Vegetarian Diets and Health: the Voice of Science Needs to be HeardPosted: December 4, 2017 Filed under: Food and it's Impact on Our Health, Health and Happiness Leave a comment
Are vegetarian diets the key to healthy aging, or could they be a risk to those who adopt them? These questions are a source of confusion for the general public, and for many scientists too. Why? Nutrition is a complex discipline and it struggles to provide simple answers to issues as broad as the relationships between a range of dietary practices and health outcomes. Are vegetarian diets good or bad? Can we tweet the answer in 140 characters or less?
You can add to this intrinsic problem the general trend of society, with less-qualified messengers relaying information that is fragmented and often biased, misinterpreted or indeed uninterpretable. Many views are advanced, but few reflect any consensus between experts, in particular those from national advisory committees (e.g., in France and the USA) and international initiatives. Even reliable media may highlight a particular study without referring to the hundreds that preceded it.
Our diet and the clash of politics and philosophy
In this general context, why is vegetarianism subject to so many radically opposed points of view? It’s because the subject is highly politicised and a major societal debate. Pure science is not fashionable, and cannot be heard above the din of clashing and frequently uninformed views. It is a subject that involves too many political and philosophical issues. There are two reasons for this, one intrinsic and the other circumstantial.
Let’s begin with the second reason. Consumption of animal protein has doubled since the World War II, but today questions are being raised about the food model of industrialised societies – they are seen as having degraded public health and being unsustainable, particularly in the face of global warning.
From an intrinsic viewpoint, the underlying reason for our reluctance to deal with this issue is that the consumption of animal products has always been associated with our representations of the world. Vegetarianism is an “ism”. Religions and a number of philosophies have long maintained special relations with the consumption of animal products. To speak of eliminating meat from our diet is to bring into question the representation of Man in the universe. More practically, it is about the place of animals in society, a relationship that evolves alongside society. From societies in development, where animal products were costly but useful, and favoured by those with the economic resources, we have now entered an era where they’ve become objects of distrust and in some cases symbols of a societal model being called into question. The effect of animal products on the environment or on health, the fight on behalf of defenceless animals… our ethical and aesthetic views are evolving.
‘St. Hugh in the refectory of the Carthusians’. In the refectory, Saint Hugh found that the monks ate meat during Lent.Francisco de Zurbarán/Wikimedia
So should we be for or against animal products? The battle lines are being drawn. Even within the scientific community, rational thinking seems to disappear when the question is raised. But this subject is too important for scientific research to be ignored. Food transitions in western countries seem inevitable, and are in fact already under way. This raises two scientific questions: The first is not “Should we become vegetarian or vegan?” but “How can we become a vegetarian or vegan?” for those who wish to do so for personal reasons. “How” involves understanding the nutritional pitfalls involved and how they can best be avoided – in other words, what is the healthiest version of such a diet?
A scientific approach to diet
A scientific approach offers an opportunity to separate these questions from the surrounding debates. To achieve this, we need to address the issues rigorously and in their entirety, and that was the focus of our collective efforts. This book mobilised approximately 100 international academics, who produced 45 chapters looking at the subject from all analytical angles, positive and negative. It considers the whole spectrum of vegetarian diets and discusses their overall benefits with respect to health and disease risk, and also the nutritional problems that can potentially arise in those who consume them.
The book’s first part was designed to unravel the issue’s complex contextand reviews its different aspects so that readers can understand the whole picture. It focuses on the links between our dietary choices in favour of animal or plant sources and individual social and behavioural characteristics, indicating how these may vary as a function of cultures or religion in different parts of the world and how they are articulated in terms of nutrition transitions and other aspects of sustainability. We then seek to provide a comprehensive view of the relationships between plant-based diets, health and disease prevention by presenting different viewpoints and levels of analysis.
First of all, we describe the links between health and certain important characteristics of plant-based diets, with obvious reference to the consumption of fruits, vegetables and meat. There follow twelve chapters which analyse the relationships between plant-based or vegetarian diets and health and disease outcomes. The next section explains how these issues may differ, or be highly specific, in populations of different age or physiological status. The final eleven chapters take a detailed look at the nutrients and substances whose intakes are related to the proportions of plant or animal products in the diet. By focusing at the nutrient/substance level, these chapters echo the section dedicated to the links between broad dietary characteristics and health, thus reflecting the different viewpoints offered by the book.
While we cannot summarise all 900 pages of the book, this inventory provides a good overview on the transitions that are under way and offers some interesting examples. Based on the scientific literature available, it is clear that a diet predominantly based on plants is associated with many health benefits for the general population. However, considerable attention should be paid to diets that exclude certain product categories, because such exclusions could have significant nutritional consequences for certain consumers.
For example, for adults, a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet – in other words, one excluding meat and fish – should be properly managed but does not pose many problems, from a nutrient standpoint, while a vegan diet in children is a completely different matter. In short, those who wish to adopt a new diet should not simply stop eating meat, fish or other animal products, but instead review their overall dietary intake in depth. In vulnerable populations such as children, vegan diets must be monitored by health professionals if implemented by parents who are not fully aware of the major nutritional constraints involved. More generally, a “flexitarian” diet should provide health benefits, but once again we should not give in to simplistic shortcuts and recipes.
One such shortcut is “just eat less meat and other animal products”. No. First, there is no “just do it” in the complex field of nutrition. Second, if you eat less of one thing, you will eat more of something else. And if you simply eat more of what now constitutes your diet, it is very unlikely that this will lead you in the right direction. For example, a marked reduction in animal-product consumption must be accompanied by an increase in protein-rich plant foods, such as legumes. Another shortcut is “Just eat plant-based foods”. But a diet made up of chips, ketchup, sodas, sugar-packed breakfast cereals and processed white bread covered with hazelnut spread is predominantly plant-based. Indeed, these foods could even be labelled “vegan”. But it’s self-evident that such a diet shouldn’t be adopted, particularly given that it will not be associated with any health benefits.
On the other hand, a diverse and predominantly plant-based diet made up of fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains and rich in raw products will be good for you. From a nutritional point of view, the elimination of animal products is not useful in and of itself, and indeed complicates the situation because they can supply important nutrients. However, animal products should be put in their place, which is clearly at not the base of the food pyramid. A predominantly plant-based diet would be healthier, as well as more sustainable.
Eating More Chocolate Could Be Good for Your Heart, Says StudyPosted: October 4, 2017 Filed under: Food and it's Impact on Our Health, Health and Happiness Leave a comment
Feel guilty for reaching for that second piece of chocolate? You shouldn’t. In fact, go right ahead and grab a few more.
Chocolate has always been a double-edged sword when it comes to health. It’s packed full of heart-loving flavonoids, antioxidants and a lot of sugar. But, a 2017 Harvard University study has found that even eating up to six servings of chocolate a day can have a positive effect on your health.
Analyzing data from more than 55,000 participants in the Danish Diet, Cancer, and Health Study, researchers concluded that higher levels of chocolate consumption can result in a reduced risk of atrial fibrillation (AF), commonly known as a heart flutter.
The study comes as welcome news. About two percent of people in the U.S. under 65 suffer from the condition, which has been linked with an increased risk of heart failure and stroke.
Mmmmm… brownies. (Photo credit: Getty Images)
The most outstanding benefits of chocolate consumption were seen in male participants. The likelihood of developing AF dropped by 23 percent in men when two to six servings of chocolate were included in their diets each week. In women, the effects were linked to eating just one portion a week. It saw a 21 percent decrease in developing the condition.
A portion, mind you, isn’t that entire Mars Bar. For the purposes of the study, a mere 30 grams equalled a single serving. However, even the lead author of the study, Elizabeth Mostofsky, says that rushing out to buy a block might not be the best idea.
“Eating excessive amounts of chocolate is not recommended because many chocolate products are high in calories from sugar and fat and could lead to weight gain and other metabolic problems,” she cautioned.
“But moderate intake of chocolate with high cocoa content may be a healthy choice.”
So, it seems opting for small pieces of dark chocolate is the way to go — but we were already doing that!
Parkinson’s Breakthrough: New Disease-causing Mechanism FoundPosted: October 2, 2017 Filed under: Health and Happiness Leave a comment
A new study led by scientists in South Korea and Singapore “overturns three decades of consensus” on what causes Parkinson’s disease symptoms.
A study recently published in the journal Neuron sheds new light on the disease-causing mechanism behind Parkinson’s.
Broadly speaking, Parkinson’s disease is known to be caused by insufficient levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. In more detail, however, it is not precisely known what causes the motor problems – including tremor, stiffness, and the inability to control movements – that characterize this low-dopamine condition.
Voluntary movement is known to be regulated by a brain region called the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia modulates locomotion by shifting between instructions to trigger motion and instructions to suppress it.
Achieving the delicate balance between these two sets of instructions results in smooth motions.
Because a low level of the dopamine neurotransmitter more strongly suppresses movement and low dopamine characterizes Parkinson’s disease, researchers have long believed that suppression induced by a lack of dopamine causes the motor dysfunction in Parkinson’s.
The new study, however, uses cutting-edge technology to challenge this belief.
The researchers were co-led by Prof. Daesoo Kim, from the Department of Biological Sciences at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology in Daejeon, South Korea, and Prof. George Augustine, from the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine in Singapore.
Using optogenetics – a technique wherein neurons are genetically modified to respond to light, enabling the researchers to track and control the behavior of the cells – the scientists stimulated inhibitory basal ganglia inputs. In other words, they intensified the motor suppression instructions.
However, they found that this made ventrolateral thalamic neurons – which are involved in motor control – hyperactivity.
This hyperactivity seemed to cause muscular rigidity and contractions in the rodents – symptoms similar to the hallmark motor symptoms in Parkinson’s disease.
As the authors explain, this is the phenomenon called “rebound firing,” which seems to be triggered by intensifying inhibitory basal ganglia inputs.
Prof. Kim and team tested the role of this phenomenon by genetically engineering mice to lack dopamine and inhibiting rebound firing to see what effects it would have on Parkinson’s disease motor symptoms.
Rebound firing was inhibited by genetically interfering to reduce the number of ventrolateral thalamic neurons.
Surprisingly, mice with abnormally low levels of dopamine but no rebound firing displayed normal movement and no Parkinson’s disease symptoms.
“In a low dopamine state,” the authors say, “the number of [ventrolateral thalamic] neurons showing post-inhibitory firing increases, while reducing the number of active [ventrolateral thalamic] neurons [by inhibiting basal ganglia] input, effectively prevents Parkinson disease-like motor symptoms.”
“Thus, [basal ganglia] inhibitory input generates excitatory motor signals in the thalamus and, in excess, promotes PD-like [Parkinson’s disease-like] motor abnormalities,” they conclude.
“This study,” says Prof. Daesoo Kim, as he comments on the significance of the findings, “overturns three decades of consensus on the provenance of Parkinsonian symptoms.”
First study author Dr. Jeongjin Kim says, “The therapeutic implications of this study for the treatment of Parkinsonian symptoms are profound. It may soon become possible to remedy movement disorders without using L-Dopa, a precursor to dopamine.”
“Our findings are a breakthrough, both for understanding how the brain normally controls the movement of our body and how this control goes awry during Parkinson’s disease and related dopamine-deficiency disorders.”
How Many Calories you Burn Doing Popular Exercises (Or, Why Exercising for Weight Loss Doesn’t Work)Posted: October 2, 2017 Filed under: Food and it's Impact on Our Health, Health and Happiness Leave a comment
In order to lose ONE POUND of body fat you must burn 3500 calories in a day! Looking at it in this perspective tells you why you cannot exercise enough in a day to lose weight. Losing weight comes from monitoring WHAT you eat, not necessarily how much. Although I will say 99% of most Americans do NOT MEET THEIR CALORIE needs, making it impossible to meet your nutrient needs…which is the key to successful weight loss.
Everything we do burns calories.
Calorie-counting isn’t the best way to lose weight — for that, you’re better off focusing on which foods you eat. But exercise offers a huge range of mental and physical health benefits, and it can be useful to know how much fuel you are burning.
Of course, the number of calories you burn varies based on body mass, body fat, age, sex, efficiency of movement, and conditions like altitude that impact the energy required for an activity.
It’s also important to note that the figures below only count time spent engaged in the activity — so 60 minutes playing soccer doesn’t count as a full hour if you spent 15 minutes on the sideline. Also, doing an exercise in a vigorous way can burn up to twice as many calories as doing the same activity in a casual way.
Here’s the full list:
- Hatha yoga: 183 calories/hour | 228 calories/hour
- A slow walk (2 mph): 204 calories/hour | 255 calories/hour
- Canoeing: 256 calories/hour | 319 calories/hour
- Slow, easy cycling (under 10 mph): 292 calories/hour | 364 calories/hour
- Volleyball: 292 calories/hour | 364 calories/hour
- Power yoga: 292 calories/hour | 364 calories/hour
- Golfing (and carrying your clubs): 314 calories/hour | 391 calories/hour
- A brisk walk (3.5 mph): 314 calories/hour | 391 calories/hour
- ‘Jogging’ on the elliptical: 365 calories/hour | 455 calories/hour
- Resistance training/weightlifting: 365 calories/hour | 455 calories/hour
- Kayaking: 365 calories/hour | 455 calories/hour
- Water aerobics: 402 calories/hour | 501 calories/hour
- Light or moderate lap swimming: 423 calories/hour | 528 calories/hour
- Hiking: 438 calories/hour | 546 calories/hour
- Backpacking: 511 calories/hour | 637 calories/hour
- Tennis, singles: 584 calories/hour | 728 calories/hour
- Running (5 mph): 606 calories/hour | 755 calories/hour
- Running up stairs: 657 calories/hour | 819 calories/hour
- Vigorous lap-swimming: 715 calories/hour | 892 calories/hour
- Jump rope: 861 calories/hour | 1,074 calories/hour
- Running, 8 mph: 861 calories/hour | 1,074 calories/hour
13 Foods That Help You Stay HydratedPosted: April 25, 2017 Filed under: Food and it's Impact on Our Health, Health and Happiness Leave a comment
Humans are not natural water lappers. We are supposed to get our need for moisture from the foods we eat. Since, meat, dairy and especially grains dehydrate us, we should be eating plenty of foods likes fruits, salads and veggies. The advice that we hear about drinking 8 eight ounce glasses of water is bad advice if you eat well. If you are on a Standard American Diet you DO need that much water to protect the kidneys. But on a healthy diet of low protein consumption, healthy fats and lots of fruits and veggies, you do not need to drink much water. Doing so will wash a lot of nutrients from the body, especially minerals.
By Amanda MacMillanPosted April 24, 2017
These high-water-content foods are refreshing, filled with nutrients, and naturally low in calories.
According to the old rule of thumb, you’re supposed to drink eight glasses of water per day (and some experts recommend even more). That can seem like a daunting task on some days, but here’s the catch: You don’t have to drink all that water. Roughly 20% of our daily H2O intake comes from solid foods, especially fruits and vegetables.
It’s still important to drink plenty of water—especially in the summertime—but you can also quench your thirst with these 15 hugely hydrating foods, all of which are at least 90% water by weight.
Water content: 96.7%
This summer veggie—which has the highest water content of any solid food—is perfect in salads, or sliced up and served with some hummus, says Keri Gans, RD, author of The Small Change Diet: 10 Steps to a Thinner and Healthier You and a consultant to Mindbloom, a technology company that makes life-improvement apps.
Want to pump up cucumber’s hydrating power even more? Try blending it with nonfat yogurt, mint, and ice cubes to make cucumber soup. “Soup is always hydrating, but you may not want to eat something hot in the summertime,” Gans says. “Chilled cucumber soup, on the other hand, is so refreshing and delicious any time of year.”
Water content: 95.6%
Water content: 95.6%
Iceberg lettuce tends to get a bad rap, nutrition-wise. Health experts often recommend shunning it in favor of darker greens like spinach or romaine lettuce, which contain higher amounts of fiber and nutrients such as folate and vitamin K. It’s a different story when it comes to water content, though: Crispy iceberg has the highest of any lettuce, followed by butterhead, green leaf, and romaine varieties.
So when the temperature rises, pile iceberg onto sandwiches or use it as a bed for a healthy chicken salad. Even better: Ditch the tortillas and hamburger buns and use iceberg leaves as a wrap for tacos and burgers.
Water content: 95.4%
That urban legend about celery having negative calories isn’t quite true, but it’s pretty close. Like all foods that are high in water, celery has very few calories—just 6 calories per stalk. And its one-two punch of fiber and water helps to fill you up and curb your appetite.
This lightweight veggie isn’t short on nutrition, however. Celery contains folate and vitamins A, C, and K. And thanks in part to its high water content, celery neutralizes stomach acid and is often recommended as a natural remedy for heartburn and acid reflux. MILLIE ; If you have these symptoms you have leaky gut!)
Water content: 95.3%
These refreshing root vegetables should be a fixture in your spring and summer salads. They provide a burst of spicy-sweet flavor—and color!—in a small package, and more importantly they’re filled with antioxidants such as catechin (also found in green tea).
A crunchy texture also makes radishes a perfect addition to healthy summer coleslaw—no mayo required. Slice them up with shredded cabbage and carrots, sliced snow peas, and chopped hazelnuts and parsley, and toss with poppy seeds, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Water content: 94.5%
Sliced and diced tomatoes will always be a mainstay of salads, sauces, and sandwiches, but don’t forget about sweet cherry and grape varieties, which make an excellent hydrating snack, Gans says. “They’re great to just pop in your mouth, maybe with some nuts or some low-sodium cheese,” she says. “You get this great explosion of flavor when you bite into them.”
Having friends over? Skewer grape tomatoes, basil leaves, and small chunks of mozzarella on toothpicks for a quick and easy appetizer.
Water content: 93.9%
Bell peppers of all shades have a high water content, but green peppers lead the pack, just edging out the red and yellow varieties (which are about 92% water). And contrary to popular belief, green peppers contain just as many antioxidants as their slightly sweeter siblings.
Peppers are a great pre-dinner or late-night snack, Gans says. “We tell people to munch on veggies when they have a craving, but a lot of people get bored of carrots and celery pretty quickly,” she says. “Peppers are great to slice up when you get home from work, while you’re making or waiting for dinner.”
Water content: 92.1%
Don’t let cauliflower’s pale complexion fool you: In addition to having lots of water, these unassuming florets are packed with vitamins and phytonutrients that have been shown to help lower cholesterol and fight cancer, including breast cancer. (A 2012 study of breast cancer patients by Vanderbilt University researchers found that eating cruciferous veggies like cauliflower was associated with a lower risk of dying from the disease or seeing a recurrence.)
“Break them up and add them to a salad for a satisfying crunch,” Gans suggests. “You can even skip the croutons!”
Water content: 91.5% water
It’s fairly obvious that watermelon is full of, well, water, but this juicy melon is also among the richest sources of lycopene, a cancer-fighting antioxidant found in red fruits and vegetables. In fact, watermelon contains more lycopene than raw tomatoes—about 12 milligrams per wedge, versus 3 milligrams per medium-sized tomato.
Although this melon is plenty hydrating on its own, Gans loves to mix it with water in the summertime. “Keep a water pitcher in the fridge with watermelon cubes in the bottom,” she says. “It’s really refreshing, and great incentive to drink more water overall.”
Water content: 91.4% water
Iceberg lettuce may have a higher water content, but spinach is usually a better bet overall. Piling raw spinach leaves on your sandwich or salad provides nearly as much built-in hydration, with an added nutritional punch.
Spinach is rich in lutein, potassium, fiber, and brain-boosting folate, and just one cup of raw leaves contains 15% of your daily intake of vitamin E—an important antioxidant for fighting off the damaging molecules known as free radicals.
Water content: 91.0%
All berries are good foods for hydration, but juicy red strawberries are easily the best of the bunch. Raspberries and blueberries both hover around 85% water, while blackberries are only slightly better at 88.2%.
“I love strawberries blended in a smoothie or mixed with plain nonfat yogurt—another hydrating food,” Gans says. Strawberries add natural sweetness to the yogurt, she adds, and the combo of carb
Water content: 90.7%
Like its cousin cauliflower, raw broccoli adds a satisfying crunch to a salad. But its nutritional profile—lots of fiber, potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C—is slightly more impressive.
What’s more, broccoli is the only cruciferous vegetable (a category that contains cabbage and kale, in addition to cauliflower) with a significant amount of sulforaphane, a potent compound that boosts the body’s protective enzymes and flushes out cancer-causing chemicals
Water content: 90.5%
This juicy, tangy citrus fruit can help lower cholesterol and shrink your waistline, research suggests. In one study, people who ate one grapefruit a day lowered their bad (LDL) cholesterol by 15.5% and their triglycerides by 27%.
In another, eating half a grapefruit—roughly 40 calories—before each meal helped dieters lose about three and a half pounds over 12 weeks. Researchers say that compounds in the fruit help fuel fat burn and stabilize blood sugar, therefore helping to reduce cravings.
Water content: 90.2%
This succulent melon provides a big nutritional payoff for very few calories. One six-ounce serving—about one-quarter of a melon—contains just 50 calories but delivers a full 100% of your recommended daily intake of vitamins A and C.
“I love cantaloupe as a dessert,” Gans says. “If you’ve got a sweet tooth, it will definitely satisfy.” Tired of plain old raw fruit? Blend cantaloupe with yogurt and freeze it into sherbet, or puree it with orange juice and mint to make a refreshing soup.
4 Ways to Boost Productivity and Enter Flow States ConsistentlyPosted: January 2, 2017 Filed under: Health and Happiness Leave a comment
- By Scott Jeffrey, www.pickthebrain.com
- View Original
- December 14th, 2016
Can you recall a time when your work felt effortless?
Nothing distracts you. There’s no internal resistance. You are focused, energized, and immersed in the task at hand. You make connections seamlessly. Your creative output soars. Time stops. Your enjoyment in the moment rises.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow called this a peak experience. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi continued Maslow’s initial findings to develop the science of flow.
Flow is a mental and physical state of being. Everyone has access to flow states, but some people access them with greater frequency.
To access a state of flow more often, try the following
1) Play to Your Natural Strengths
Another psychologist, Martin Seligman, demonstrates that when people do the things they are naturally good at in their work, they are generally happier and experience more flow.
To determine your natural strengths, take a free scientifically validated survey to determine your top strengths on the VIA Institute on Character website.
Then, determine at least three to five ways you can access these strengths in your work.
2) Reduce External Distraction
Distraction is the primary culprit that steals our attention. Each time you are interrupted from a flow state, research suggests that it takes an average of 10 to 15 minutes to return to it.
Consider how often you get distracted in a given hour (for the average executive, it’s over eight times) and you can appreciate why flow can seem so rare.
When you’re working on a specific task, eliminate anything that can make noise and draw your attention. Close your email program. Put your phone on “airport mode.” Silence all notifications. Shut your door.
Establish a predetermined time parameter to work uninterrupted on a project that’s meaningful to you. You can’t eliminate distraction indefinitely, but everyone can go offline for an hour to focus on something important.
3) Find Your Center
Once you deal with external distraction, you’re still left with the biggest distraction of all: your own mind. When you’re in a state of flow, you can access more of your brain’s potential. You can focus because your mind isn’t ruminating in the past or projecting into the future; it is absorbed in whatever you are doing. You are fully present.
There are many centering exercises. Mindfulness meditation is a popular way of quieting your mind by observing your thoughts with nonjudgmental awareness.
One of my favorite methods is to put your attention on the bottom of your feet. Simply put your complete awareness on your feet for about 20 seconds. Observe any sensations you might feel. Notice if you feel more calm and focused.
Keeping both of your feet firmly on the ground as you work will help you maintain your focus for extended periods of time.
4) Adopt an Attitude of Open Readiness
Rigid thoughts and beliefs block our creativity; they stifle flow. Adopt what the Zen Buddhists call a Beginner’s Mind. Let go of preconceived notions. Surrender the need to control the next moment. Drop the false notion that you need to know all of the answers.
Then, stay ready and alert. Creating is an active art. Those who enter flow states on a frequent basis earn it by staying devote to their work.
Finally, don’t expect to enter a state of flow. Expectation and anticipation will only create resistance and frustration. Maintain a playful attitude. Experiment without expecting an outcome.
Flow happens at the intersection of effort and allowing. You’re in charge, but only to a degree. Embrace this ambiguity. And go create something great.
7 Compelling Reasons to Have More SexPosted: January 1, 2017 Filed under: Health and Happiness Leave a comment
From Psychology Today
Everyone knows that, along with eating chocolate and drinking wine, having sex is one of the best things you can do for your health…
In all seriousness, all three of these things can have enormous benefits for both physical and psychological health. But sex in particular can benefit your physical and mental health. If you need an incentive to have sex, here are seven:
1. Sex eases stress.
Stress is the result of many interacting psychological factors and can affect different people in different ways, potentially spurring health problems from mild headaches, sleeping difficulty, and muscle tension to more severe issues such as depression and malfunction of your immune system.
There is evidence to suggest that being close to your partner (physically and emotionally) can soothe stress and relieve anxiety. Physical intimacy can trigger the release of chemicals in the brain including dopamine (which plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior, focuses attention, and generally increases motivation); endorphins (natural pain and stress fighters); and oxytocin (known as “the cuddle hormone” which can trigger feelings of compassion).
It isn’t really surprising that sex is a natural anti-depressant. Further, after an orgasm the body releases the hormone prolactin, which often leads to drowsiness and a general feeling of relaxation. This is why comfort, ultimately resulting in sleep, is a common post-orgasm response.
One study actually found that having sex every day for two weeks led to cell growth in the hippocampus (which plays a role in regulating stress levels). Another study found that having sex at least once a day for a period of two weeks lowered stress-related blood pressure.
2. Sex boosts self-esteem.
There’s an old saying: “Sex is like food; it’s only a big deal when you’re not getting enough of it.” There’s some truth to the adage. When it comes to sex, it’s not really a matter of “the more the better,” at least after a certain point, but that there are downsides to a complete fast. Lack of sex can lead to feelings of angst, self-doubt, and inadequacy, and there is strong evidence that feelings of self-worth and identity are strongly associated with sex.
In today’s culture, there is a lot of social pressure to be sexually active, while having a minimal or non-existent sex life is socially stigmatized. Looked at from this perspective, having sex by itself can somewhat unburden someone from strong social pressure and enhance self-esteem. And sex therapists and marriage counselors agree that couples that engage in regular sex (with each other) have far greater self-esteem than those who don’t.
3. Sex enhances intimacy.
Relationships aren’t always easy. No one is entirely immune from the pressures of work, and life in general, and so sometimes, for whatever reason, couples just don’t have time for sex. This can be the beginning of a vicious cycle: You or your partner don’t feel like having sex, and then (consciously or not) you may start to resent your partner for it. And then you gradually grow further apart, until you may not even want to have sex with your partner.
As obvious as it might sound, it’s worth reminding yourself that regular sex with your partner makes a big difference to how you get along. Being intimate on a frequent basis allows you to emotionally connect on a much deeper level (especially as positive hormones are released in the act of sex). And partners who feel emotionally close to each other are far more likely to have regular sex (and a healthy relationship) than those who feel distant or estranged from each other.
4. Sex makes you whole.
All of us have fundamental psychological needs we need to fulfill to remain mentally healthy. The act of having sex isn’t (strictly) a fundamental human need, but it is an important piece of one. Abraham Maslow suggested that, in addition to vital physiological needs such as water, food, and sleep, there are basically four categories of fundamental psychological needs—safety, love/connection, esteem and autonomy.
Of course we need to meet our physiological needs to survive, but to be happy, stable people, we also need to fulfill each category of psychological need. If too many of those needs go unmet for too long, we will suffer; there is evidence that people develop neuroses, addictions, and even delusions when their needs are not met. Studies suggest that social isolation is even more harmful than either smoking or alcoholism.
5. Sex makes you smart.
Sex changes your brain chemistry in a variety of ways, and one of them is increasing your brainpower. There is some evidence that sex actually increases your cognitive capacity: A study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that even just thinking about a sexual encounter that you have had can enhance analytic skills. Another study, on rats, indicated that sexually-active rodents had more neurons in their hippocampus (the brain region responsible for the storage of memories) than virgin rats—and the rats lost Improvements in brainpower after sexual activity stopped.
Research on the female orgasm using fMRI technology has indicated that sexual climax activates as many as 30 areas of the brain. Blood flows in, carrying a surge of nutrients and oxygen to brain cells. By contrast, popular brain stimulation activities such as Sudoku, crosswords, and memory games each engage only a handful at best.
6. Sex makes you look and feel younger.
We spend billions of dollars every year on chemicals and procedures in the pursuit of youth. But a recent British study has found that having regular sex can make both men and women look between five and 10 years younger than they actually are. Intercourse causes the release of human growth hormone, which sets off a range of biological reactions with the ultimately effect of making the skin appear more elastic and smooth. Sex also triggers the release of estrogen, which improves the quality of hair and skin. The lead researcher of this study previously demonstrated that while mental and physical activity is the most important factor for retaining one’s youth, regular sex was a close second.
Looking younger brings us a suite of benefits such as increased confidence, happiness, and enthusiasm. When we look younger, we tend to feel younger. And having more sex has also been linked with living longer in general.
7. Sex is exercise.
We know of the physical and psychological benefits of exercise, and sex can be quite physically demanding—in an average session, men burn around 100 calories, and women about 70. In a half-hour of sex, as many as 200 calories can melt away, though the average duration of activity tends to be quite a bit shorter.
Also, exercise is known to make you feel great: It makes you physically healthier, and can improve mood; reduce stress and help you cope with it better; increase feelings of self-satisfaction; boost your energy levels, and more.