Secret of a long life: eat, drink and be merry

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The Independent Online
Be a couch potato for the evening, indulge in a bar of chocolate every now and again, fear not that extra glass of wine. Scientists have discovered that a little of what you fancy really does do you good.

The health conscious, work-out world of the 1990s could in fact be doing more damage to people because of the guilt it instills in those who seek a modicum of physical pleasure through eating, drinking or just lolling about.

Research into the "pleasure pathways" of the brain has found that happy people are healthier and live longer, even if they do not always follow the advice of the diet planners and fitness freaks.

Professor David Warburton, director of the Human Psychopharmacology Group at Reading University, said depriving people of simple pleasures by making them feel guilty helps to create the psychological climate in which depression can flourish.

Professor Warburton said research into anti-anxiety drugs and anti-depressants has shown that a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, a cigarette, some sugar or a few pieces of chocolate make people calmer, more relaxed and generally happier.

"This is not surprising because these products have a mild pharmacological action on the pleasure pathways in the brain.

"It is known that the same pathways are common for all pleasures from food to music, because pleasure in all activities is lost by people with depression."

Depressed people, he says, are more likely to become ill from disorders ranging from infections to heart disease and cancer, "while medical evidence shows that happier people live longer". Even physical exercise may not necessarily be a good thing if people do not find it pleasurable, he said. "If you don't enjoy your jogging, it's not going to be good for you."

Professor Warburton said that the largest survey of office workers in the world - covering 16 countries and more than 5,000 employees - showed that a sizeable minority are under such stress they do not want to do their job.

Making the workplace more enjoyable by encouraging coffee breaks and chatting rather than frowning on such "time-wasting" activities will not only make employees happier, but it will also increase productivity, Professor Warburton said.

"People should not be made to feel guilty and anxious, if their pleasures are enjoyed in moderation and are not harming others. Such negative emotions are bad for health."