100 ways to feel better

Whether you want to lose weight, improve your sex life or live to a ripe old age, Roger Dobson has all the advice you'll need in 2005


SLEEP BETTER

SLEEP BETTER

1. Get into good habits: Go to bed at the same time every day. If you can't fall asleep within 20 minutes, get up and only go back to bed when you feel sleepy. Ensure that your bedroom is dark and quiet.

2. Take baths not showers: A bath 30 minutes before going to bed improves sleep, say researchers at the University of Texas.

3. Have more sex: An orgasm produces the hormone oxytocin, which gives a feeling of well-being and inertia. The sedative effects of the oxytocin-rush help sleep to come more easily.

4. Try acupuncture: Trial results suggest that most insomniacs could benefit from acupuncture. Effects can last up to 18 months - and one patient regained her lost sense of smell, too.

5. Use earplugs: Noise is a common cause of sleep problems, and earplugs work in six out of 10 cases, according to research in Germany. If plugs don't work, try masking noise with soft music.

6. Use lavender: According to research in France, the aroma of lavender oil can be as effective as prescription tranquillisers. In a research study in London, an insomniac enjoyed her first complete night's sleep for four years after using aromatherapy oils. Lavender oil can be used in massage or in the bath.

7. Take exercise: Researchers at Stanford University found that adults who took part in 16 weeks of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise significantly lessened their sleep problems. The best time to exercise is five to six hours before bedtime, and it should be strenuous enough to make you sweat.

8. Have cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): More effective than sleeping pills, according to Harvard University academics. The aim of CBT is to improve sleep by getting rid of negative attitudes towards it.

9. Take valerian: The most commonly used herb for severe insomnia, valerian acts as a sedative, making falling asleep easier, and allowing for deeper sleep cycles. Take it 30 minutes before going to bed.

10. Don't count sheep: In a study at Oxford University, 50 insomniacs were asked either to imagine a tranquil scene while trying to get to sleep, or to count sheep. The sheep-counters took up to 20 minutes longer to nod off, probably because they were bored.

LOSE WEIGHT

1. Don't crash diet: A reason why eight out of 10 diets fail is that they are too strict. Research at the Mayo Clinic suggests a five-point plan: eat breakfast every day; eat a variety of foods; limit daily intake of saturated fat, cholesterol and salt; cut back on sugar by using whole fruits rather than juices, and avoid sugary soft drinks and alcohol; and eat smaller portions.

2. Beware fad diets: Doctors who reviewed low- carbohydrate, high-protein and low-fat diets expressed concern about their effectiveness. "The efficacy and safety of many popular diets remains unproven,'' they warn in Nutrition in Clinical Care.

3. Consider supplements: There are more than 50 supplements promoted for weight loss, including conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), chromium, hydroxycitric acid and pyruvate. Research found CLA reduced body fat by 9 per cent after one year in healthy men and women.

4. Eat calcium: It is thought that the more calcium there is in a fat cell, the more fat it will burn. American research suggests that three or four daily servings of low-fat dairy products can help adjust the body's fat-burning machinery.

5. Take small bites: If you can't reduce what you eat, make your mouth smaller. The £200 DDS device is moulded to fit over the roof of the mouth, and forces the wearer to take smaller bites.

6. Use your sense of smell: The Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago exposed 3,000 people to concentrated food smells when they were feeling hungry. Results show they lost 2per cent in body weight each month.

7. Get a good night's sleep: Levels of an appetite-suppressing hormone dropped 18 per cent when volunteers at Chicago University slept for only fours hours for two nights running.



8. Eat eggs: Leucine, an essential amino acid found in eggs, boosts the loss of body fat.



9. Try group therapy: Research in Australia suggests that dieters who are on unsupported diets had increased stress levels.

10. Have a romance: Psychologists at Indiana University found that those in a relationship were more likely to be happy and less likely to be overweight.Other research shows men who divorce are more likely to put on weight.

TAME YOUR HORMONES

1. Get moving: Exercising at the right time of the menstrual cycle is important for women. University of Adelaide research shows that exercising at the later menstrual phase burns more fat and helps women to feel less tired.

2. Get hypnotised: Doctors who treated a group of women with hot flushes with sessions of hypnotism say that the frequency and severity of the flushes was significantly reduced.

3. Get tested: A new DIY test for the start of the menopause means that women will be able to start treatment months earlier. The simple test, similar to a home pregnancy test, is designed to pick up the telltale early hormonal signs of the onset of the menopause. Research has now shown that the £8 test is up to 99 per cent effective.

4. Try red clover extract: This can reduce the frequency of hot flushes, and its isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogens, are thought to be responsible for the beneficial effect. The Dutch study, based on 30 women, showed that after four weeks, those who were taking the supplement had fewer symptoms.

5. Resist cravings: In women, progesterone can cause cravings, especially for carbohydrates. The reason women often have more cravings just before their menstrual flow is that progesterone levels are at their highest. Don't buy the foods you crave the most.

6. Learn about the andropause: The medical jury is still out on whether men suffer a male version of the menopause. But research is increasingly showing that men can benefit from testosterone replacement therapy in the form of patches, gels or implanted pellets.

7. Practise reiki: It is supposed to balance the various systems of the body, including the hormonal levels. Some work suggests that Reiki can normalise menstrual cycles, reduce cramping and reduce hot flushes.

8. Take evening primrose oil: Used for pre-menstrual syndrome and mastalgia or sore breasts. Research results are conflicting, but some show a significant reduction in breast pain.

9. Eat well: Flaxseeds are a good source of concentrated phytoestrogens and can reduce menopausal symptoms. Most fruit is rich in phytoestrogens, as is soy.

10. Try melatonin: Described by Dr William Regelson as the natural, age-reversing, disease-fighting, sex-enhancing hormone, research suggests it can be beneficial for men and women in mid-life to boost flagging hormone levels. One team of researchers are using melatonin instead of progesterone in a new form of HRT.

IMPROVE YOUR DIET

1. Spinach: Contains lutein, which helps to maintain healthy vision and is thought to offer protection against eye disorders. Also a good source of folic acid, which helps prevent birth defects, including spina bifida.

2. Broccoli: Contains compounds that protect against cancer, as well as vitamins A and C. Also helps to lower cholesterol and maintain a healthy immune system, and may offer some protection against bowel and thyroid cancer.

3. Brussels sprouts: Contain sinigrin, which is thought to offer protection against cancer. Vitamin B1, or thiamine, keeps the nerves and muscles healthy.

4. Watermelons: Contain the anti-cancer agent lycopene. Ripe, red flesh is the best indication of the most beneficial fruit.

5. Berries: The top three antioxidant fruits areblueberries, blackberries and strawberries. Called anthocyanins, these are thought to help against cancer. Ellagic acid does the same.



6. Lettuce: Leaves contain fibre, folate, antioxidants and small amounts of important vitamins and minerals. Lollo Rosso has 100 times more antioxidants than ordinary lettuce.

7. Carrots: Rich source of beta-carotene and alpha-carotene, which help to prevent cellular damage. Beta-carotene is thought to help the immune system. Also contain vitamin A, vital for growth, healthy eyes, bones and skin. A deficiency can lead to mouth ulcers, dry eyes, night blindness and conjunctivitis.

8. Onions: Sulphur compounds - which give off the strong smell in onions and garlic - help to lower cholesterol and maintain a healthy immune system. Onions also contain quercetin, a pigment that protects against heart disease. Yellow and red onions contain more.

9. Peppers: Contain capsaicinoids, which give peppers their spicy flavour. They are also one of the best sources of vitamin C.

10. Bananas: Can help to lower blood pressure, says the American Heart Association. Researchers say a diet high in potassium, calcium and magnesium - all in bananas - and low in fat and salt can reduce diastolic blood pressure, andlower the risk of stroke and heart disease.

BOOST YOUR LIBIDO

1. Take more exercise: Moderately strenuous exercise can increase libido in menopausal women, researchers claim, while academics at Boston University found that walking briskly for two miles a day reduced a man's risk of developing erectile dysfunction.

2. Boost your androgens: Adding male hormones to HRT can restore falling libido in women. The decline of natural androgen levels after menopause is an important factor in the decline of sexual interest, say researchers at Ghent University.

3. Use testosterone: Rub-on testosterone gels and patches have long-term benefits and can help men as young as 19. Research, based on men aged 19 to 67 who used a gel for three years, showed it had lasting and positive effects on libido. Some research shows a similar effect for women.

4. Watch 'The Godfather: Part ll' and stand clear: Libido-boosting testosterone levels in men increased by up to 30 per cent in men who watched this movie, say University of Michigan researchers. Viewing a romantic film lowered testosterone, but increased levels of the attentive hormone progesterone.

5. Have a vasectomy: One of the earliest studies into the sexual effects of vasectomy found that men were twice as likely to have a rise in libido as a loss of sex drive.

6. Eat oysters: The long-held belief that oysters are an aphrodisiac may be true, probably because of their high levels of zinc.

7. Consider pheromones: These natural body odours increase libido. Psychologists at San Francisco University, who added them to perfumes, found those who had the pheromones had more sex and dates.

8. Take zinc supplements: University of Rochester researchers restored sperm counts and libido in infertile men using zinc supplements.

9. Learn about DHEA: Australian research has found that low levels of the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) are linked to low sex drive in women.

10. Have light therapy: A study at the University of California shows that one hour of bright light therapy can boost the levels of a pituitary hormone that increases testosterone and libido in men.

LIVE LONGER

1. Shed some weight: For every excess kilogram you carry, you cut 20 weeks off your life expectancy. Doctors who have analysed 25 years of research claim that this may explain why women, who generally have smaller bodies than men, live longer.

2. Be a vegetarian: Being vegetarian for 20 years or more adds four years to the average lifespan, according to a study based on 7,100 Adventists, who largely do not eat meat. A UK report also shows lower mortality rates among vegetarians.

3. Have a happy marriage: Being happily married for more than 10 years increases life expectancy for both men and women. But divorce and remarriage raises the risk of dying early, says a report in the journal Health Psychology.

4. And have an intelligent wife: Being married to a more intelligent woman can halve a man's risk of heart disease and premature death, according

to research based on 20,000 men.

5. Be religious: Regular worshippers live longer, and are generally healthier. The social aspect of religion is thought to be significant.

6. Get a pet: People with pets live longer. Pets make their owners feel optimistic, relaxed and less stressed, all of which lower blood pressure. Families who own a dog or cat make fewer visits to their doctors, according to research at Cambridge University.

7. Avoid lie-ins: People who sleep for more than eight hours a day have shorter lives. According to research in the Archives of General Psychiatry, adults who have between six and seven hours' sleep live longer.

8. Eat chocolate: People who eat chocolate live longer than those who eat sweets regularly or not at all, according to researchers at Harvard University. This could be because chocolate contains phenols, which may protect against heart disease and cancer.

9. Move to the country:A study at Tokyo Medical University shows that people whose homes look out on green spaces live up to five years longer than those in built-up areas.

10. Have lots of kids: The more children a woman has, the longer she lives, says a report in The Psychology of Ageing. The increased contact with and support from children and grandchildren in old age is thought to be a contributory factor.

LOOK YOUNGER

1. Look at your lifestyle: The key factors that make people look older, according to research by St Louis University, are being 20 pounds over- or underweight, having cholesterol levels greater than 220, being unmarried and over 40, drinking caffeinated beverages and having depression.

2. Try botulinum toxin: Botox has replaced diamonds as the older girl's best friend, and is used to iron out and firm up wrinkles, foreheads, necks and almost anything that moves more than it should.

3. Consider cosmetic surgery: Up to 70,000 people a year spend more than £200m going under the knife. Apart from face-and eye-lifts, lip jobs are among the most effective. The £300-plus injections give a fuller, more youthful-looking mouth for women. Hair transplants are best for men.

4. Improve your diet: The 15 to 20 square feet of skin is the packaging that needs to look young. Drink eight to 10 pints of water a day and cut down on fatty foods.

5. Avoid the sun: The sun gives skin that leathery look. "There are some women who look 20 years younger because they prevent sun damage, which causes about 85 per cent of age-related skin changes,'' says Dr Richard Glogau, of the University of California.

6. Take more exercise: Research based on Japanese women, aged 20 to 70, showed that those who exercise regularly appeared five years younger. They had better cardiovascular endurance and improved skin texture.

7. Have regular sex: Couples with a healthy sex life can look 10 years younger than those who don't, say researchers at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital. It's thought to be because sex reduces stress and leads to better sleep.

8. Stay married: A happy marriage keeps people looking younger, say researchers in Canada who gave pictures of married, single, divorced and widowed men and women to an "age jury". The marrieds looked younger.

9. Make music: Playing a wind instrument can improve muscle tone and appearance. It keeps skin taut and looking younger. An hour of blowing burns 200 calories.

10. Get a man about the house: Sharing her life with a man can help a woman to stay young and healthy. Researchers found that women who live with a man have better immune systems. One theory is that it may be the effects of natural male odours, or pheromones.

BE CALMER

1. Take exercise: Vigorous, preferably aerobic, exercise can help counter stress and depression. The benefits start to show after about six weeks of exercise five times a week.

2. Meditate: Research at the University of Michigan found that twice-daily transcendental meditation sessions help students to be calmer, feel happier and get along better with other people.

3. Think positive: Positive thoughts make for a calmer and less irritable life. "If you wake up in a bad mood, then close your eyes and visualise the day going smoothly,'' says Dr Dennis Gersten, a San Diego psychiatrist.

4. Have frequent sex: Women who have sex frequently are calmer. Researchers believe mood-changing chemicals in semen get into the bloodstream, and act like an antidepressant.

5. Have sex young: German scientists found that the earlier in life a woman has sex, the less stressed she is as an adult. They found that the lowest levels of stress hormone were among those who had had sex at the youngest age. A similar effect was found in men.

6. Listen to music: Music can be as effective as drugs at lowering blood pressure. Research at Harvard University shows that heart bypass surgery patients need fewer drugs when music is playedto them. Music also deepens breathing, which has a calming effect.

7. Sing: Communal singing is good for mind and body, say researchers at the University of Newcastle. As well as burning off 150 calories an hour, it improves breathing and muscle tone, alleviates depression, stammering, stress, low self-esteem, asthma and chronic pain.

8. Eat carbs: Research shows that they increase levels of serotonin, which in turn regulates your mood.

9. Get a hobby: People who have a hobby are more relaxed and less irritable. It's thought that the hobby provides a distraction from the pressurised part of people's lives.

10. Eat out: Those who eat out with friends are less stressed and less depressed. A study in Germany showed that dining out formally acts as closure to the day's stressful events.

GET FITTER

1. Exercise regularly: Daily exercise increases levels of good cholesterol, lowers high blood pressure, promotes healthy blood sugar levels, improves the immune system, and works against cancer and heart disease. Try to get warm and slightly out of breath for about 30 minutes at a stretch.

2. Try pilates: Pilates is a system of about 500 controlled exercises that are said to engage the mind while conditioning the body. It is a blend of strength and flexibility training that improves posture, reduces stress and creates lean muscles without bulk.

3. Learn yoga: Yoga can boost circulation, which positively affects the respiratory and nervous systems. It can also benefit people with arthritis, osteoporosis, digestive disorders and depression.

4. Take a swim: Research at the University of Louisiana indicates that swimming may keep bones healthy. Post-menopausal women at risk of osteoarthritis are advised to do weight-bearing exercises to strengthen bones, but swimming can also have a beneficial effect.

5. Have plenty of sex: Sexual intercourse burns up about 150 calories in half an hour compared with 114 for yoga and 129 for dancing. Sex boosts circulation and counteracts stress.

6. Do t'ai chi: Some research suggests that t'ai chi ch'uan has beneficial effects on cardio-respiratory systems, muscles, joints and posture. It has also been shown to reduce the likelihood of falls by its elderly practitioners.

7. Wear a pedometer: Scientists at the University of Prince Edward Island, Canada, found pedometers increased the incentive to get fit. Over 12 weeks the resting heart rate of volunteers went down, and walkers lost inches off their waists. "It's like wearing a personal trainer on your waistband," says Dr Suzanne Henson, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

8. Take up walking: Regular, brisk walking can reduce the amount spent on medication by 18 per cent, according to scientists in Japan. They found that men and women aged over 40 who walked for up to an hour at a time were less prone to chronic diseases.

9. Keep moving: Simply walking a mile a day, or taking moderate exercise three times a week, substantially reduces the risk of heart disease, say researchers. Sedentary people have almost double the risk of developing coronary artery disease.

10. Walk the dog: This gets rid of about 240 calories an hour. Studies also suggest that dog owners suffer less stress, have lower blood pressure, and are happier.

GET ENERGETIC

1. Drink lots of water: Hydration has a big impact on energy levels. Research shows that ignoring thirst signals can lead to impaired physical performance, a need for increased effort to do physical work and difficulty concentrating.

2. Eat a varied diet: The best food for boosting energy are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, yoghurt, peanut butter, soy and lean meats, say researchers at the University of South Florida.

3. Have regular meals: People who skip meals often get tired because they experience blood-sugar swings resulting in fatigue. Eat at least three meals a day.

4. Eat iron-rich foods: Iron is essential in the reactions that produce energy from food, and, if levels are low, the body may not be able to use all the energy available. To improve iron absorption from foods such as meat and fish, eat them with foods rich in vitamin C, such as tomatoes.

5. Fill up on protein: Eating protein helps to prevent big fluctuations in blood-glucose levels after eating foods high in carbohydrate. It also blocks the action of serotonin, a chemical messenger that induces feelings of fatigue. It may also increase levels of dopamine, a chemical in the brain that contributes to alertness.

6. Snack on energy bars: Even a small energy bar may provide as many as 300 calories, mostly in the form of simple carbohydrates.

7. Get enough sleep: One of the biggest causes of low energy levels is not getting enough good sleep. Most people need seven to eight hours a night.

8. Have energy drinks: These are increasingly popular, and most contain large doses of caffeine and other legal stimulants.

9. Do aerobics: Aerobic activity trains the heart, lungs and cardiovascular system to deliver oxygen more quickly to every part of the body, which combats fatigue.

10. Take supplements: A wide range of supplements are used to boost flagging energy, including coenzyme Q10, carnitine, fish oil and calcium. But scientific evidence for their benefits is still thin on the ground.

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