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6 Ways to Use ‘Me Time’ to Get Healthier

Unwinding with these little indulgences boosts your wellness — no guilt required!

1. Slashes Alzheimer’s risk: A good read

Tempted to set aside your to-do list to curl up with a great book instead? Do it! Researchers at the University of Louisville in Kentucky say taking time every day to read — whether a breezy romance, a brain-teasing mystery, or an inspirational tale — slows cognitive decline by 32 percent, plus cuts your risk of Alzheimer’s disease by a whopping 60 percent. The reason? Reading kick-starts your production of a compound (nerve growth factor) that fuels the growth of healthy new brain cells.

2. Speeds slimming: Catnaps

Sleeping in on weekends (or catching quick catnaps) may not feel like the best use of your precious time — but a study in the journal PLOS One suggests you could shed 18 pounds in the next 12 months just by sneaking in a couple of luxurious snoozes each week. Study authors explain that when you’re rested, your muscles burn more fat for fuel, insulin sensitivity and blood-sugar control improve by 41 percent, and carb cravings are cut in half.

3. Wards off colds and flu: These treats

Wine and dark chocolate may feel like guilty pleasures, but studies prove indulging daily can cut your risk of colds and flu by 58 percent in just 72 hours. Wine’s alcohol and phenolics fight off invading germs by boosting immune defenses, and dark chocolate’s cocoa tamps down immunity-weakening inflammation. UCLA researchers say 4 oz. of wine (red or white) and 2 oz. of dark chocolate do the trick — and you don’t have to enjoy them together to get the benefit.

4. Nixes pain: Mindless fun

Turns out a little procrastination (like putting off to-do’s to check Instagram or read funny emails) revs your brain’s production of GABA — a hormone that eases even stubborn aches and pains in as little as 10 minutes, say German researchers. And spending 30 minutes daily ignoring your chore list to truly relax and unwind will boost GABA enough to lower your risk of headaches and back pain by 50 percent in two weeks.

5. Banishes blues: Coffee breaks

Just the smell of freshly brewed coffee can put a smile on your face — and if you sip three cups daily, you’ll cut your risk of feeling down in the dumps. That’s the word from Harvard University researchers, who say coffee’s unique mix of caffeine and plant acids rev your brain’s production of two powerful mood-elevating hormones, serotonin and dopamine. A nifty perk: Coffee is brimming with immunity-boosting phenolics — plant compounds that cut your risk of skin, colon, and endometrial cancers by 30 percent.

6. Calms stress: Feel-good TV

Lounging on the sofa to watch your favorite sitcom or romantic comedy — again! — kick-starts a 60 percent plunge in stress hormones (like cortisol and adrenaline) in 30 minutes. Treat yourself to three TV breaks weekly and you’ll cut your risk of chronic stress and anxiety in half, say University at Buffalo researchers. Shawn Talbott, PhD, author of The Cortisol Connection ($20.63, Amazon), adds that for best results, avoid violence and stress and opt for comedies, romances, or other feel-good shows.

This article originally appeared in our print magazine.

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