Exercise could help your brain stay young and lower your chances of cancer. In a study involving about 900 adults, those who did little or no regular physical activity experienced cognitive decline equivalent to 10 more years of aging compared with their more active peers. Early take-up was important: Exercise didn’t appear to help people who were already showing signs of cognitive decline. Another study found that people who do the equivalent of about two and a half hours of walking a week have a lower risk for 13 different forms of cancer. “If people understand that physical activity can influence their risk for cancer,” says lead author Steven Moore, “then that might provide yet one more motivating factor to become active.”
Carbs may not be so bad after all. While it is widely assumed that a high-carb diet leads to weight gain, researchers who looked into the eating habits of more than 23,000 Italians found that those who ate more pasta actually tended to have a lower body mass index. They speculated that pasta eaters were more likely to follow the Mediterranean diet, which is heavy on fruit, vegetables, and other healthy foods. Separate research concluded that carb-rich whole grains like oats and quinoa also have significant health benefits: Adults who ate three or more daily servings had a 20 percent lower risk of dying early. “Multiple individual studies consistently revealed a reduced risk of early death among people who consumed more whole grains,” says senior author Qi Sun.
Cutting calories may improve your entire quality of life, not just your waistline. In a small study, a group of healthy, non-obese adults reduced their daily calorie intake by 12 percent for two years. Not only did they lose an average of 17 pounds, they also enjoyed improved sleep, better moods, and an enhanced sex drive. Once people “get over the hump” and start dropping pounds, says co-author Corby Martin, “their hunger levels subside a bit and they start to feel the benefits of the weight loss.”
Friends and family can be as important to your health as diet and exercise. A University of North Carolina study found that social isolation increases risk of high blood pressure more than diabetes, and that lonely people are 30 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke than those who are socially active. Friends can “buffer some of the effects of stress, and/or help with coping,” says lead author Kathleen Mullan Harris. Separate research suggested that older people tend to live longer when they count a family member other than their spouse among their closest confidants.