Guilty Pleasures or Healthy Habits?
When it's part of a balanced lifestyle, a treat or two could be
just what the doctor ordered
'TIS THE SEASON OF GIVING-GIVING IN that is.
Whether it's food, festivities or fun, temptations are everywhere.
But sometimes, giving in to what others see as "indulgences" can
actually be good for you.
"Anything you do to decrease your stress level is going to be
healthy," says Lori Heim, M.D., a member of the Board of Directors
of the American Academy of Family Physicians. "Whether it's a mini
vacation where you just unplug the TV and cell phone for the
weekend or a week at the beach, that sort of decompression and
relaxation is good for your blood pressure and your overall
well-being- and it creates a more balanced lifestyle."
Eat, Drink and Be Merry
Of course, no one's advocating indulging with impunity. In most
cases, moderation is the key. Alcohol is a perfect example of an
indulgence that can be good for you-as long as you know your
According to Katherine Tallmadge, M.A., R.D., a national
spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and author of
Diet Simple: 192 Mental Tricks, Substitutions, Habits &
Inspirations (LifeLine Press, 2004), small amounts of alcohol
consumed regularly can reduce death rates and improve heart
disease. This is particularly true about red wine, but all forms of
alcohol can have similar benefits.
"The number of deaths is higher in people who don't drink any
alcohol," she explains. "The number of deaths decreases in people
who drink in moderation, and then goes back up in people who drink
more than moderate amounts."
What's a "moderate" amount of alcohol? Experts suggest one
serving per day for women and two per day for men. A serving is
five ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or one-and-a-half ounces of
alcohol like vodka.
Another dietary luxury that's better for you than you might
think is chocolate-dark chocolate, that is. Tallmadge and Dr. Heim
both say that people who eat dark chocolate have slightly lower
blood pressure. In its unprocessed state, cocoa contains
antioxidants and can help reduce inflammation and improve blood
flow. Look for dark chocolate containing a high percentage of pure
cocoa or high flavanol content-and limit yourself to an ounce a
day, Tallmadge suggests.
Experts are also pretty nuts about, well, nuts as a healthy
treat. Yes, they are high in fat, but they're also packed with
phytonutrients and antioxidants, especially pecans, walnuts and
hazelnuts. Plus, walnuts contain omega-3 fatty acids, while
pistachios are high in lutein, a compound that can help prevent eye
disease. Stick to an ounce, or about a handful, a day.
Know What's Good for You
There's one pleasure people could actually use more of: sleep.
"The American public does not get enough sleep," Dr. Heim explains.
"Most of us really need seven to eight hours a day."
The occasional nap can be refreshing, but don't make it too long
or too late in the day. In fact, any nap can disrupt your sleep
cycle, making it harder to get a good night's sleep. A better
option? Catch up on your sleep on days when you don't have to set
an alarm by sleeping until you wake up naturally, Dr. Heim
suggests. Your body will tell you when it's fully rested.
And if you're looking for a pleasurable experience that doesn't
require moderation, try massage therapy.
"Making massage part of your regular wellness routine may seem like
an indulgence but, in reality, it's an effective and relaxing way
to keep your body healthy and stress-free," says Maera Grove, LMT,
and director of therapist development for Massage Envy Limited.
Massage is one enjoyable activity you really can't get too much
of and it has proven health benefits. Research has shown that
massage therapy can relieve
stress, anxiety, and depression. It also has been found to lower
blood pressure, decrease pain, strengthen the immune
system, and improve
Different massage modalities have specific benefits. For
example, Grove explains, Swedish massage and deep tissue massage
are good for relaxation, stress reduction and muscle tension while
therapy is effective in reducing pain from tension headaches,
migraines and TMJ disorder." If you have special needs, talk to
your massage therapist or just enjoy a session of pure relaxation.
-By Amy Lynn Smith