New Year, new you -- or that's the plan, at least. After binging like a Roman emperor over the festive season, most of us now swear off all those lovely things that made it so festive in the first place: over-eating, oceans of drink and generally lazing about like a beached whale in a crepe paper hat.
But really, who wants to subsist on a diet of brown rice and filtered water while clocking up endless kilometres on the treadmill? Well, let the hosannas ring out and sing hallelujah: you don't have to. New research shows that champagne is beneficial to health -- and it's not the only such guilty pleasure.
We've always known champagne tastes great, looks cool in your hand, makes you feel like a movie star and -- last but not least -- can get you nice and tipsy. And a recent report in the British Journal of Nutrition found that the drink contains polyphenol antioxidants, thought to reduce the effects of cell-damaging free radicals. These handy little fellas also lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke and heart problems.
Dr Jeremy Spencer of Reading University, who led the research, says a couple of glasses a day have a beneficial effect, so burrow out that bottle of Dom and get popping some good health. The researchers also found the same antioxidants in cheaper alternatives like cava and prosecco, and also in cocoa, which doesn't have quite the same sexiness as bubbly but tastes fine with some chocolate bunny rabbits.
And these aren't the only fun things we didn't realise are actually good for us. So let's kick off January by burning our puritan clothing and embracing hedonism with a purpose. That's our revised New Year mantra: party hardy and live to tell the tale. And before you dismiss this as being too good to be true, we've included weblinks to all our sources. So let's start with:
1 Red wine: Champagne's less expensive cousin might give you a rotten hangover if you consume too much of it, but everything in moderation . . .
The drink contains an antioxidant (yes, them again) called resveratrol and compounds called procyanidins which prevent heart disease. Apparently, the healthiest ones are French.
2 Coffee: Despite all the moaning from lifestyle Nazis, coffee is a truly remarkable drink. It can help decrease the risk of kidney stones, gallstones and diabetes, works as an antidepressant by raising serotonin and dopamine levels, and reduces the chance of contracting Alzheimer's and various cancers. All this and a flavoursome pick-me-up, too.
3 Marijuana: Long demonised as the gateway drug to a life of dissolution, marijuana has actually been used as a medicine for thousands of years.
Nowadays so-called 'medical marijuana' has been shown to stimulate appetite in chemotherapy patients, ameliorate feelings of sickness and nausea, help treat glaucoma and relieve pain. They don't call it 'the good weed' for nothing.
4 Beer: Ah, beer: cause of and solution to most of life's problems, to quote the great Homer J.
What you may not know is that it contains a variety of vitamins, reduces the risk of stroke and coronary heart disease, increases the amount of good cholesterol in your bloodstream, decreases blood clots and helps you sleep better. Getting up the next day, admittedly, may be a problem.
5 Red meat: Red meat gets a bad rap, but possibly the problem is that people eat too much of the rubbish stuff: cheap, fatty, industrialised. Beef from grass-fed cattle, for instance, is lower in saturated fat than that of factory-farmed animals, and has more omega-3 fatty acid and vitamin E.
6 Chocolate: Dark chocolate is -- ahem -- choc-full of antioxidants, while also encouraging your system to release endorphins and serotonin: the main reason you feel happy after eating it. And because of its rich flavour and chemical properties that stabilise your brain chemistry, it's hard to eat more than a few squares, thus keeping the pounds down.
7 Sunshine: Too much time spent sun-worshipping will leave you looking like a leather mask that's been accidentally fired in an oven for three weeks. But just the right amount helps your body generate vital vitamin D, which in turn helps you absorb calcium. And we all know how useful that is.
8 Daydreaming: Everyone assumes that letting your mind drift off for a while is wasteful and unproductive. Au contraire: it's absolutely necessary for creative endeavour.
Allow me to quote the great American filmmaker Richard Linklater: "Daydreaming is a productive activity. Where do you get your ideas from?
If you're working all day, that kind of kills a lot. It's about visualising your ideal world."
9 Videogames: First up, obviously, there's the Nintendo Wii, which involves physical exercise. But if you're the more traditional gamer, i.e. a slob on the couch, you can still reap the benefits.
A tonne of brain-training games help keep you mentally sharp. And old-school shoot-'em-ups are said to boost eye/hand co-ordination, reflexes and metabolism.
They'll also save your life should giant killer alien spiders ever invade.
10 Carbohydrates: Who was that guy who devised a diet that reduced carbs to the bare minimum? And didn't he suffer a heart attack? Carbohydrates have been blamed for everything from weight gain to bad skin, but provide vital energy for the body and are good sources of vitamins and minerals.
11 Fat: Labouring under an even worse reputation is fat, but we need it for many reasons: nutrients, fatty acids which protect your heart and can ward off depression, maintaining healthy skin and hair, insulating your organs against shock, fighting off foreign invaders, and crucially, promoting healthy cell function.
12 Chewing gum: Sure, it's a royal pain in the backside -- literally -- when you sit on it, but chewing gum isn't all bad. According to one survey of dentists, it can prevent cavities in teeth by reducing bad bacteria and triggering saliva production.
13 Swearing: Well, f**k me: turns out swearing is good for us after all.
Some scientists believe it could have allowed our primitive ancestors to fight off predators by increasing aggression and consequently raising the pain threshold.
And a good bout of shouting and swearing like a marine on shore-leave reduces stress.
14 Ice-cream: Because it's made from milk, ice-cream contains lots of nutrients including calcium, iodine, potassium and various vitamins, and studies show a link with reduced rates of hypertension, heart disease and cancer. Besides, it tastes delicious.
15 Loud music: Next time your parents tell you "Turn down that racket!" you can retort: "Actually, loud music stimulates part of the inner ear which prompts the brain into releasing 'feel-good' hormones. They make us feel happy, alert and relaxed. So maybe you should try some bone-rattling rock. Yeah!!"
Then adopt the classic air guitar pose and riff away to your heart's content.
16 Napping: Long revered by all civilised people as the perfect way to spend an afternoon, napping will help you live longer by allowing the brain and body to rest: studies have shown that we can go into deep sleep within half-an-hour. It also reduces stress.
17 Fizzy drinks: My beloved colas and oranges are redeemed at last: research shows that two cans a day can improve your memory by 20pc and help students prepare for exams.
18 Being untidy: Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but an unmade bed can deter dust mites, which is heavenly news for asthma sufferers. The little blighters like the warmth and moisture under the sheets, you see.
Furthermore, reducing your use of household cleaning chemicals will also reduce the risk of your child developing asthma.
19 Laziness: I always suspected it, now I know it: being busy, getting up early and going to the gym ain't all they're cracked up to be. Health experts recommend chilling out instead of playing squash, and if you're older, take it even handier: people who continue long-distance running into their fifties are wasting energy that should be used for cell renewal and fighting disease.
http://tinyurl.com/yhj24js (this is a whole book in praise of laziness -- my Bible!)
20 Smoking cigarettes: You're thinking, how could those wicked things possibly be of any benefit to anyone?
Sorry to disappoint all you health f-ASH-ists, but studies show that enjoying a fag reduces the risk of both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Smmmmokin'!