Great News for Your Body: The Top 10 Health Tips of 2010
Every so often, medical researchers hit upon a scientific truth that makes us smile.
Photo: Levi Brown
Good Luck Charms Actually Work
Lucky pennies, four-leaf clovers, horseshoes—it turns out believing in them isn't totally kooky. In a study at Germany's University of Cologne, researchers asked superstitious participants to play a computer game; half got to keep their charms, half had to play without them. The participants who played with their jujus performed better than the others. The simple, non-hocus-pocus explanation: confidence. Your charm makes you believe you'll do well, and believing improves your game.
Drinking Can Make You Smarter
A Norwegian study of 5,033 men and women found that moderate wine consumption (at least four glasses over two weeks) is linked to better cognitive function. The researchers say that their results support the findings of 68 other studies comprising 145,308 people; most of the studies also determined that teetotalers were at greater risk for dementia. Scientists suspect this is in part because wine contains antioxidants called polyphenols, which can reduce inflammation in artery walls and improve blood flow to the brain. We'll drink to that.
You Can Fake Your Way to Power
Next time you feel nervous, put your feet up on your desk. Really. Assuming a powerful pose spurs a neuroendocrine shift that actually makes you physiologically more powerful. In a study conducted by researchers at Harvard and Columbia universities, subjects assumed "high power" poses for two minutes: First they put their feet up. Then they stood up and leaned on their hands over a desk. As a result, their testosterone spiked by 19 percent and the stress hormone cortisol fell by 25 percent.
Chocolate is Good For Your Ticker
Researchers who studied 32,000 middle-aged and elderly Swedish women found that those who ate two servings of chocolate a week had a significantly lower rate of hospitalization for heart failure. This may be because cacao contains flavonoids, chemicals thought to combat the free radicals that cause plaque buildup in the arteries.
A Woman's Touch Changes Everything
A study published this summer revealed the power of feminine reassurance. Participants were given a choice between a risky investment and a safer bet; as the researchers delivered instructions, they gave some subjects a pat on the shoulder. The subjects who were touched by a female researcher invested significantly more money in the gamble than those patted by a man. Researchers theorize that contact with a woman triggered the same confidence boost the subjects received from their mother's touch when they were children.
Good Friends Are the Secret to Long Life
We all know that exercise, diet, and stress are factors in the longevity equation. But pals? Researchers at Brigham Young University analyzed the results of 148 studies (involving more than 300,000 participants) and found that people with strong social ties have a 50 percent lower risk of dying. In fact, the researchers concluded that having good friends can extend your life to the same degree as quitting smoking.
We Can Skip the Bench Press
Hoisting heavy weights can lead to big guns—and torn rotator cuffs. The good news: Researchers at McMaster University in Ontario have found that smaller dumbbells can be just as effective at sculpting your body. The secret isn't in the size of the weights you pump but how long you pump them. Keep lifting until you can't anymore; by then your muscles will have synthesized new proteins, which make muscles grow bigger.
Our Sense of Fairness is Biological
Scientists at the California Institute of Technology gave 20 pairs of men $30 each and awarded one of them a bonus of $50. Using fMRI, they looked at the lucky guy's brain while they asked him how he'd feel if another $50 went to him or to his partner in the experiment. When he considered it going to his partner, his brain's reward centers lit up; equality outweighed his own self-interest. In what can seem like a dog-eat-dog world, it's heartening to know we're all at least wired for goodness.
Sex Curbs Anxiety
Princeton University researchers reported that the brains of rats allowed to have sex every day for two weeks had more neurons and more connections between neurons, particularly in the area that controls anxiety, than rats who mated only once in that time.
You Can Wash Your Hands of Regret
At the University of Michigan, 125 students picked their favorite fruit jam or favorite CD. Afterward some were told to wash their hands, and those students later felt less need to justify their decision. The metaphor of cleansing influences our thoughts, scientists say: We can rinse away conflict about a choice—even regarding marmalade versus preserves.
Martha Beck has 6 ways to regret-proof your life
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