It's been a long day, a long week…heck, the whole month seems to be moving at a snail's pace. If you need a pick-me-up, how about some good food, relaxation, and maybe a little laughter. We've got 15 great ideas for affordable, healthy indulgences that will recharge your energy and spirit.
Sweet, rich, with a luscious taste that lingers, few things feel as indulgent as eating dark chocolate. And the charms of this treat go beyond its silky smoothness. The "prescription": Nibble an ounce of dark chocolate each day. The healthy possibilities: lower blood pressure, increased blood flow, and improved "good" cholesterol. Now that's a luxury worth lingering over.
People have been smitten with aromatic herbs for centuries, filling pillows and pockets with them. Now research hints at what we've always suspected: Aromatherapy seems to be good for you. It may not provide all the health benefits some essential oils makers would like you to believe, but some studies show that breathing in natural perfumed scents can lift mood. So, indulge in some aromatherapy. Spritz lavender water on your pillow tonight. Pleasant dreams!
You dash in the door late from work, say hello to your mate, then run off to a child's soccer practice or your book club. Wait! Stop a minute -- yes, a whole minute -- and give your spouse a really big kiss. Not only will giving your sweetheart a little sugar burn calories, but that kiss reduces stress, benefits your immune system, and boosts your bond with your spouse.
Give the can opener a rest and slice into a succulent tuna steak tonight. You'll not only delight tired taste buds, but you'll also give your body omega-3 fatty acids, super fats that are important to heart health and storing energy. And who doesn't need more opportunities for healthy eating? Dig in!
Those hands of yours are like busy bees. They fly over a computer keyboard, wield hammer and nails, tuck in the kids, hug your honey, scrub, brush, floss...Whew. Indulge these dedicated workers with a manicure. Like massage, a manicure involves contact with another person through touch, which not only makes you feel pampered, it may even improve self-esteem. Now that's a stress reliever.
Go ahead, laugh it up -- it's good for you! Studies show that a good belly laugh takes the zap out of stress, pumps up your immunity, improves blood flow, and stabilizes blood pressure. A good chuckle may even help keep blood sugar levels down and aid digestion. Just anticipating laughter seems to reduce stress. You may start to feel better just watching the opening credits roll.
Even in this coffee-besotted nation, the average American sips more than 9 gallons of tea a year. Part of the appeal may be tea's tension-taming powers. Research shows that folks who enjoyed four cups of black tea a day for six weeks released fewer stress hormones after a tense task than those who drank a caffeinated fruit drink. Green tea has similar benefits. So put that kettle on, pull out your favorite mug, and steep a pot of your favorite tea today.
You've sat through meetings, raced through deadlines, and after work you just want to crash. Forget the TV. Forget making dinner. Instead, try the ultimate stress reliever. Sex. Yes, sex. Studies show a little nookie lowers blood pressure, boosts immunity, and even raises self-esteem. Making love -- a perfect way to cap a stressful day.
A massage may feel like an expensive indulgence, but here's one luxury that's good for your physical and mental health. When you get a massage, your body releases endorphins, natural painkillers. A massage also reduces stress hormones, lowers anxiety, and raises your immunity. A chair massage usually costs about $1 a minute. You can get a chair massage at some malls, fairs, or office buildings. It's a quick way to shut out the surrounding chaos and let some wellness into your day.
The day got away from you, and you missed your usual workout. Not to worry. While you indulge in watching your favorite TV program after work, give your body a boost with a little stretching. Not only will stretching help ease tired muscles and increase flexibility, it improves your range of motion and circulation, and soothes away stress, too. Take it slow and hold each pose for ten seconds... then feel the relief!
Want to enhance your serenity and indulge a little introspection? Get outside to hunt for a few seasonal "firsts." Perhaps it's the first birds returning in spring, autumn's first turning leaves, or the first bright crocus pushing through the snow. Get in touch with nature and your neighborhood. It lets you feel connected to something greater, giving you a healthy sense of peace and well-being.
Take home those unique choices from the produce department: star-shaped fruits, tiny purple berries, and what look like prickly little lemons. Whether you eat star fruit, acai berries, or "horned" cucumbers, indulging in tropical fruits gives your taste buds an exciting change. It also gives you a bumper crop of health benefits. Antioxidants and other nutrients in these foods help reduce risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Good friends are good for you -- it's as simple as that. Whether you see them every day or once in a while, friends foster a sense of belonging, purpose, and self-worth. Friendship even keeps you on a mental even keel. So grab the phone, stretch out on the couch, and give your best buddy a call.
Between a busy day of working, working out, and running errands, who has time to indulge in a good night's sleep? You do. Sleeping well tonight is not only important to ward off fatigue, it will also help you learn and make memories. The pros say most adults need seven to eight hours every night. So rest easy tonight -- your body will love you for it.
What if you had a magic elixir that could lift your mood, help you sleep, increase energy, and even spark your sex life? You don't need a mystic brew for all that. You just need to get moving! Don't call it exercise. Just call it a walk around the neighborhood, a tussle on the lawn with the kids, or digging in the garden. Ten minutes of each could even lead to fewer colds and a boost in brain power. So get moving!
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- American Cancer Society: "Aromatherapy."
- American Council on Exercise: "Can Exercise Reduce Your Risk of Catching a Cold?"
- American Psychological Association: "Exercise Fuels the Brain's Stress Buffers."
- Case Western Reserve University: "Active Minds: Supporting Mental Health on Campus."
- Cleveland Clinic: "Exercise and Your Health," "Heart-Health Benefits of Chocolate Unveiled."
- George Washington University Medical Center: "Stress Busting Foods."
- Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute Letter: "Humor, Laughter, and Those Aha Moments."
- Harvard Medical School: "The Health Benefits Of That Heart-Shaped Box Of Dark Chocolate, From Harvard Men’s Health Watch," "Spending Time Outdoors Is Good For You, From The Harvard Health Letter," "Yoga for a Better Sex Life?"
- Meals Matter: "Health Benefits of Tuna."
- National Intitutes of Health: "Black Tea."
- National Sleep Foundation: "How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?"
- New York University Langone Medical Center: "What are the Possible Health Benefits of Chocolate?"
- North Carolina State University: "The Magic of Friendship."
- Ohio State University: "A Little Music With Exercise Boosts Brain Power, Study Suggests."
- PR Newswire: "U.S. Census Bureau Daily Feature for December 16."
- Sedgwick County Health Department: "Why Is Stretching Important?"
- State Government of Victoria: "Kissing and Your Health."
- Syracuse University: "Having Sex is Good for Your Health!"
- USDA: "Why Is It Important to Eat Fruit?"
- US Department of Health and Human Services: "Dark Chocolate May Harbor Benefits for the Heart."
- University of California, Irvine: "Humor & Laughter."
- University of Georgia: "Sleep Rocks! Get More of It!"
- University of Maryland Medical Center: "Laughter is the 'Best Medicine' for Your Heart," "University Of Maryland School Of Medicine Study Shows Laughter Helps Blood Vessels Function Better."
- University of Miami, Touch Research Institute: "The Magic of Your Touch," "Massage," "Adult Massage."
- University of Wisconsin-Madison: "Stretching Exercises."
- Washington University Sleep Medicine Center: "How Much Sleep Do I Need?"
- Yale Scientificie Magazine: "Aromatherapy: Exploring Olfaction."