Small Joys = Big Benefits

womens-04-02Some of the sweetest and simplest things in life can boost your health.

What’s your idea of a perfect, relaxing day? Maybe it includes spending the morning in the garden, laughing through lunch with friends, whiling away the afternoon with a good book and going for a walk with your family after dinner. You know those activities will help you feel refreshed and renewed, but they also bestow benefits you might not be aware of.

The Health Perks of Your Pastime

Gardening—or any activity you enjoy that engages your mind—can help lower stress and, according to a 2013 study published in the journal Neurology, slow deterioration of mental acuity in old age. Researchers found that individuals who consistently made time for brain-stimulating activities throughout life experienced cognitive decline at a rate more than 30 percent slower than those who infrequently engaged in hobbies.

Spend time each week—or even each day—doing something that fires your imagination and passion, whether it’s pottery, ballroom dancing, bird-watching or reading. The activity could boost your brain function as well as your spirit.

Mirth and Mates

A lighthearted hour spent with friends is healthy in more ways than one. If your friends keep you in stitches every time you get together, all that laughter benefits mind and body. Studies have found that the body’s physiological responses to laughter may reduce pain and stress. Research has also revealed that humor may promote normal blood flow and strengthen the body’s defenses against infection. Laughter is associated with higher self-esteem, elevated creativity and increased sociability.

The people who make you laugh—your network of friends—can also have a positive effect on your health. Studies have shown that having many friends can increase longevity. Social networks are associated with more successful healing and recovery following certain diseases, including some types of cancer.

Stepping Away From Stress

Many of life’s little joys have one benefit in common: They reduce stress. That evening walk of yours is no exception. Studies about walking have revealed that it can increase production of stress-fighting endorphins, calm the mind and improve energy levels.

No matter where you are on the journey to wellness, follow the American Heart Association’s advice and try to make time each day to do something you love for at least 15 minutes. The time may pass quickly, but the benefits, particularly reduced stress, will stick with you.

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