Eat more chocolate! Longevity isnt a matter of mere sacrifice

Maybe you think being healthy means following a regimented combination of deprivation, motivation and tons of will power. Like an athlete or a pro dieter, you must make sacrifices and fight food cravings every hour of every day, right?

In fact, healthy habits don't have to be that painful and can even be enjoyable. Research now shows there are plenty of "healthy" activities that are more like play than work. The following is a list of 15 things you can do in a couple of minutes to add years to your life, not to mention some real pleasure to your day:

*Eat chocolate.

Research at U.C. Davis, has found that chocolate carries high levels of chemicals known as phenolics, some of which may help lower the risk of heart disease. Phenolics prevent fatlike substances in the bloodstream from oxidizing and clogging the arteries. Dark chocolate is a better choice because it has fewer calories, less cholesterol and less saturated fat than milk chocolate.

*Have a banana

An average banana contains about 467 milligrams of potassium. Eating a diet rich in potassium helps prevent the risk of strokes. Potassium also helps regulate blood pressure and allows the heart and kidneys to function properly. (Nutritionists recommend you consume about 3,000 milligrams a day.)

Other foods that are rich in potassium include avocados, potatoes, tomatoes, spinach and citrus fruits.

*Read the comics.

Laughter is a stress reducer for the whole body. It reduces anxiety, tension and stress, and makes your immune system younger. Laughter also improves your circulation and respiration and increases your blood's oxygen level.

*Whistle while you work.

A study from Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., found that employees who listened to Muzak or easy-listening music at work reduced their stress levels and experienced an increase in immunoglobin A, the body's first line of defense against upper respiratory infection.

*Buy flowers.

Flowers raise our spirits and make us feel good. Buy fresh flowers and keep them where you can enjoy being around them. Nourishing living things also nourishes your soul and spirit.

*Get a little sun.

We need between 10 and 20 minutes of sun exposure every day. The sun helps turn certain types of food-derived cholesterols into vitamin D, which helps decrease the aging of the cardiovascular and immune systems.

The sun also helps improve our mood. Depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can be prevented or improved by exposure to sunlight. If you can't soak up the rays, get vitamin D daily through supplements.

*Have a drink.

Research has concluded that drinking alcohol in moderation could increase a person's life expectancy. According to Men's Health magazine, research done at Harvard found men who drank two to six alcoholic drinks a week had a 21 to 28 percent lower risk of death from all causes than did abstainers.

*Eat an orange.

A medium orange has about 80 milligrams of vitamin C. This important antioxidant helps keep your arteries clear of buildup from inhibiting the oxidation of fat in your blood vessels. Not only does it help reduce high blood pressure, prevent cataracts and promote healing, but vitamin C also improves lung function, slows the aging of the respiratory system and helps prevent cancer.

*Drink a cup of tea.

Studies have indicated that tea contains compounds that may prevent certain cancers, reduce blood pressure, lower blood cholesterol, regulate intestinal function and help ward off heart disease. Green tea provides more health benefits than black or oolong because some of these properties are destroyed during the fermentation process.

*Floss your teeth.

Research done at Emory University in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control indicates that people with gingivitis and periodontitis have a mortality rate that is 23 to 46 percent higher than those who don't.

*Take a deep breath.

In a recent Italian study, heart patients were given respiratory training, which increased their resting blood-oxygen levels. This enabled them to exercise longer with fewer breathing problems.

*Close your eyes.

Taking a couple of minutes out of the day to close your eyes has almost the same effect as sleep, according to James Maas, author of "Power Sleep." This simple exercise will help you focus and improve your decision-making ability.

*Pet your dog.

According to research, pet owners seem to have a better sense of psychological well-being. Studies have concluded that pet owners have lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, seem to have fewer chronic infections and fare better at handling stressful times.

*Work a crossword puzzle

By constantly challenging your mind, you can slow or stop mental aging. Research done at University of South Florida showed that people with genetic predisposition to Alzheimer's disease were able to prevent or slow the effects of the disease by constantly challenging their brains. Scientists believe mental exercise causes changes in brain tissue.

Read a book, take a class at a local university, take a cooking class, go to a museum — whatever strikes your curiosity.

*Have sex.

Research done at Duke University concluded people who have more sex often live longer. Dr. Michael F. Roizen wrote in his book "Real Age: Are You as Young as You Can Be?" that increasing the amount of sex you have actually can make your age younger.

"Emotionally, physically and mentally, remaining sexually active will help make your 'Real Age' younger, no matter what your calendar age. It decreases stress, relaxes us, enhances intimacy, and helps form the foundation of strong and supportive personal relationships."