8 Lessons We Learned in 2013 About Our Health

These recent studies offer clues about how to live a healthier life in 2014.

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The world of medicine is constantly advancing, giving us new information about how to live longer, healthier lives. Sometimes new studies confirm tried-and-true ideas, while other times they update the old theories. Here are eight findings that were reported in 2013:

Tom Sightings
Tom Sightings
1. Pessimists live longer than optimists. Research published last February by the American Psychological Association suggested that people who harbor a dim view of the future may actually live longer than optimists. A study of 40,000 people indicated that over a five-year period, optimists had a 9.5 percent rise in reported disabilities and a 10 percent rise in risk of death when compared to a similar group of pessimists. A more realistic view of the future may encourage people to live more carefully, prompting them to take health and safety precautions.

2. Playing video games is helpful for seniors. A study published in the scientific journal “Nature” showed playing a fast-paced video game that involves driving and recognizing signs produced long-lasting improvements in cognitive abilities for adults between ages 65 and 80. After playing the game for a month, participants not only improved their performance on the task at hand, but they also increased their ability to focus on other tasks and scored better on short-term memory tests.

3. Singing is good for you. Singing is an aerobic activity that increases oxygenation in the blood and exercises major muscle groups in the upper body. Singing with a group, such as a chorus or barbershop group, offers the extra benefit of having both an energizing and calming effect on people, possibly due to an increase in endorphins or other hormones released in the body. Furthermore, the effects seem to be cumulative over time. Best of all: You don't have to be a good singer to enjoy the benefits.

4. Tylenol can make you feel better. Canadian researchers had volunteers contemplate their own deaths by asking them to write about what happens to their bodies after they die. Those who were given Tylenol ahead of time were significantly less disturbed by the exercise than those given a placebo. However, a separate report found that excessive doses of Tylenol can cause harm to the liver, especially if mixed with alcohol. So be careful what you take to make yourself feel better.

5. Sunscreen helps you look younger. Researchers in Australia determined sunscreen can not only help protect against skin cancer, but also against wrinkles. They asked 900 volunteers to apply SPF 15 lotion to their hands, arms and face every day for four years. The result? The everyday users showed fewer signs of aging than another group of participants who used sunscreen only periodically. Sunscreen blocks ultraviolet rays from the sun that damage collagen, and it's collagen that gives skin its supple, youthful appearance.

6. Too much time indoors can hurt your eyesight. Studies found that the incidence of nearsightedness among people ages 12 to 54 has increased from 25 percent in 1970 to over 40 percent today. Rates of myopia have increased more dramatically among people living in urban areas, as opposed to people residing in rural areas who tend to spend more time outdoors. Researchers theorized that too much time spent indoors looking at books, television and computer screens – without looking farther away – is damaging to people's vision.

7. You need salt in moderation. Too much salt in the diet has long been known to increase the risk of high blood pressure. Salt can also contribute to the risk of multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes. However, ingesting too little salt can also cause problems, such as dehydration and digestive problems. Now one study showed that patients with congestive heart failure who consumed low salt diets were twice as likely to die as people who ate a more normal amount. Still, experts agree that most Americans consume too much salt, and that moderation is the key with salt, as with most dietary items.

8. Nostalgia soothes your anxiety. Conventional wisdom says focusing on the past can cause people to experience anxiety, insomnia and eating disorders. But researchers at North Dakota State University found the opposite to be true. They concluded that nostalgia can put people in a good mood and even increase self-esteem. Professor Clay Routledge says revisiting cherished life experiences boosts positive self-regard and feelings of meaning and purpose in life.

Tom Sightings is a former publishing executive who was eased into early retirement in his mid-50s. He lives in the New York area and blogs at Sightings at 60, where he covers health, finance, retirement and other concerns of baby boomers who realize that somehow they have grown up.