1. Nature walks can make you healthier and happier by driving out obsessive, negative thoughts. A Stanford University study found that strolling in a natural setting decreases activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, a brain region particularly active during rumination. "It was pretty striking that a 90-minute walk had this much of an impact," says author Gregory Bratman. For people with a tendency to brood, interrupting an endless stream of negative thoughts reduces the risk for depression and other mental illnesses. Green spaces may also make kids smarter. A separate study of roughly 2,600 fourth-graders in Barcelona found that those with greater exposure to nature were more attentive and experienced a 5 percent increase in working memory.
2. Awe-inspiring experiences can help you live longer. Gazing out over the Grand Canyon or beholding an artistic masterpiece can trigger positive emotions with immune-boosting, anti-inflammatory effects that help prevent heart disease and depression, among other chronic health issues. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found that feelings of awe and wonder are associated with lower levels of cytokines, pro-inflammatory proteins that can stress the immune system. While negative emotions are "reliably associated with poorer health," the study's authors note, "only recently has research begun to acknowledge the important role of positive emotions."
3. A glass of wine each day could improve heart health and blood sugar control among people with type 2 diabetes. A study in Israel suggested that if you suffer from the condition and incorporate a moderate amount of red wine into a heart-healthy diet, it may boost "good" cholesterol levels by 10 percent. Red varietals are also rich in beneficial compounds that are linked to fewer symptoms of metabolic syndrome, a group of factors that raise the risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. What's more, a daily glass of red or white wine may improve the metabolism of type 2 diabetics, who absorb alcohol more slowly than others. Those patients "who drink wine in moderation can continue to do so," says author Meir Stampfer, "and with the knowledge that it is safe and likely beneficial."
4. Meditation may help people stay mentally sharp. Brain bulk peaks in the early 20s and gradually declines over time, as the brain loses weight and volume. But brain scans taken in a UCLA study revealed that years of meditation are associated with smaller reductions in gray matter throughout the brain. "What we expected was to see this in just a few small regions...but what we saw was almost the entire brain. That was a big surprise," says co-author Florian Kuth. By preserving brain tissue involved in memory, decision-making, and sensory perception, the study suggests, meditation could reduce the risk for age-related cognitive decline.
5. Olive oil could dramatically reduce a woman's chances of developing breast cancer. Researchers found that when women over 60 added a generous dose of extra-virgin olive oil to a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, and whole grains, it cut their risk for the disease by 68 percent. Olive oil contains powerful antioxidants,called polyphenols, study authors explain, and deriving at least 15 percent of total calories from it "seems to be instrumental" in staving off breast cancer.
6. Daily aspirin may help prevent colon cancer. People in their 50s with at least a 10 percent risk of developing cardiovascular disease over the next decade should take a low dose of aspirin to protect against heart attacks and colorectal cancer, a government task force recommends. Aspirin therapy isn't recommended for everyone, because regular use of the drug increases the risk for internal bleeding, says task force member Douglas Owens, but "for people in these specific groups, the benefits outweigh the potential harms."
7. Uninterrupted sleep may help ward off Alzheimer's disease. A study involving some 2,500 older people showed that, on average, subjects who slept fitfully or suffered from sleep apnea developed mild cognitive impairment about 10 years earlier than sound sleepers. Researchers also found a lack of deep sleep may fuel the toxic accumulation of a sticky protein, called amyloid beta, in the brain — a hallmark of the degenerative, memory-robbing disease. "Sleep," says author Bryce Mander, "appears to be a missing piece in the Alzheimer's puzzle."