50 Science-Backed Health Facts That Will Blow Your Mind
It's time to parse through the fads and the fallacies.
With the sheer number of fad diets and sketchy health gurus out there, it can be hard to trust the information you hear about your physical and mental well-being. But by turning to hard research and data, you can clarify what’s legitimate and what’s nonsense. And in the process, you might just uncover some truly astonishing health facts. Here are 50 tidbits about your body, all of which are backed by science, that will blow your mind.
Chewing gum sharpens your focus.
Picture a baseball player in the outfield. He’s standing there, eyes wide, mitt at the ready. He’s also probably chewing. Whether it’s tobacco, sunflower seeds, or gum, there’s a reason baseball players chew. It’s to stay alert—and it’s a tactic you can use in your everyday life.
One study published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience found that, when chewing gum, people become both more alert and better at paying attention. That’s because the act of chewing arouses the brain, which associates chewing with nutrients, expects food, and primes itself to be at maximum levels of alertness.
Coffee can ward off depression.
Good news, coffee lovers: Caffeine might actually be helping you ward off depression. A 2016 meta-study on the relationship between coffee and depression found that each cup of caffeinated coffee consumed per day decreases someone’s chances of becoming depressed by eight percent. One possible explanation for this, according to Psychology Today, is that coffee soothes inflammation in the brain that may trigger depression. Another is that caffeine makes dopamine more effective.
Eating eggs improves your reflexes.
Eggs contain an amino acid called tyrosine, which the body synthesizes into norepinephrine and dopamine, compounds that increase energy, alertness, and improve mood. One study from the Netherlands published in the Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience found that the effect of tyrosine on our attention span is so great that it could replace more addictive “study drugs,” like Ritalin.
Writing things down makes you more likely to remember them.
You may be able to jot something down faster on your phone or computer, but you are less likely to remember the things you type than things you’ve hand-written, according to a 2014 study published in Psychological Science.
Researchers found that, when writing notes in class, students using a pen and paper were forced to interpret lectures and find shorter ways to note them down, meaning they were processing the information. Laptop notetakers, however, use the speed afforded by the keyboard to write down verbatim notes, which doesn’t require interpretation. As a result, they were less like to absorb the content.
More than half of your bones are in your hands and feet.
There are 206 bones in the human body. With 27 bones in each hand and 26 bones in each foot, these skeletal structures are the most complex, amounting to 106 bones total between all four limbs.
Procrastination and impulsivity are inherited behaviors.
If you find yourself constantly putting off your responsibilities, you can thank your parents. Yep, procrastination may seem like a developed trait, but it turns out that it’s actually inherited.
A 2014 study published in the journal Psychological Science found that the same genes that can lead to procrastination also cause impulsivity, which makes sense when you think of how impulsive behavior is the driving force behind procrastination. (“I could do that, but right this very minute, I feel like doing something else.”)
Eating tomatoes can prevent sunburn.
Eating an obscene amount of tomatoes does not mean you don’t need to wear sunscreen. But tomatoes do contain an extraordinary antioxidant called lycopene, which acts as a natural defense against UV rays.
In the Western world, 85 percent of lycopene consumed comes from tomatoes, according to the BBC. So tomatoes do increase your skin’s natural UV defenses by 30 percent. And on top of that a 2017 study published in Scientific Reports found that “tomato consumption can modulate risk for keratinocyte carcinomas,” a type of skin cancer. Lycopene can also be found in watermelon, red bell peppers, and grapefruit, to name a few.
Massaging your scars will help them fade.
Most drugstores have over-the-counter cremes and oils that are made to fade scars, but there’s a faster way that doesn’t cost anything. Simply massaging or rubbing scarred areas a couple times a day can prevent excess collagen buildup, which is what makes scars thick and ropy. Massing will help smooth out the collagen. Brett Sears, PT, Cert. MDT suggests using “one or two fingers to massage your scar in a direction that is perpendicular to the line of the scar. This technique helps to remodel the scar and ensures that the collagen fibers of the scar are aligned properly.”
Stretching the skin around area can also help improve your skin’s elasticity in the scarred region. “This can help elongate the injured tissues and improve their overall mobility,” according to Sears.
Consuming hot liquids can cool you down.
It may sound counterintuitive, but drinking hot tea or coffee can actually help cool you down on a hot day. You may not feel it at first sip, because, naturally, the heat from the hot liquids will raise your body temperature. But once you start sweating you’ll begin to feel the effects. That’s because of increased perspiration, according to a 2012 study from the University of Ottawa. As your sweat evaporates, you’ll wind up feeling cooler than you were at the start.
“What we found is that when you ingest a hot drink, you actually have a disproportionate increase in the amount that you sweat,” one of the study’s co-authors, Ollie Jay, told Smithsonian Magazine. “Yes, the hot drink is hotter than your body temperature, so you are adding heat to the body, but the amount that you increase your sweating by—if that can all evaporate—more than compensates for the the added heat to the body from the fluid.”
Red meat makes body odor worse.
Carnivores, beware. A 2006 study published in the journal Chemical Senses on how diet affects body odor found that consuming meat can have a huge effect on the “attractiveness” of our body odor.
Though diet is not the only factor that affects natural body odor, those who refrain from eating red meat were generally judged as smelling more pleasant, less intense, and more attractive overall.
The scent of apples can prevent claustrophobia.
An apple a day can keep your claustrophobia away. According to Dr. Alan Hirsch of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Center in Chicago, smelling a green apple can change your perception of space, making spaces feel larger than they really are. The 1995 study also found that cucumbers have a similar effect and that the smell of barbecue smoke has an opposite effect.
Cold temperatures help you fall asleep.
The cold weather may usher in the flu, but there are ways in which cold temperatures are actually good for your health. For example, cool temperatures help you sleep, leaving you feeling more rested and less prone to stress.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, “your body temperature decreases to initiate sleep.” So if you keep your room cooler, you’re giving your body a jump start.
Exercise wakes you up.
Exercise does more than keeps your body in shape—it also boosts energy and alertness due to the endorphins your brain releases during exercise. Not only do endorphins boost performance, but they also sharpen focus.
Next time you’re having trouble focusing on a project, go for a brisk walk around the block—or up and down the stairs. That might be just what you need to pick you up if you’re nodding off at work.
Owning a dog can lower your risk of heart disease.
High levels of stress over a lifetime are a leading cause of heart disease later in life. And you know what helps decrease stress? Having a dog! According to Harvard Medical School, dog owners have lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease. So, if your life is impacted by stress, you might want to consider adopting a canine friend soon.
Basking in the morning sun helps with weight loss.
Spending your mornings in the sun could be the first step to your weight loss plan. A 2014 study from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine found that exposure to morning sunlight has a positive effect on body mass index (BMI). Just 20 to 30 minutes of natural light—even on a not-so-sunny day—is enough to impact BMI. That’s because without sufficient light, the body may have trouble regulating metabolism, which can eventually cause of weight gain.
Your weight fluctuates throughout the day.
You may have heard that, if you’re trying to track your weight loss, it’s best to weigh yourself in the morning. That’s because your weight fluctuates throughout the day, and can vary from two to four pounds at any given time, according to U.S. News and World Report. This is all due to water distribution in the body. Exercising, eating, drinking, and going to the bathroom all affect the body’s water levels and, therefore, weight.
Ginger can help reduce cramps.
Ginger has been used as a remedy for ages, dating back an estimated 5,000 years when people from China and India used ginger root to treat indigestion. Because it naturally relieves inflammation, ginger can relieve bloating and gas pains. According to 2015 research published in the journal Pain Medicine, ginger can also help treat menstrual cramps.
It’s better to exercise after eating.
It’s long been said that you should exercise on an empty stomach, because your body will not be so tired from digesting, and therefore is able to send more oxygen to your muscles, ultimately promoting fat loss.
However, your body needs the energy you get from food to perform, especially when it comes to intense exercise (and triply so when it comes to heavy lifting). According to 2018 research from the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports found that 54 percent of studies reported better performance when food was consumed before exercise.
Green tea improves your memory.
Green tea is kind of like a magic potion. It can help battle anxiety, promote weight loss, stop the growth of cancer cells, and even enhance your memory. In a 2014 study, researchers at the University of Basel found that consuming green tea activates a link between the frontal and parietal lobes of the brain, which heightens our ability to remember sensory information and language.
You can tell if someone has high cholesterol based on their skin.
We all know high cholesterol can lead to life-threatening conditions like heart attack and heart disease. But you might not have known that high cholesterol can manifest itself on your skin. Uneven yellow patches called xanthelasma can appear on the eyelid and around the eyes as a result of overproduction of cholesterol, the waxy yellow substance that fills these lesions.
An antihistamine before bed can prevent under-eye circles.
Generally, dark circles under your eyes can be avoided if you eat well, sleep well, and drink a lot of water. But many people don’t realize that another very common cause of under-eye bags is allergies, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Seasonal irritants—along with bedroom irritants, like dust—may be the root of the problem, so you should try taking an antihistamine before bed. And because anti-allergy medication often causes drowsiness, you’ll nod off to sleep faster as a bonus.
Saying “thank you” measurably improves your mood.
According to a 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, expressing gratitude may be the key to happiness. Researchers found that, in saying “thank you,” you recognize the goodness in your life, which is crucial in overcoming depression. In fact, in their follow-up book on the study, the researchers found that “regular grateful thinking can increase happiness by as much as 25 percent.”
Sounds like it’s time to start writing thank you notes, thanking friends, maintaining a gratitude journal, and—above all—counting your blessings.
The smell of sage can mitigate stress and anxiety.
Aromatherapy is one of the oldest forms of medicine; it’s been practiced for centuries. For example, lavender is known to soothe the mind and is regularly used to promote good sleep.
But sage is just as useful. In 2016, researchers from the University of Montana found that sage can influence neurotransmitters in the brain and activate dopamine pathways, which mitigate feelings of stress and anxiety.
Physically active pregnant women have smarter babies.
Intelligence is somewhat hereditary, but, if you want to better your chances of having an intelligent child, staying fit and active might help. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins and cortisol, two chemicals that encourage brain growth in developing fetuses. Increased blood flow also helps with the development and strength of your baby. A 2013 study out of the University of Montreal found that exercising just 20 minutes a day, three times a week, is enough to show higher brain activity in newborns.
Reading lowers stress.
Just six minutes of pleasure reading a day can reduce stress levels by 68 percent, according to a 2009 study from the University of Sussex.
Getting lost in an imaginary world can remove you from whatever stressors you have in life more efficiently than listening to music, drinking tea, going for a walk, or playing video games can, the researchers found.
Reading from paper promotes better comprehension than reading on a screen.
That said, if you’re going to read, put down your Kindle or phone and pick up an actual book.
A 2016 study from Dartmouth College followed students using screen reading to learn versus those who used paper reading to learn. The researchers found that abstract concepts were easier to understand when read on paper. Students using only screens to learn had a much harder time grasping complex ideas.
Optimism promotes longevity.
According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, having a positive outlook on life can lead to a longer lifespan. Optimistic people tend to practice more healthy behaviors, such as eating well, exercising more often, and getting better sleep. These practices, in turn, make them less likely to develop cancer, heart disease, or respiratory disease, all of which are leading causes of death in Americans.
“The results showed that the most optimistic women—those in the top 25 percent—had a nearly 30 percent lower risk of dying from any of the diseases analyzed in the study when compared to the least optimistic participants in the lowest 25 percent,” according to the study via CBS News.
Anxiety can make bad smells even worse.
Anxiety is a monster that can make simple tasks harder. But get this: it affects your perception of smell, as well.
A 2013 neuroscientific study examined the effect of certain emotions on smell by exposing subjects to anxiety-inducing images. Researchers found that after being exposed to images of car accidents, death, and other horrible things, scents that had otherwise been considered neutral became unpleasant and smells that were already considered bad were much worse.
Sitting at a Desk Can Increase Your Risk of Death
Fact: Even exercise won’t reduce the risk of death associated with a sedentary lifestyle when you’re spending upwards of 10 to 12 hours sitting per day.
According to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that prolonged standing “for long bouts” was linked to an early death. To help improve your life expectancy, experts recommend taking a movement break every 30 minutes.
Exercise in Youth Slows Bone Deterioration in Old Age
Exercising is crucial to healthy body function at all ages, but is especially important for development during youth. In fact, science has found that being active as a child and young adult can help you stay stronger later in life.
As children’s bones are developing, regular exercise can fortify bones, making them stronger, thicker, and ultimately more durable and ready to face the wear-and-tear that comes with age. Because osteoporosis and the loss of bone mass occurs to everyone when they reach a mature age, a history of exercise can ensure that you stay stronger for longer.
Bananas Can Boost Your Mood
Next time you’re feeling sad and reach for the French fries as a way to eat your feelings, stop, and try reaching for a banana instead. Not only are bananas a healthy snack, but they’re also a happy snack, and contain 50 times as much dopamine as potatoes.
Ripe bananas with brown spots on the peel have even higher concentrations of dopamine, which is a natural pleasure producer and can help you out of a depression rut.
Drinking Caffeine Helps Your Headaches Go Away
There are a lot of theories about caffeine and headaches. Does caffeine cause headaches or cure them? Well, the answer is both.
Because caffeine constricts blood flow in the brain, it can help alleviate the pain of a headache. (You might also notice caffeine as an active ingredient in medications against headaches and migraines. This is because of the vasoconstrictive properties of caffeine, previously mentioned, and also because it helps medications act more quickly.)
As for the idea that caffeine causes headaches, this is almost true—but it’s technically withdrawal from caffeine that causes headaches in people who regularly consume caffeine.
Urinating in a Pool Is Dangerous for Your Heart
Everyone has urinated in a pool before. (Don’t lie.)
Though definitely gross, it may have seemed harmless enough. After all, urine is sterile, right? As is chlorine.
But peeing in the pool is a terrible idea—and it’s precisely because urine and chlorine create highly dangerous chemicals when combined. In fact, that pool smell is actually the smell of one of those chemicals: cyanogen chloride, which is officially classified as a chemical warfare agent and can damage your heart and lungs. Other byproducts called nitrosamines can even cause cancer!
Oatmeal Helps Fight Depression
People experiencing depression and insomnia (or both, as they’re often linked) are experiencing a lack of serotonin, the mood-regulating hormone, which is synthesized from the amino acid called tryptophan, which you might recognize as the chemical in turkey that makes you sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner, but it also plays an essential role in our mental health.
Eating foods high in tryptophan like oatmeal, prunes, and, of course, turkey, can help regulate mood and sleep. And for more ways to eat your feelings away, Science Says This Diet Can Fight Off Depression.
Eating Chocolate Makes Your Skin Glow
Chocolate needn’t be an indulgence. Think of it as a skin treatment instead!
Dark chocolate—classified as any bar with at least 70 percent cocoa—has many beauty benefits, including the ability to shield your skin against sun damage and prevent wrinkles. Antioxidants in dark chocolate protect the collagen in your skin, keeping your skin supple and glowing for longer, and even encourage the body to replace lost moisture in the skin.
ATMs and Public Toilets Are Equally as Filthy
We all cringe at the thought of what’s happened in public toilets before us. We’ve accepted them as dirty places. When we think of ATMs, on the other hand, there’s really only one thing on the mind: money.
As it turns out, we should be just as wary when going to going to withdraw cash. Researchers in England found that swabs taken from public toilet seats had the same levels of bacteria as those taken from the keypads of ATMs. It’s another reason to try and avoid that $2 fee!
Stress Heightens Allergies
Stress and allergies have a bad relationship. Not only do allergies increase stress levels, but also stress can make allergies worse. This is because stress has a twofold effect on the body. The first is psychological. When you’re stressed, things just seem worse than they actually are—allergies included. The second is physical: by ramping up the body’s defense responses, stress exhausts them to the degree that core bodily functions, like the ability to fight off allergens, lose efficacy.
Men Are More Forgetful Than Women
Though researchers still don’t know why this is true, plenty of studies dedicated to comparing the memory abilities of men and women consistently show it to be true. (So you should cut a guy some slack if he forgets a birthday or anniversary—hey, it’s really not his fault!)
According to one hypothesis, men are more at risk for heart disease and high blood pressure, which can both damage neurotransmitters. Still, that doesn’t fully explain why young men are just as forgetful as older men.
People Who Eat Chocolate On a Near-Daily Basis are Thinner Than Those Who Don’t
Chocolate lovers, rejoice! As if treating your skin wasn’t enough of an excuse to eat chocolate daily, an obesity study out of UC San Diego found that people who consumed chocolate more often tended to be thinner. The results were consistent, regardless of quantity and even type of chocolate. Those who ate any kind of chocolate at least five times a week are statistically thinner than the rest. Whoo hoo!
Taking Pictures Messes With Your Memory
The next time you’re on vacation, put down the camera. Cherish the moment. Otherwise, you’re likely to forget it.
One 2018 study tested the effects of photo-taking on memory by asking students to remember a series of 50 paintings in three situations: with no camera, with a camera, and with a Snapchat-like app where photos disappear. Researchers found that those who took pictures always had a harder time remembering photos, with those who used the temporary photo app performing worst.
Bananas Can Minimize Bloating
Bloating is terrible. It comes on suddenly and can make tight clothes and certain positions a total pain. Thankfully, there’s a simple solution—one that’s healthier and more pleasant than guzzling some chalky pink beverage.
Eating a banana can help reduce bloating quickly, thanks to high potassium content. Potassium helps regulate water and sodium levels in the body to ease digestion. Bananas are also high in fiber, a nutrient that speeds up the digestive process.
Spending Time in Nature Makes You Happier
It only makes sense that humans, whose species evolved in nature, would feel more at ease when connecting to it. In fact, spending time in nature—whether that means hiking through the forest or simply taking a walk in the park—has been proven to make people happier.
In a study that examined the effect of “nature relatedness” on happiness, researchers found that those who rated their lives to be more connected with nature had better overall quality of life than those who didn’t, especially concerning mental health.
Eating Too Much Sugar Makes PMS Worse
Next time period cravings kick in, fight them off. Ice cream, candy, all kinds of sugary treats are actually bound to make your PMS even worse. PMS symptoms are caused by fluctuations in hormone levels, which in turn, are affected by diet.
Consuming large amounts of refined sugars spikes the body’s insulin production, which in turn spikes the production of reproductive hormones estrogen and testosterone, making menstrual pains more severe. Fluctuating insulin levels also stresses out the body and leads to extra cortisol production, a hormone that is responsible for excess bloating.
Losing Sleep Can Make You Gain Weight
Good sleep is crucial to good health. Irregular sleep, insomnia, and regular tossing and turning can all lead to negative consequences on your health. Because sleep regulates metabolism, one of those consequences is weight gain. Researchers from Uppsala University found that the epigenetic tissues (those which are found directly under the surface of the skin) of people with sleep deprivation were altered, leading to an increase in body fat.
Laughing is Good for Your Heart Health
Next time you watch a funny movie, feel free to pass it off as exercise. Research shows that laughing can increase blood flow by up to 20 percent, leading to healthy blood flow and, consequently, healthy tissues.
When you laugh, the outer lining of your blood vessels, called the endothelium, expands and contracts, pumping blood through your body at a faster rate. Higher blood flow is like a workout for the heart, improving heart health and strengthening blood vessels.
Shopping in Heels Will Help You Spend Less
No, it’s not because of the obvious discomfort. Rather, Brigham Young researchers found that people shopping with heels on had a heightened sense of balance and thereby made better choices when it comes to spending.
With balance on the brain, shoppers were more likely to avoid extreme purchases, products at extremely high and low prices, and opt instead for average-priced products. This is called the equilibrium effect (and holds true for those who shop immediately following a yoga class as well). And if you really want to save some money, check out these 27 Online Shopping Secrets So Good You’ll Want to Keep Them to Yourself.
Learning a New Language or Instrument Increases Brain Function
There are tons of reasons for learning a new language: business, travel, or the simple fact that it’s fun and challenging. Now you can add “brain improvement” to the list.
Much research has been conducted to examine the effects of learning a new language on the brain, and it’s consistently been proven that—no matter what age you are—learning a new language increases brain function and improves memory, concentration, alertness, and even intelligence.
Big Eyes Tend to Be More Nearsighted
Big eyes may be considered beautiful by some, but they’re also prone to nearsightedness. Also known as myopia, this condition that causes distant objects to look blurry is caused by light not properly reaching the retina. If your eyeball grows too long, light is focused too soon before it hits the retina—and so when it does hit the retina, the image is blurry.
Good Relationships Can Increase Your Lifespan
Having close relationships—a supportive partner, a group of close friends, or a number of attentive family members—has a strong impact on mental health, including higher self-esteem and lower levels of depression. Because mental health is so closely tied to physical health, those with strong relationships tend to contract fewer chronic diseases, which can lead to premature death.
The effects of happy relationships are so strong, in fact, that they impact health even more than smoking, drinking, and obesity. And for more ways your loved ones impact your life, here are 15 Surprising Ways Your Partner Impacts Your Health.
Foods That Start with “A” Boost Sex Drive and Improve Fertility
Arugula, avocado, and almonds, or “the three As,” are all wonder-foods for your sex life.
Not only do they increase libido, but they also promote higher fertility rates. Almonds increase blood flow to sexual organs, avocados lower the risk of heart disease, which can lead to erectile dysfunction, and arugula absorbs environmental contaminants that harm your sex drive. If ever there were a perfect date food, it would be a salad out of this stuff! And for more amazing healthy living advice, steal these 20 Easy Health Hacks That Will Make You Feel Better Every Day.
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