10 Healthy Resolutions You'll Love
They're enjoyable and they really work

by Nissa Simon, AARP Bulletin, December 20, 2012

For Your Health

If you think you're in for another rigorous regimen of dieting and exercise, think again. These resolutions — backed by scientific research — offer delightful and sometimes surprising ways to improve your health — from lowering your risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer to reducing pain and improving brain health.

1. Throw a Party

Research shows that people with a consistent, active social life are less likely to experience a decline in the ability to reason and remember. A study by Rush University Medical Center in Chicago also found that social activity may help preserve your ability to perform day-to-day activities as you age.

2. Adopt a Pet

People who own pets — finned, feathered or furry — have healthier hearts and make fewer visits to the doctor. During times of stress, a pet can lower blood pressure. "Animals provide us with the same kind of social support that people do," says Alan Beck, director of Purdue University's Center for the Human-Animal Bond.

3. Choose Chocolate

Dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids, which help cells resist damage that may contribute to cancer and other maladies. Flavonoids also help lower blood pressure and improve blood flow to the brain and heart, protecting against heart attack and stroke. Eat dark chocolate that contains at least 70 percent cacao and limit yourself to no more than an ounce a day.

4. Drink Coffee Daily

Coffee — regular or decaf — appears to lower the risk of dying from chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, according to research from the National Institutes of Health. Other studies show caffeinated coffee may protect against skin cancer, liver damage, type 2 diabetes and Parkinson's. Three cups a day also may protect against Alzheimer's.

5. Raise a Glass

A glass of red or white wine is heart-healthy, but new research in the European Journal of Epidemiology says beer, too, is good for the heart. Both drinks also protect against diabetes and some cancer. The key to drinking either wine or beer is moderation — one glass a day for women, two for men.

6. Have Sex

The benefits? Sex causes the brain to release endorphins, the feel-good chemicals that act as painkillers and reduce anxiety. Sex also prompts the release of substances that bolster the immune system. Moreover, sexual activity is linked to lower levels of depression in both men and women.

7. Listen to Music

Your favorite music may be good for your heart, say researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Music also brings on sound sleep, boosts mood and reduces anxiety. Patients feel less pain and need less pain medication after surgery if they listen to music while recuperating, research shows.

8. Take a Nap

A midafternoon nap can help improve mood, memory, alertness and learning — and it won't interfere with your nighttime zzz's, according to New York's Weill Cornell Medical Center. Other research finds that a 90-minute siesta clears the brain's short-term memory storage center and makes room for new information.

9. Go Outside

Spending time outdoors can help you recover from surgery faster, improve the way your immune system works and help diabetics achieve healthier glucose levels, researchers say. Surprisingly, as little as five minutes a day of outdoor activity — even walking in a city park — can boost your mood, according to a study from the University of Essex, England.

10. Get Off Your Soapbox

Consider stopping the use of soaps and household cleaners that contain the antibacterial agent triclosan. Antibacterial soaps are no more effective than plain-jane soaps in ridding your hands of germs and preventing illness, according to research from the University of Michigan. And triclosan may contribute to the rise of dangerous, disease-causing bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

And One More Thing

Living a healthy life has a lot to do with living an enjoyable life, says Richard Stein, M.D., of the New York University School of Medicine, "so these are all good suggestions to follow." And he would add one more: "At least once a week, buy yourself the present of spending time doing exactly what you want."