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Five Fun Diet and Fitness Alternatives

Posted: 09/05/2013 00:00

Fed up of fitness classes? Sick of salads? Healthy living doesn't have to be hard work! While we don't advise you cut out exercise and healthy eating entirely, for those moments when you just don't feel like being healthy, try these fun alternatives instead.

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Laughter

If you're having a day off from exercise, the good news is you could still get the same health benefits as you would from a workout simply through having a laugh. Research studies led by Dr Lee Berk of Loma University have found that repetitious sessions of "mirthful laughter" have similar effects on the body as moderate exercise; improving your mood, lowering blood pressure, reducing bad cholesterol and enhancing the immune system.

Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine have also found that regular laughter may be as good for your heart as exercise. Their research suggests that 15 minutes of laughter a day helps blood vessels to function better and has similar health benefits to a workout. Consequently, while exercise is essential for good health, swapping the odd gym session for a comedy club or funny movie may not be as bad a swap as you think.

Popcorn

Craving a snack but not feeling tempted by the fruit bowl? Tucking into some popcorn could be a great healthy alternative. Research led by Joe Vinson, a researcher for the University of Scranton, has found that popcorn contains almost double the amount of antioxidant polyphenols (which can help protect against chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease) per serving as fruits and vegetables.

On top of this, popcorn, according to Vinson, is the only snack that is 100 per cent unprocessed whole grain. Popcorn is packed with fibre (perfect for keeping you feeling full and improving your digestion), can help lower cholesterol, is low in calories and contains B vitamins. While it should not replace nutrient-rich fruit and veg entirely, popcorn is a great occasional swap for a healthy diet, so long as you cut down on the sugar, salt and oils. To retain its health benefits, air-popped popcorn is best. Serve plain or seasoned with Italian seasonings, chilli powder or other herbs and spices.

Chocolate

Good news for chocaholics - scientists have discovered that small amounts of dark chocolate can improve your health in a similar way to exercise! Researchers from Wayne State University found that a plant compound (epicatechin) found in chocolate stimulated the same muscle response as vigorous exercise, which could help to slow down muscle ageing.

Furthermore, research has suggested that chocolate could be almost as healthy as fruit. When tested and compared to juices from 'superfruits' such as blueberries and pomegranate, dark chocolate was found to be higher in antioxidants, which are essential for fighting disease and preventing wrinkles. While it is not recommended you ditch fruit and exercise for a king-sized chocolate bar, snacking on small amounts of dark chocolate can be a tasty way to boost your health.

Music

One of the best benefits of a healthy lifestyle is a longer life span and improved immunity, and now scientists have found an even easier way to get these health benefits: listening to music. Yep, researchers have found a whole host of benefits attached to this common pastime! A study by Sussex University and the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, found that listening to uplifting music for just 50 minutes increased levels of disease-fighting antibodies and lowered stress.

Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore found that listening to music that makes you feel good is beneficial to cardiovascular health. Other suggested health benefits of listening to music include improved pain relief, quicker recovery from operations and better mental health. Try using music as a supplement to your healthy lifestyle - research by Brunel University has even found that listening to music while working out can boost your exercise endurance by 15 per cent!

Sunshine

Many of us are conscious of the importance of healthy eating for getting our recommended vitamin intake. However, one health-boosting nutrient can be obtained in a more leisurely and effortless way - simply by spending some time in the sunshine. Our body produces vitamin D when exposed to the sun; a nutrient which is essential for good health.

Those deficient in vitamin D are at greater risk of developing certain cancers, osteoporosis, mental illness and heart disease. In fact, while the dangers of too much sun exposure are well-known, a study by Robyn Lucas of Australian National University suggests that more lives are lost to diseases caused by too little sunlight than from those generated by too much. While it is essential to take care in the sun, experts recommend we spend 5 or 10 minutes in the sun each day without sunblock, so try spending some time in the sunshine for a cheap and enjoyable way to boost your health.

Read more:

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  • Taking photographs

    If you find yourself getting snap happy on a holiday or night out, this may be no bad thing. Research suggests that recalling good memories and having a positive view of the past can help <a href="http://www.realbuzz.com/articles/10-ways-to-boost-your-happiness" target="_hplink">boost happiness</a> levels and health, yet according to separate research we find it more difficult to recall good memories than bad ones. If you have trouble focusing on happy memories, try compiling some photo albums of your favourite moments for an instant health and happiness boost. Here are <a href="http://www.realbuzz.com/articles/10-instant-mood-boosters-gb-en/" target="_hplink">10 more instant mood boosters</a>

  • Stress

    While we all know about the health dangers of long-term stress, stress in short bursts can actually strengthen your immune system. In cases of acute stress, the body prepares itself for danger or threat (the fight-or-flight response) through the release of hormones including cortisol, which causes a short term boost to the immune system. So next time you find yourself getting tense before a job interview, presentation or big sports match, take consolation in the fact that you are doing your immune system a favour.

  • Surfing the internet

    Think that browsing Facebook and searching for celebrity gossip is a waste of time? Think again. Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles found that searching the web helps boost brain health in those middle-aged and older, and could even prevent some of the effects that ageing has on the brain. The study found that browsing the internet stimulated the areas of the brain that control language and memory as well as helping to <a href="http://www.realbuzz.com/articles/7-ways-to-make-better-decisions" target="_hplink">improve decision-making</a> and complex reasoning.

  • Crying

    We all know that laughter is good for us, but the surprising news is that shedding some tears could also do wonders for your health. Researchers at the University of South Florida found that 88.8 per cent of people feel better after crying, while it has been suggested that crying helps release the chemicals that build up in our bodies during times of stress. So, next time you feel yourself welling up after a weepy movie or emotional day, give your health and mood a boost by letting the tears flow.

  • Getting married

    Multiple research studies and statistics suggest that those who are married live longer than singletons due to the fact they experience less social isolation. Furthermore, while it’s never a standalone reason for raising kids, research suggests that if you decide to start a family you could boost your health even more. A study of over 1.5 million men and women found that having one to two children reduces your risk of numerous conditions including cancer, alcoholism and heart disease.

  • Housework

    It may not be your favourite activity, yet keeping your home clean and tidy could help you stay fit and healthy and keep off those extra pounds. According to a poll on household chores, the average person walks more than 22 miles and burns off 50,000 calories a year while cleaning their home, making it a great alternative to the gym. Furthermore, research funded by Cancer Research UK found that doing household chores can reduce women’s risk of breast cancer by 30 per cent in pre-menopausal women and 20 per cent in those post-menopause.

  • Having a big bum

    If you regularly spend hours in the gym trying to trim inches off your thighs or bum, it may be time you stopped and showed your curves a little appreciation instead. While you may despair of your curvy rear end, research shows that fat stored in this area mops up harmful fatty acids, contains an anti-inflammatory that prevents arteries from clogging, and cuts your risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

  • Dirt

    With the soaring popularity of anti-bacterial hand gels, clothing and washing products, it is easy to believe that dirt is the ultimate enemy. However, while it is generally good to pay attention to hygiene, a little bit of dirt could be better for you than you think. Contrary to popular belief, being sterile doesn’t keep you healthy and in fact research suggests that exposure to friendly bacteria found in soil can actually help boost the immune system and alleviate depression.

  • Beer

    While many of us associate beer with beer bellies, drinking this popular tipple in moderation could actually have more health benefits than red wine. Research studies have shown that moderate consumption of beer can help reduce risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and dementia. On top of this, beer is rich in many nutrients, including magnesium, selenium and B vitamins, and contains a cancer-fighting compound found in hops. Check out the <a href="http://www.realbuzz.com/articles/top-five-bad-foods-that-are-actually-good-for-you-gb-en/" target="_hplink">top five 'bad' foods that are actually good for you</a>

  • Your friends

    It seems to be relatively rare that the things we love are good for us, yet in the case of our friends this is definitely the case. Research suggests that <a href="http://www.realbuzz.com/articles/7-ways-your-friends-are-good-for-your-health-gb-en/" target="_hplink">your friends can help you live longer </a>by reducing feelings of depression, stress and risky behaviour, and encouraging you to look after your health. In fact, a study by Brigham Young University found that having a good social network boosts your survival chances by 50 per cent, while having few friends affects you longevity as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Check out the <a href="http://www.realbuzz.com/articles/5-friends-everyone-should-have-gb-en/" target="_hplink">5 friends everyone should have</a>

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