also assume that part of the power of that kiss was that the wives kissed back; If so, then all concerned received the gifts of a loving touch.
The German kissing study is not recent, but I have no reason to question its validity. But there is more recent research on the health benefits of kissing, if you need convincing.
Warning label: None! So pucker up.
3. Think young and have better sex.
Under the headline, “Your Sex Life Is Only as Old as You Feel,” this summary of a 2017 study describes the attitudes towards sex and aging of 1,170 adults, from their mid-40’s to their mid-70’s, over a 10-year period. The happy results? Those who felt younger than their chronological age rated the quality of their sex as higher than those who felt closer to their chronological age.
The study neglected to mention one little thing: How exactly do you feel younger? Luckily, there are a few hints and answers from other research: Amazingly, pretending you are younger, deciding to act younger, or surrounding yourself with reminders of your youth will change your mindset and help your body feel younger. You will even score higher on measures of strength, flexibility, and intelligence, according to creative research by Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer. A few more ideas: Exercise, exercise, exercise. Also, some other well-researched activities will promote a healthy mindset — connecting with friends and relatives, focusing on gratitude, finding meaningful work and activities, eating nutritious food, and being conscientious about your health. And did I mention exercise?
Warning label: In the study, quantity of sex was not affected by perception of age.
4. Drink coffee to boost your attitude and your workouts.
Numerous studies show the surprising and varied benefits of drinking coffee. For example, a cup of coffee helps you maintain focus, gives you energy, and increases mental performance. Moderate coffee drinking is associated with longer life, a healthier brain, a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes, a decreased risk of depression, and a reduced risk of certain types of cancer.
There is already ample evidence that caffeine improves athletic performance as well. But exercise specialists had warned athletes to abstain from coffee for days or weeks before a competition in order to get the most effective boost possible. Now comes a recent study, described here by New York Times reporter Gretchen Reynolds, which suggests that even regular coffee drinkers can slam down a little extra coffee before a workout and perform two-to-three percent better than before.
Warning label: The experimental group was small (40), consisted of male cyclists only, and the study was designed by a self-admitted coffee aficionado. Also, coffee has a dark side: In the words of writer Daniel Victor, “Coffee is associated with side effects like insomnia, jitters or heartburn, and because people metabolize caffeine at different rates, it can be intolerable to some. If you have trouble falling asleep after a can of soda, coffee might not be for you.” An adolescent boy recently died from a caffeine-induced cardiac event after consuming three caffeine-laced drinks in a two-hour span.
Nierenberg, C. "Eating chocolate may help prevent a fairly common health problem"
Science Daily, "Your Sex Life Is Only As Old As You Feel"
© Meg Selig, 2017