Ten healthy habits to cultivate
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that repetitive laughter can be just as effective in boosting your immune system as repetitive exercise. Photo: Getty
Habits don't have to be bad.
In fact, creating good routines may save your life. Studies show that you only have to repeat something for 21 days before it becomes part of your everyday schedule. Here are the top 10 to cultivate.
1. Strike a pose
While many devotees cite the benefits of their chosen form of yoga - weight loss, better sleep, increased energy - there has been little research to support this. However, a Boston University School of Medicine study found that regular yoga sessions help decrease anxiety and stress levels. The catch? The participants who had the biggest drop in stress practised for an hour a day and were long-term devotees. With 14 per cent of Australians affected by an anxiety disorder, and more women than men suffering, what more incentive do you need to roll out your mat?
2. Take fish oil
It's touted as a weight-loss aid and a deterrent of cancers, dry skin and premature ageing, among others. Can this golden supplement do so much? A University of South Australia study found that taking a daily dose of fish oil combined with regular exercise provides significantly greater benefits in the fight against obesity than exercise or fish oil alone.
3. Go for a brisk walk
Just 30 minutes of brisk walking every day can help stave off health issues such as depression and obesity, and it's also important for bone density. But not just any old stroll will do. "Walking by itself isn't that great for your bones," says Osteoporosis Australia spokesman Professor Robin Daly. "You need to be doing walking 'plus', which is brisk, hill or weight-bearing walking, to see some bone benefits." Contrary to what you may believe, our bones actually like having strain placed on them. "It's this continual stress that helps keep them healthy and strong," says Daly. "When you remove the stress, such as being bedridden, you start to have a rapid loss of bone density." Set your fitness program to include 20-30 minutes of "plus" walking, three to five times a week.
4. Take up a hobby
Research has shown that having an interest outside of home life or work may help ward off Alzheimer's disease. "Keeping your brain active helps to keep it healthy," says Dr Maree Farrow, a research fellow at Alzheimer's Australia. "Research shows that people who do more mentally stimulating activities, such as having a challenging hobby, are less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease."
5. Get a good night's sleep
Sleep is important. But how much? "This can be individual as there are genetic influences on sleep duration," says Nicholas Glozier, associate professor of psychological medicine at Sydney University. "Achieving 6 1/2 to nine hours' of solid sleep every night can lower stress levels and may reduce weight gain and your chances of premature death." The hours you sleep are extremely important: "Less than 6 1/2 hours a day and your risk of dying early increases by 10 per cent; more than 9 1/2 hours and the risk increases by even more than if you sleep too little," he says.
6. Do a crossword, sudoku or brain teaser
"These stimulate your brain," says Stephen Robinson, associate professor at Monash University's faculty of medicine, nursing and health sciences. "Doing something novel or difficult, keeping your brain active, can stave off dementia." These tasks, says Robinson, stimulate the brain to receive more blood. "This is associated with the formation of synaptic connection and strengthening of existing ones. If you use your muscles and keep them active, you'll keep your health longer. The brain is the same. The more you use it, the more it remains in good shape." In a study in Sweden, researchers looked at a selection of identical male twins where one twin had dementia and the other didn't. "They found that the twin who had a very active life, did hobbies and was socially active didn't get dementia," says Robinson. "The twin who was isolated and less involved in activities had a higher rate of brain deterioration."
7. Laugh every day
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that repetitive laughter can be just as effective in boosting your immune system as repetitive exercise. "So many of us would benefit from making an effort to laugh more every day," says professor Timothy Sharp from The Happiness Institute. "Laughing is great exercise, it's a potent stress reliever, it helps us see things from a different perspective and it often allows us to connect with others."
8. Socialise and chill out
A Swedish study found that the risk of dementia is 50 per cent lower among people who are outgoing and calm compared with those prone to distress or a high degree of neuroticism. "Studies have shown that people with larger social networks and who feel less lonely have a lower risk of dementia ... and combining mental and physical activity with your socialising provides extra benefits for brain health," says Dr Farrow.
9. Smell some lemons
Catching a whiff of citrus directly affects neurotransmitters in your brain, which can improve your mood and strengthen your immune system, according to psychiatric researchers at Ohio State University.
10. Have sex as often as you can
A healthy sex life can help improve your immune system, reduce your stress levels, boost your cardio function and even lower the risk of breast cancer. "Evidence indicates that regular, enjoyable sex reduces pain, depression, loneliness, anxiety and progression of osteoporosis," says Professor Rhonda Nay of La Trobe University. "It can also improve heart, lung, gastrointestinal, circulatory and immune function. Get to it!"