A New Year's toast to you and yours, and I wish you health and happiness in the months ahead. As we begin this journey into 2016, it's worth mentioning that if your drink of choice happens to contain alcohol, that's not only acceptable for adults, but a toast to good health may be in order. It seems there's a growing amount of scientific evidence telling us that moderate alcohol consumption can be considered a safe practice for many — and even potentially beneficial.
Researchers have suspected as much for a while now. One 1990 study tracked more than 275,000 men beginning in 1959, comparing those who never drank alcohol with those who consumed one to two drinks a day. The results at the end of the study revealed that the moderate drinkers had a significantly reduced mortality rate from coronary heart disease, as well as "all causes." Another analysis of that randomized control trial published this year shows alcohol intake to be associated with a small but significant decrease in blood pressure. Moderate consumption has also been associated with decreased rates of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
This is not meant to encourage consumption or to suggest that alcohol is harmless. Many people with certain diseases or disorders — and especially women who are pregnant — definitely need to avoid it.
It's essential to also note that, while the number of Americans drinking alcohol has remained largely unchanged over time, heavy drinking among Americans has sharply increased since 2005 (up 17.2 percent). Since then, binge drinking — defined as drinking five or more drinks on one occasion for men or four or more drinks on one occasion for women — has increased 8.9 percent nationally and is considered an alarming new trend, especially among women.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the negative impact of excessive drinking cost the U.S. $249 billion in 2010 and is now responsible for an average of 88,000 deaths each year.
I mention alcohol's links to health benefits merely as yet another example of how certain long-held tenants of health continue to be either falling by the wayside, or being called into question.
While it may be a good (and for some necessary) idea for people to abstain from drinking alcohol, it doesn't mean that those who might drink it are necessarily less virtuous than those who don't; that you should somehow feel inferior to those people who seem to go out of their way to tell you they've never had a drink of alcohol or coffee, or anything with caffeine, or eaten an egg or red meat, simply because you happen to do those things.
Excuse me, abstinence disciples, but coffee continues to be shown to have powerful health benefits. I'll have a second cup. And saturated fat? It's now being shown that it's not necessarily bad for weight or heart health, so I'll have some full-fat dairy and eggs, thank you; hold the highly processed "low fat" stuff. Meanwhile, red meat has been shown to not be linked to increased heart disease or type 2 diabetes as thought, and chocolate is not only tasty, it's really good for your health — all in moderation.
That's the bigger point here, really; to strive to moderate our lives and find a sense of balance; to eat better and exercise more is important. But maybe we need to start with something much simpler to pave the way to better health. And it's not a drink of alcohol. It begins with a smile, followed by a shot of laughter — because one naturally follows the other.
Forget alcohol. Humor doesn't necessarily need a lubricant, and the laughter by itself is the best tonic for what ails you. The simple act of laughing can make you healthier and happier. "A merry heart doeth like a good medicine," so says the Bible (Proverbs 17:22).
According to a report in Mother Earth News, laughter has been shown to stimulate respiration, increase the blood's oxygen content and help all body systems work more efficiently. Hearty laughter also reduces blood pressure, can trigger a sense of relaxation and give your muscles a workout.
Scientists are not sure why we smile and laugh. They know they are innate acts and may provide some evolutionary survival advantage. Such ability was suggested in a recently concluded study where researchers rated the dispositions of a group of medical students, then followed them for 25 years. By age 50, 14 percent of those rated "hostile" had died, but among those rated "easygoing," the death rate was only 2 percent.
"Humor keeps us balanced," says Allen Klein, best-selling author of "The Healing Power of Humor." "It offers a refuge from negative emotions before we become desperate. Once we can see the comedy in our chaos, we are no longer so caught up in it. Our problems become less of a burden."
Laughter is nature's holistic medicine. Babies start smiling when only a few weeks old, and typically laugh by nine weeks. At four months, healthy non-abused babies will laugh several times an hour. As we age, laughter is ever-increasingly replaced with the adult mandate to be serious.
Except now it seems that, instead of bearing down, maybe it's time to start to encourage ourselves and our children to lighten up.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: Brendan C