How To Achieve A Healthier Happy New Year!

What can you do to ensure that 2018 will be a truly happy year?

If there is anything that everyone undoubtedly wants in their life, it is that often elusive feeling of happiness. Famously, a high-profile engineer called Mo Gawdat has even come up with a kind of algorithm for happiness in his book Solve for Happy.

“Happiness is equal to or greater than the difference between the way you view the events in your life minus your expectations about how life should behave. Which means that if you perceive the events as equal to or greater than your expectations, you’re happy — or at least not unhappy,” writes Gawdat.

He spends more than 300 pages aiming to explain the basis for this algorithm and his philosophy of happiness. But there is, of course, no miracle recipe that all of us can follow to feel that glow of joy 24/7.

In this article, we do not tell you how to reach Nirvana. Instead, we look at the small things that most of us can reasonably achieve in the New Year so that we may improve our mental and physical well-being.

Here are some steps that you can take starting right now to boost your quality of life. The rest is up to you, so mind that you keep your New Year’s resolutions!

1. Be more active

This year, many studies have focused on the role of physical exercise not only in keeping us fit, but also in improving other aspects of our physical and mental health.

A study conducted earlier this year by researchers at the University of British Columbia in Okanagan, Canada, found that women’s perception of their own bodies improves after they exercise. The effect appears to be immediate and doesn’t depend on mood or actual state of fitness after exercising.

Furthermore, numerous recent studies have shown that exercise can counteract and prevent depression, which affects 40 million adults in the United States every year.

As little as 1 hour of exercise each week, regardless of intensity, can keep mood disorders at bay, found researchers from Australia’s Black Dog Institute.

And, if you’re struggling to keep up the motivation to go out for a jog or ride your bike, then there’s a simple fix: just focus on doing the kind of exercise that makes you happy.

“[A]ny movement is better than nothing,” explains Michelle Segar, from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, so we should stop feeling guilty about not reaching a set target or not exercising at a certain intensity.

What’s really important is to find the fitness routine that suits us best so we can follow it more easily.

And, while we’re considering what new sports or activities we could take up in the New Year to boost our happiness levels, why not try something off the trodden path? Bouldering has been found to alleviate symptoms of depression, such as low moods, fatigue, and a lack of concentration.

Why not try yoga and meditation?

Speaking of mindfulness, practices such as yoga and meditation have been found to boost the quality of life and increase our sense of well-being.

 Why not give yoga a try in 2018? It’s been suggested to improve resilience and boost happiness.

Various recent studies have suggested that yoga is effective in tackling depression and that it helps to lower anxiety and stress levels. These effects, the researchers found, can last for up to 4 months after participation in a yoga program.

According to a study from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, both yoga and meditation can improve psychological and physiological resistance to stress factors.

This, the authors note, may mean not only that the mental health of people who practice yoga and meditation is not easily affected by negative events, but also that their immune system is better prepared to handle emergencies.

Another study reports that yoga and meditation may even play a role in how our brain contributes to the process of gene expression.

“These activities are leaving what we call a molecular signature in our cells, which reverses the effect that stress or anxiety would have on the body by changing how our genes are expressed,” asserts lead researcher Ivana Buric.

2. Get enough sleep

Much research published in 2017 has focused on the prominent role played by a good night’s sleep in our mental and physical health. Sleep, we now know, is important in memory consolidation, fear learning, and keeping our brain well-rested so that we can react appropriately to events during the day.

Don’t underestimate the impact that sleep can have on your well-being.

 

Since people affected by insomnia are twice as likely as their peers to develop depression, it comes as no surprise that a good night’s sleep should be a priority in our search for happiness and wellness.

Ensuring that we are well rested can make our level of contentment peak, says a study that was conducted by the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom. The authors of the paper compare this happiness boost with winning the lottery.

They say, “[The benefits of a good night’s sleep] are […] comparable with the average improvement in well-being (1.4-point reduction) shown by [lottery winners in the U.K.] 2 years after a medium-sized (£1000–£120000 in 1998 money) lottery win.”

Aside from the practical things you can do to minimize the possibility of disrupted sleep — such as avoiding looking at a bright screen before bedtime — researchers report that mindset is important.

A study from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, IL, suggests that people who have a clear life purpose do actually sleep better at night.

So, as you draft your New Year’s resolutions, why not take a step back and consider what your main goals in life are, and how you can achieve them?

3. Settle for a happy diet

This may come as no surprise, but what you eat does influence your mood. Research published in PLOS Online earlier this year argued that eating a fruit- and veggie-happy diet may improve mental health within 2 weeks.

The study authors found that adding more servings of fruits and vegetables to our usual intake could make us feel more motivated and boost our energy levels.

systematic review of multiple studies that investigated the link between diet and mental health concluded that a Mediterranean-style diet consisting mainly of fruit, vegetables, fish, and whole grains could prevent depression.

However, a study published only this month argues that what we should eat to make us happy will largely depend on how old we are.

Thus, young adults (aged 18 to 29) will benefit from eating more white and red meat, while adults aged 30 and over should eat more fruit and veg if they’re looking for a mood boost.

Also, there’s no need to cut down on hot chocolate after the holiday season; researchers confirmed that cocoa can work miracles for your psychological well-being, mood, and potentially even cognitive abilities, too.

4. Make friends with the great outdoors

Research also suggests that, if we want to get that joie de vivre into our lives in 2018, then we had better spend more time outside. Going to the local shopping mall won’t cut it, however. In order to really feel happier, we should spend more time in nature.

One study shows that green spaces make us happy, and, conversely, when we don’t have access to nature, we tend to become depressed.

Higher levels of green space [in a neighborhood] were associated with lower symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress [in the members of the local community].”

Dr. Kristen Malecki, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Moreover, a recent experiment conducted by researchers from the University of British Columbia showed that people who took a minute to observe small details in nature and register the emotional impact caused by these felt happier and more connected to their peers.

So, one easy step that you can take to improve your life in 2018 is simply a step outside — and then keep on walking. After all, a leisurely walk on its own has been found to have a positive effect on mood.

Get your creativity on!

Walking has also been shown to encourage creativity, and one study found that people who engage in creative pursuits every day have a greater sense of well-being.

Doing something creative every day can really make you happier, research shows.

 

Another way of boosting happiness in 2018, then, is to take a walk in your local park and plan a creative activity for that day.

This can be anything from cooking and baking, if you’re that way inclined, to painting, writing, or starting a DIY project. The choice is up to you!

If you’re stuck at home on your own, use that time to do something creative, too. A recent study has shown that sometimes we may need some “time out,” away from our peers, in order to really be able to tap into our creative resources.

You can also put on some happy music if you need that extra boost to your imagination. Researchers from Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, have shown that alert instrumental pieces such as The Four Seasons concerto by Antonio Vivaldi work best for this purpose.

5. Be kind to others and to yourself

Finally, but very importantly, in order to achieve a stronger sense of fulfilment and well-being, you should learn to treat yourself with kindness — and then extend that generosity to others.

Researchers from the University of Hertfordshire in the U.K. found that, although self-acceptance is a habit that can lead to greater happiness, it is one that very few people have formed.

A study conducted earlier this year also confirmed that, if we embrace our negative emotions, we are less at risk of perpetuating them and more likely to achieve self-healing. One of our goals for the New Year should definitely be practicing more self-love and self-care.

At the same time, the care that we show to others, as well as our degree of gratefulness toward our peers, can influence our levels of happiness.

Profs. Phillipe Tobler and Ernst Fehr, from the University of Zurich in Switzerland, showed that generosity is strongly associated with happiness, and we feel more joy when we give.

This supports previous research that indicated that volunteer work brings psychological benefits.

Lastly, remember to just be thankful. Gratitude for what we have, and for the people in our lives, is another important factor when it comes to mental well-being, leading to more optimism and improved relationships.

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Legumes May Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a serious health concern in the United States and across the globe. New research shows that a high consumption of legumes significantly reduces the risk of developing the disease.
[various types of legumes]
A new study suggests that a high consumption of legumes can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 35 percent.

The legume family consists of plants such as alfalfa, clover, peas, peanuts, soybeans, chickpeas, lentils, and various types of beans.

As a food group, they are believed to be particularly nutritious and healthful. One of the reasons for this is that they contain a high level of B vitamins, which help the body to make energy and regulate its metabolism.

Additionally, legumes are high in fiber and contain minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium. They also comprise a variety of so-called phytochemicals – bioactive compounds that further improve the body’s metabolism and have been suggested to protect against heart disease and diabetes.

Finally, legumes are also considered to be a “low glycemic index food,” which means that blood sugar levels increase very slowly after they are consumed.

To make people aware of the many health benefits of legumes, the year 2016 has been declared the International Year of Pulses by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Pulses are a subgroup of legumes.

Because of their various health benefits, it has been suggested that legumes protect against the onset of type 2 diabetes – a serious illness that affects around 29 million people in the U.S. and more than 400 million adults worldwide. However, little research has been carried out to test this hypothesis.

Therefore, researchers from the Unit of Human Nutrition at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, Spain, together with other investigators from the Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea (PREDIMED) study, set out to investigate the association between legume consumption and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in people at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

The study also analyzes the effects of substituting legumes with other foods rich in proteins and carbohydrates, and the findings were published in the journal Clinical Nutrition.

High intake of lentils lowers risk of type 2 diabetes by 33 percent

The team investigated 3,349 participants in the PREDIMED study who did not have type 2 diabetes at the beginning of the study. The researchers collected information on their diets at the start of the study and every year throughout the median follow-up period of 4.3 years.

Individuals with a lower cumulative consumption of legumes had approximately 1.5 weekly servings of 60 grams of raw legumes, or 12.73 grams per day. A higher legume consumption was defined as 28.75 daily grams of legumes, or the equivalent of 3.35 servings per week.

Using Cox regression models, the researchers analyzed the association between the incidence of type 2 diabetes and the average consumption of legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, dry beans, and fresh peas.

Overall, during the follow-up period, the team identified 266 new cases of type 2 diabetes.

The study revealed that those with a higher intake of legumes were 35 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than their counterparts who consumed a smaller amount of legumes. Of all the legumes studied, lentils had the strongest association with a low risk of type 2 diabetes.

In fact, individuals with a high consumption of lentils (defined as almost one weekly serving) were 33 percent less likely to develop diabetes compared with their low-consumption counterparts – that is, the participants who had less than half a serving per week.

Additionally, the researchers found that replacing half a serving per day of legumes with an equivalent portion of protein- and carbohydrate-rich foods including bread, eggs, rice, or potatoes also correlated with a reduced risk of diabetes.

The authors conclude that:

“A frequent consumption of legumes, particularly lentils, in the context of a Mediterranean diet, may provide benefits on type 2 diabetes prevention in older adults at high cardiovascular risk.”

Mediterranean Diet Enriched with Virgin Olive Oil May Protect the Heart

Forget chocolates and roses this Valentine’s day. Instead, cook up a Mediterranean-inspired meal with lashings of virgin olive oil to win and protect your lover’s, heart. New research reports that a Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil may boost the cardioprotective effects of “good” cholesterol.
[Sandwich with mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes and arugula]
Consuming a Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil may protect the heart.

Montserrat Fitó, Ph.D., was the senior author of the new research and coordinator of the Cardiovascular Risk and Nutrition Research Group at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute in Barcelona, Spain, as well as the Ciber of Physiopathology of Obesity and Nutrition, also in Spain. Fitó and team’s findings were published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.

There are two types of molecules called lipoproteins that carry cholesterol in the blood: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

LDL is known as “bad” cholesterol, since having high levels of LDL can bring about plaque buildup in the arteries, which can result in heart disease and stroke. HDL is known as “good” cholesterol; HDL absorbs cholesterol and carries it to the liver where it is flushed from the body. Having high levels of HDL reduces heart disease and stroke.

Mediterranean diets compared with healthy control diet

A growing body of evidence supports the theory that the Mediterranean diet protects against the development of heart disease. Studies have also shown that the Mediterranean diet improves the lipid profile of HDLs.

“However, studies have shown that HDL doesn’t work as well in people at high risk for heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular diseases and that the functional ability of HDL matters as much as its quantity,” explains Fitó. “At the same time, small-scale trials have shown that consuming antioxidant-rich foods like virgin olive oil, tomatoes, and berries improved HDL function in humans. We wanted to test those findings in a larger, controlled study,” she adds.

The research team aimed to determine whether eating a Mediterranean diet enriched with virgin olive oil or nuts over a long period of time would improve the beneficial properties of HDL in humans.

Fitó and collaborators randomly selected a total of 296 individuals who had a high risk of heart disease and were participating in the Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea study. The participants had an average age of 66 and were assigned to one of three diets for a year.

The first diet was a traditional Mediterranean diet enriched with around 4 tablespoons of virgin olive oil per day. The second, a traditional Mediterranean diet supplemented with a fistful of nuts each day. The third diet was a healthful “control” diet that contained a reduced amount of red meat, high-fat dairy products, processed foods, and sweets.

Both Mediterranean diets emphasized the inclusion of fruit, vegetables, legumes (such as beans, chickpeas, lentils, and whole grains), and moderate amounts of fish and poultry.

Blood tests were conducted at the start and end of the study to measure LDL and HDL levels.

Virgin olive oil-enriched Mediterranean diet enhanced HDL function

The researchers found that total and LDL cholesterol levels were only reduced in the healthful control diet. While none of the three diets significantly increased HDL levels, the two Mediterranean diets improved HDL function, and the improvement was more pronounced in the group enriched with virgin olive oil.

The Mediterranean diet enriched with virgin olive oil improved HDL functions, such as reversing cholesterol transport, providing antioxidant protection, and enabling vasodilation.

Reverse cholesterol transport is the process in which HDL removes cholesterol from plaque in the arteries and takes it to the liver. Antioxidant protection is the ability of HDL to counteract the oxidation of LDL. Oxidation of LDL triggers the development of plaque in the arteries.

Lastly, vasodilator capacity – which relaxes the blood vessels, keeps them open, and keeps the blood flowing – is improved by the Mediterranean diet with virgin olive oil.

Although the control diet was rich in fruits and vegetables like the two Mediterranean diets, the diet was shown to have an adverse impact on HDL’s anti-inflammatory properties. This negative impact was not observed in the Mediterranean diets. A reduction in HDL’s anti-inflammatory capacity is linked with a greater risk of heart disease.

As expected, the researchers only found slight differences in results between the diets, because the variation between the two Mediterranean diets was modest, and the control diet was healthful.

“Following a Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil could protect our cardiovascular health in several ways, including making our ‘good cholesterol’ work in a more complete way.”

Montserrat Fitó

This research could contribute to the development of novel therapeutic targets, such as new antioxidant-rich foods, nutraceuticals, or new drug families that may improve HDL function, conclude the study authors.

Mediterranean Diet Prevents Brain Atrophy, Study Finds

Mounting evidence emphasizes the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet. New research suggests that the healthful diet helps to preserve brain volume in elderly adults.
[mediterranean diet foods]
A new study suggests that a Mediterranean diet could protect against certain changes to the brain in older age.

More and more studies seem to suggest that components of the Mediterranean diet, either in isolation or taken together, can have a beneficial effect on various aspects of human health.

The “traditional” Mediterranean diet – consisting of large amounts of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, a moderate amount of fish, dairy, and wine, as well as a limited intake of red meat – has been shown to improve cardiometabolic health.

Research ranging from observational studies to randomized trials has shown the diet to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity, aid weight loss, and contribute to the prevention of cardiovascular disease.

Other studies have suggested that the diet helps to keep mental and physical health well into old age and can reduce the risk of premature death.

New research published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, looks specifically at the benefits of the Mediterranean diet on brain health in elderly adults.

Examining link between diet and brain volume in elderly people

Researchers led by Michelle Luciano, Ph.D. – from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland – looked at the effects of the Mediterranean diet (MeDi) on total brain volume, gray matter volume, and the thickness of the cortex.

The authors explain that, with age, the human brain shrinks, and more and more of its cells die. This may cause problems with learning and memory.

The study followed 967 people aged between 73 and 76 years, who lived in Scotland and who did not have dementia, over a period of 3 years.

The 967 participants were asked to complete food questionnaires when they were 70 years old – 3 years prior to collecting data on their brain volume.

Then, 562 of these people had a magnetic resonance imaging brain scan at the age of 73, in order to measure total brain volume, gray matter volume, and cortical thickness. Of these, 401 people had a second brain scan at age 76.

People’s dietary habits were calculated using a food frequency questionnaire. The brain measurements were compared with how well the participants adhered to the MeDi during the 3-year period.

Mediterranean diet accounts for 0.5 percent of total brain volume change

The scientists found an association between MeDi adherence and brain volume.

Participants who did not follow the diet closely were likely to develop brain atrophy over the 3-year interval.

More specifically, poor adherence to the diet was associated with a 0.5 percent greater reduction in total brain volume than those who had followed the diet closely.

A 0.5 percent decrease in brain volume is half the size of what is considered a normal decrease due to the natural aging process.

Researchers adjusted for variables that might have influenced the changes in brain volume, including age, education, and health conditions such as diabetes or hypertension.

The study found no association between the diet and gray matter volume or thickness of the cortex.

Contrary to previous studies, this research did not find a relationship between fish and meat consumption and changes in brain volume. This suggests that other individual components of the diet – or all of its components taken in combination – might be responsible for the association.

Additionally, unlike previous research – which measured the brain at one point in time – this study examined changes in brain volume over time.

“In our study, eating habits were measured before brain volume was, which suggests that the diet may be able to provide long-term protection to the brain. Still, larger studies are needed to confirm these results.”

Michelle Luciano, Ph.D.