Double YOUR Pleasure

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It's good for your health Coffee + chocolate is to health what water + sunshine is to flowers. 9 delightful duos that nourish your mind, body + soul

What's so great about your weekend dinner-and-a-movie date, a leisurely nap, and good sex? More than just the pleasures they afford. We crave these pastimes because they're essential to our physical and mental well-being. "We tend to think good health requires hard work," says Susan Love, MD, the famed breast cancer expert and coauthor of Live a Little! Breaking the Rules Won't Break Your Health. "We forget that the very things that make us happy make us pretty healthy too."

Every day, new information emerges on the health benefits of plain old fun. A recent study showed that people who relax with family and friends, make time for vacations, and play sports--they schedule pleasure into their busy calendars--have lower blood pressure and levels of damaging Cortisol, lower BMIs, and smaller waists. "When it comes to health, pleasure can be protective," says George B. Stefano, PhD, director of the Neuroscience Research Institute at the State University of New York.

If you're not already living for pleasure, here are some surprisingly easy ways to get with the plan, along with simple feel-good tweaks that will not only pleasure but also double your health. How much fun is that?!
Pleasure PRINCIPLE 1

Indulge in Fun Foods

Refuel with iced coffee. Ignore the coffee police: There's no reason to skip your afternoon pick-me-up. Caffeine helps prevent DNA damage that leads to skin cancer, according to leading dermatologists. Your favorite brew is also a bounty of antioxidants. People who down 3 to 4 cups daily have a 25% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who drink less, according to an analysis of more than 450,000 people. To get the most out of each cup, choose a dark roast, suggests Dave Grotto, RD, author of 101 Optimal Life Foods: "It contains more bio-active compounds."

• Double your pleasure: Savor a square of dark chocolate with your cappuccino. The confection boosts blood vessel function by a whopping 129%.

Throw a steak on the grill. Eating beef in moderation is just fine: A 4- to 6-ounce serving (particularly from grass-fed cattle) gives you a good dose of heart-healthy and brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids, plus zinc, which strengthens bones. To avoid heterocyclic amines, or HCAs (carcinogenic chemicals that develop when animal products are charred), Grotto recommends microwaving beef until halfway done, then finishing it on the coals. You can also marinate it first to lessen HCA formation. Grotto's favorite summertime combo: a mixture of tamari and papaya juice, which also acts as a tenderizer.

• Double your pleasure: Serve a tasty potato salad on the side. When spuds, especially waxy varieties such as Yukon gold and fingerling, are boiled and chilled, they form a type of fiber called resistant starch that may block your body's ability to burn carbohydrates. The benefit to you: You burn more belly fat.

Sip sangria. More than just a sensational summer cooler, sangria boosts cardiovascular health, thanks to the resveratrol in red wine, plus antioxidants from added fruits and juices.

• Double your pleasure: Serve a side of homemade guacamole. Avocado is a major source of MUFAs, those wonderful monounsaturated fats that target dangerous belly fat. It's also full of saponins, a fiber compound that, Grotto says, "soaks up cholesterol like a sponge."

Crunch some corn on the cob. You probably don't think of this summer staple as a health food. But corn is full of resistant starch (a kind of fiber) and phenolic compounds, both of which help prevent colon cancer.

• Double your pleasure: Grotto loves to spread this Mexican-style topping on his corn: Mix mayonnaise made with canola oil (full of healthy monounsaturated fat) with some calcium-laden Parmesan and a pinch of cayenne pepper, which contains capsaicin, a compound that fights skin cancer, reduces appetite, and increases fat metabolism.
Pleasure PRINCIPLE 2

Schedule Play Dates (& Mental Health Breaks)

Get your big yuks at Dinner for Schmucks. Or any other mindless but hilarious summer blockbuster comedy, for that matter. Laughing reduces blood levels of the harmful stress hormone Cortisol. Other studies show that a good chuckle is as good for blood vessel health as aerobic exercise. After just 15 minutes of laughing at a funny film, subjects' blood vessels relaxed and expanded, improving their flexibility and providing more protection against heart disease.

• Double your pleasure: Munch on some popcorn while you watch. This snack is high in fiber and antioxidants that help reduce cancer risk and improve heart health.

Take a guiltless siesta. If you love to nap, you're in good company. Winston Churchill, JFK, and Albert Einstein were all fans of an afternoon snooze. Perhaps they knew what recent research has found: Napping increases memory and learning power. Also, scientists say regular nappers are 34% less likely to die of heart disease.

• Double your pleasure: Program an MP3 song list with three or four of your favorite blissful tunes you can listen to while you drift off. Multiple studies show that music is a major relaxant, relieving stress, slowing heart rate, and lowering blood pressure.

Savor a stroll. It may feel more like fun than exercise, but a moderately paced walk still provides cardiovascular and calorie-burning benefits. And that's not all. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that the brain cells of those who walked at a 3.5 MPH pace for just 3 hours a week grew substantially.

• Double your pleasure: Boost your endurance with some up-tempo tunes. A new study published in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology says playing energizing music can help you work out longer. People who synchronized their walking pace to music with at least 125 beats per minute (think: "Clocks" by Coldplay or "Shut Up and Drive" by Rihanna) increased their endurance by 15%, although they felt they were actually reducing their effort 10%. To find out the beats per minute of your favorite music, download the free MixMeister BPM Analyzer software at mix meister.com/bpmanalyzer/bpmanalyzer.asp.
Pleasure PRINCIPLE 3

Stay Intimately Connected

Get a little frisky between the sheets. Perhaps the sexiest health news ever: Regular orgasms provide remarkable physical benefits. People who have more frequent sex have lower blood pressure, half the risk of fatal heart attacks, sounder sleep, less pain, and better immunity. No surprise: Their marriages benefit too. And remember, getting hot and heavy can burn lots of calories.

• Double your pleasure: When you're not in bed, spend the weekend hanging out with your partner. According to a just-published study in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, people who spent Friday evening to Sunday afternoon leisurely with loved ones experienced better moods, greater vitality, and fewer aches and pains. Schedule a recreation that's new to both of you--whether learning to play tennis or attending a modern-dance performance. Novel experiences stimulate brain growth.

Dance with your star. Take some lessons with your spouse. Dancing combines physical exercise, social interaction, and the mental challenge of following new steps, according to a McGill University study of seniors who improved cognitive function by learning the tango.

• Double your pleasure: Enlist your couple friends to join the venture. Having your friends involved will both add to the fun and enhance your commitment to learning the steps.

• BE HEALTHY WITHOUT BEING PERFECT See nine health "rules" you really don't need to follow at prevention.com/healthynotperfect.

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By Nancy Kalish

HOW EXPERTS Live for Pleasure

I started taking piano lessons.

I love playing, but learning a completely new song also makes my brain work better. As you get older, you have to really focus to get your eyes and hands coordinated at the same time. Every time I practice, I can feel my brain stretching, and it's a great form of stress relief.
--SUSAN LOVE, MD, breast cancer specialist

My family takes a trip in our 1952 bus-turned-RV a few times a year.

We purposely go to places with no cell service or e-mail or faxes, and with every day that passes, I feel more relaxed and healthier.
--DEAN EDELL, MD, author of Eat, Drink & Be Merry

I ran the bake sale committee at my daughter's school.

Baking brownies might not seem like a healthy activity, but there are lots of health benefits to volunteering and giving back to your community. Plus, it guarantees us some fun mommy-kid baking time in the midst of my very busy schedule.
--ALICE D. DOMAR, PhD, psychologist

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