Pop quiz: Which music is best for soothing your blood pressure? Apologies, Usher fans — the answer is pretty much anything you can breathe along to very, very slowly.
When people inhaled and exhaled rhythmically while listening to slow, soothing music for 30 minutes a day, their systolic blood pressure (the top number in a BP reading) fell four points after six months. That may not sound like much to you, but medically it's enough to make both your insurance company and your significant other crack a smile. Breathing and listening worked better than just listening, or quietly reading a good book.
Steady breathing may work its magic by soothing parts of the nervous system that keep blood vessels flexible. Other studies have found that inhaling and exhaling to instructions plus music can tame high blood pressure, too — but chillin' with your favorite Harry Connick Jr., Norah Jones or Mozart tracks sounds like way more fun to us.
The trick to slow-mo breathing? After cueing up your selection, sit in a comfortable chair or stretch out on your back. Then try to breathe in time to the music at a pace of only four to six deep breaths a minute. This may take a little practice. (If you feel lightheaded, breathe normally for a while.) As you inhale slowly, your belly button should begin moving away from your spine as your diaphragm draws air in. As you exhale slowly, your chest and belly will fall, forcing the air out. Repeat. Feel the calm.
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Coconut water craze
Have you tried coconut water? We have, and let's just say we're not overwhelmed. Still, we're betting that coconut water makes the top-10 list of food trends this year. Sales have topped $60 million (stores can't keep it on the shelves), and PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and even Madonna have invested in it.
We think coconut water belongs on the "everything old is new again" list. People who live where coconut palms grow have sipped the clear liquid in young coconuts for eons. Now that entrepreneurs have marketed it in the United States, it's being pitched as "Mother Nature's sports drink," a healthy way to rehydrate after exercise.
True, coconut water scores higher than a sugary sports drink: Cup for cup, it has half the sugar (6 grams instead of 13) and fewer calories (46 versus 63). Plus coconut water boasts way more potassium (600 mg vs. 37). But if you're watching salt, its 250 mg of sodium make it iffy.
It's also iffy if you're watching your wallet — $3 a bottle is no bargain. Does your body need it after a workout? If you're taking a spinning or hot yoga class that lasts more than an hour and leaves you drenched, maybe. Otherwise, stick with our top drink: water. It keeps you hydrated, has no calories and costs nothing.
Lower your odds of losing it
A springy stride, a veggie-packed plate and a spot of tea. Put 'em together and you've got a shot at lowering your odds for brain-fogging dementia. We love finding new payoffs from great habits like this: Do something great for your body and your brain gets better, too. New research recently has turned up three of these, all easy.
The first one's a no-brainer: Moderate to vigorous physical activity translates into a 45 percent lower risk for dementia compared with light activity. So pick up your walking pace with high-intensity intervals for one minute of every 10 if your doc says you can, or add another activity to your day — like washing and waxing your car with intensity.
Secondly, the same good eating that tames high blood pressure slows the progression of fuzzy thinking. We're talking about the DASH diet, the simple-genius plan that brings hypertension down. It's eating loads of fruits and veggies, plus fat-free dairy and lean protein, but not much salt, sweets or red meat. The closer you get to this menu, the more brain capacity you keep as the candles on your birthday cake add up.
Finally, wet your whistle like a Brit: Regular tea drinkers cope with stress better and hold on to more brain power, slowing age-related declines by up to 37 percent. Coffee helps, too. There's something good for your brain in those tiny little leaves and beans.
Six reasons we're avocado fans
Avocados have more fans than Lady Gaga but, unlike that flamboyant rock star, this fruit's claim to fame is subtlety. The avocado's mild, creamy taste is famous for blending famously with everything: fruits, veggies, salsa, soups. Some people even sip cold orange-avocado smoothies. We put the buttery bits in everything from pasta to sandwiches (it replaces mayo).
And don't even get us started on its health virtues. Here are just six reasons why we love avocados — mashed, blended, diced or sliced:
1. They're full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, which increases your healthy HDL cholesterol and lowers your triglycerides. Only olives have more.
2. Their good fats are full of omega-3s, which are world-class do-gooders when it comes to your arteries, brain, skin, sex life and more.
3. They have more potassium than bananas, which helps keep your blood pressure in check, and a ton of magnesium, too, which every cell in your body needs to work well.
4. They make good foods taste even better and, like a great teammate, make them better for you. Add, say, a half cup sliced avocado to your spinach salad, and your body will absorb five times more lutein.
5. They contain compounds that may slow the growth (or even kill off) some precancerous and malignant cells.
6. They turn up your levels of leptin, the feel-full hormone, which turns down your appetite, so that bowl of guacamole may not disappear.