Cut the Guilt, Extend Your Life

Let’s get straight to it: Guilt can shorten your life. It weakens your immune system. A study compared those who had high guilt levels with those who had lower guilt levels related to pleasurable activities. They found higher levels of illness-fighting immunoglobulin A levels in those who took pleasure in activities with less guilt.

Guilt also has been shown to increase cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone that your body makes as part of its “fight-or-fight” response. It is designed to mobilize our energy stores and activating systems, which may be necessary to fight off a potential threat. However, constant exposure can increase blood pressure and your risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety disorders.

On today’s show, we talked about the benefits of indulging in some of our guilty pleasures because doing so can add years to your life. Whether it’s a “mental-health day” off from work, a long bubble bath, nap, massage, chocolate croissant or serving of tiramisu – treating yourself can bestow numerous health benefits – especially if you strip away the guilt.

Even I have to admit to some guilty pleasures of my own. Sometimes on the way home from the hospital or studio, I can’t help but stop by the bakery to pick up a piece of German chocolate cake. By buying only a piece of the cake – instead of purchasing or baking a whole cake – I control the number of calories I eat and keep myself from overindulging. (Lisa also helps by taking a few bites.)

Another guilty pleasure: Television. I usually try to catch any football, baseball or basketball game I can find on the tube. However, I use my time cheering for Harvard or for the Knicks wisely by doing some of my personal trainer Donovan Green’s No-Excuse Workouts, including his Couch Potato Workout which only takes five minutes.

On the show, I gave the nation a prescription to take the day off of work – guilt-free. I really mean it because taking time off once in awhile also has many health benefits – including a reduced risk of heart disease.

Here are some easy things you can do on your day off to stay relaxed and healthy:

  • Get a Massage: Either at a spa or by your loved one, it still feels good and it’s good for you. One study showed decreased levels of cortisol and an increase in depression-fighting serotonin levels after massage. Another study found an increase of beta-endorphin levels, which is linked with pain relief and the feelings of warmth and well-being.
  • Do Some Yoga: I do it every day. Yoga reduces stress and inflammation in those who are obese or have chronic inflammatory disorders, like rheumatoid arthritis. Studies have also shown lower levels of cortisol after 10 days of practicing yoga. And you don’t have to pay a membership to an expensive yoga studio to get started. Try my beginner’s yoga poses.
  • Get Away to Someplace Green: Especially if you spend your days in a concrete jungle! Surrounding yourself with natural beauty can actually increase immune function. In a Japanese study, 280 people undertook a popular practice called “forest bathing” (Shinrin-yoku), which merely involves a short leisurely visit to a forest. Compared to controls, these forest-goers had lower levels of cortisol, lower pulse rates, and lower blood pressure. Consider taking a trip to a state park, going for a hike, visiting a botanical garden, or simply going for a nice leisurely stroll on a very lush street in your own neighborhood.

So what are you waiting for? Find time to do things that are pleasurable just for you. And remember, you can always find ways to stay healthy while doing them.

Print my Prescription for a Day Off and see how far a day of rest and relaxation can go!