9 Surprising Health Boosters

If you think you know what’s healthy and what’s not, you may be surprised by some recent scientific discoveries. Simple everyday changes and habits can give you the edge in the good health game, from an easy way to get more vitamins from your salad to a powerful stress management tool that takes just seconds. Take a look at these nine winning strategies:

Surf the Web to Keep Your Brain Young  

Browsing your friends’ Facebook updates, clicking through a celebrity gossip slideshow, or searching for your high school sweetheart online may not seem like health enhancers, but researchers from UCLA report that middle-aged or older adults who know their way around the Internet get more stimulation of brain areas associated with decision-making and complex reasoning than those who are new to Web surfing.

Another intriguing finding: Reading didn’t stimulate as many brain areas as Internet searching. In fact, surfing the Web actually doubled brain activity, the study reported.

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Change Your Salad Dressing

You’ll get more nutrients out of your salad vegetables if you use a dressing made with olive oil or canola oil. These monounsaturated fats will promote absorption of healthy, fat soluble carotenoids from your salad greens, report researchers at Purdue University. Using as little as three grams of dressing made with monounsaturated fat boosts absorption of carotenoids as much as using 20 grams of this dressing would.

Salad dressings made with saturated or polyunsaturated fats also help you absorb carotenoids, but to capture those carotenoids you have to use a lot of dressing--the more dressing you use, the more carotenoids you absorb (and the more calories you consume). Nonfat dressings are low in calories but don’t promote carotenoid absorption, the researchers said.

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Celebrate If You Have a Big Butt 

Be thankful for your pear shape. Carrying your weight in your hips, thighs and butt protects you against diabetes and heart disease, according to findings from Britain’s Oxford Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology, and Metabolism

The opposite--an apple shape in which weight is concentrated in the abdomen--is associated with insulin resistance, diabetes and heart disease. The health benefits of being pear-shaped are independent of weight, unless you pile on pounds that land in your belly.

Cooking Meals at Home

If you love to barbeque and whip up other tasty meals at home, you could be adding years to your life. That’s the intriguing finding of a new study, which linked frequent cooking to longer life.

The researchers tracked 1,888 men and women age 65 and older for ten years. Published in Public Health Nutrition, the study also found that the frequent cooks typically ate more nutritious meals that were high in fiber and vitamin C, and low in cholesterol.

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Chewing Gum to Sharpen Your Wits 

This habit could give you an edge when you’re taking a test, sharpen your math skills and your memory (at least temporarily), keep you more alert and even help you overcome the urge to snooze during the day. Exactly how gum chewing yields all these health benefits is unknown, although some experts have speculated that chomping minty gum could increase brain activity. One study from Wales found that chewing gum can also lead to a mellow mood. 

Yawn for an Energy Boost 

New research shows that morning yawns bring blood to the brain, specifically to the area we use to plan, organize, make decisions and express our personalities. One theory holds that yawning cools the temperature of the brain on a seasonal basis. Yawning is also believed to enhance mental focus, defeat jet lag, improve mood and chill us out.

Flip Through Photos to Lift Your Mood 

Yes, scientific research has found that looking through photo collections works better to lift moods than indulging in chocolate or a stiff drink. Research from Britain has found that viewing photos mellows your mood by 11 percent compared to a mere one percent lift from eating or drinking.

The study showed that looking through personal photo albums had a positive impact on relaxation, calmness, alertness and even feelings of being valued and popular. So when you need a lift, fanning out your favorite photos of family members and friends may do the trick.

Learn the Relaxing Breath 

Mindful breathing can help you unwind and banish stress if you learn how to do it properly. Integrative medicine pioneer Andrew Weil, M.D., advocates learning what he calls “the relaxing breath” which he calls “the most powerful tool I know for stress management.”

As Dr. Weil says, this exercise is “utterly simple, takes almost no time, requires no equipment and can be done anywhere.” It involves exhaling audibly through your mouth and inhaling quietly through the nose, repeated four times to dispel tension during the day or help you relax at bedtime.

Have a Beer 

You know that red wine is good for heart health, but beer has a surprisingly long list of health benefits, too: stronger bones, a healthier heart, and lower risks for kidney stones, cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke. Drinking beer in moderation (two 12-ounce beers for a man or one for a woman) is also associated with a longer life, while higher amounts can be harmful.


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