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Put the Joy Back in Staying Healthy

Posted: April 24, 2009

No one likes to be nagged, but that's often what health advice seems to do. There are all those don'ts (as in smoke, eat too much, gain weight). And the dos (exercise, eat fruits and vegetables) are predictable, even for people who don't mind them. Live longer, live healthier, you say? Okay, but what a chore and a bore!

According to the Harvard Health Letter, health researchers are reporting results that suggest maybe you can have your health and enjoy yourself, too. Studies have elevated coffee to health-drink status by linking it to a reduced risk of dementia and Parkinson's disease. Dozens of findings have shown that alcohol and chocolate may have cardiac benefits. Sex, sleep and a social life seem to have all-around benefits.

Never has high living looked quite so healthful, although it's high living on a leash. The permission to indulge almost always comes with a reminder about doing everything in moderation.

Alcohol

Dozens of studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption protects against heart disease and stroke. Drinking increases "good" HDL cholesterol, reduces factors in blood that make it more likely to clot, and may directly affect blood vessels, keeping the linings smooth and pliable and thus less vulnerable to atherosclerosis. European researchers reported interesting findings in 2008 that show a connection between alcohol intake and higher blood levels of omega-3 fats. Indeed, temperate tippling has been associated with everything from greater bone density to less risk for Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia.

Moderation gets mentioned rather immoderately in the pro-alcohol medical literature because drinking too much is patently ruinous. Triglycerides and blood pressure go up. Binge drinking can lead to stroke. The myriad troubles associated with alcoholism don't need to be recounted here. Moderation is flexibly defined, but the American Heart Association guidelines are often cited: for men, one to two drinks a day; for women, just one. The limit is lower for women because they tend to be smaller and break down alcohol more slowly than men. A drink is defined as a 12-ounce beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.