New York Daily News: Want to be healthy and live longer?
Gossiping may be just what the doctor ordered because it increases progesterone, a hormone that reduces anxiety and stress and makes women happier, according to an article in the London Daily Mail.
The new research, at the University of Michigan, paired up 160 female students. Half were instructed to ask each other questions meant to bring them closer together, while the rest worked in pairs on a joint activity that consisted of proofreading a botany paper.
"Half the girls exchanged intimate details of their lives," explains Stephanie Brown, psychologist and a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan, who led the research. "We wanted to see whether becoming close with another person would release the hormone progesterone, which we know is related to long term physical health and has anti-stress effects."
After 20 minutes, the girls who had asked each other "chatty" questions were found to have increased or steady progesterone levels, while the progesterone levels of the girls who'd worked on the botany project declined, Brown explains.
"We know that people who are in close relationships live longer and are healthier than those who are socially isolated," says Brown. "The mystery is how do these social connections work? It might have to do with progesterone."
Progesterone has a reputation for being a "feel good" hormone that helps promote good sleep and increases bone density, says Dr. Steven Y. Park, clinical assistant professor of otolaryngology at New York Medical College.
But that doesn't mean you should start popping progesterone pills.
"You need it in the right doses," he says. "And it has to be in the right balance as estrogen in the body. Many women have fatigue issues because stress lowers progesterone and can turn it into a stress hormone."
Progesterone is a calming hormone that can increase one's sense of well being, says Dr. Kent Holtorf, medical director of the Holtorf Medical Group, which specializes in women's health.
For this reason, it's often given to women who are suffering PMS. He does not recommend self medicating, however.
To bump up your natural progesterone production, you might invite some friends over for a good gossip fest.
"What this University of Michigan study shows is that you should engage in activities that are bonding emotionally," Park says.
Another way of extending longevity, notes Brown, is to help other people.
"The act of benefiting another person is a way to predict longevity," she says. "It suggests that altruism is beneficial for health, whether volunteering, caregiving or making sacrifices for others."
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