How to live longer: Why a good book and hot chocolate could prolong your life

Hot chocolate: Chef shares his ‘secret’ recipe in 2012

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Drinking hot chocolate and delving into a book are two of life’s pleasures, and normally our favourite things are bad for us. Curling up with a gripping story and warming your insides with a cup of hot chocolate could actually help you live longer, apparently. chatted to Dr Deborah Lee from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy to find out why.

Autumn is here which means it’s time to stock up on hot chocolate and prepare for more nights in.

It’s long been said that there’s nothing so good as curling up with a hot drink and a good book – but did you know there’s evidence to prove it?

Who knew a frothy mixture of cocoa and milk and a novel had any significant impact on your health?

According to Dr Lee, both things have been proven to lower your blood pressure which is linked to greater longevity.

She said: “Your blood pressure is crucial for your health and lifestyle factors are vitally important as they have a huge impact on basic health parameters such as heart rate and blood pressure.

“Simply putting your feet up with hot cocoa and a good book could do wonders for your health!

“Oh, and why not have a few small squares of dark chocolate (not milk chocolate) to go with it.”

Why is hot chocolate linked to a prolonged life?

Cocoa contains large amounts of flavonols such as epicatechin, catechin and procyanidins, which are specific plant metabolites that are thought to be able to lower blood pressure.

Dr Lee explained: “These flavonols induce the production of nitric oxide, which is a vasodilator.

“Some studies have also shown they help regulate blood glucose levels by improving insulin sensitivity.

“They also inhibit angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) – the enzyme needed to produce angiotensin 2 – a potent vasoconstrictor that elevates blood pressure.

“As ACE inhibitors, cocoa flavonols are therefore likely to lower blood pressure.”

In a 2017 Cochrane data review, the authors included 35 trials that examined the effects of cocoa on blood pressure.

They concluded that cocoa consumption causes a small, 2 mm Hg, fall in blood pressure.

On top of that, the fact that consuming cocoa can lower blood pressure has been noted in Kuna Indians who live in the San Blas islands off Panama.

Dr Lee pointed out: “Native Kuna Indians drink three to four cups of cocoa per day and are known to maintain normal blood pressure.

“However, Kuna Indians that migrate to the mainland and change their diet, develop a similar risk of high blood pressure to those of Western populations.”

Don’t go dairy-free when it comes to hot chocolate, as milk adds an extra boost to the health benefits of the drink. Milk too has been found to lower blood pressure.

In one 2006 study, the authors investigated the link between milk consumption and high blood pressure.

They discovered, using data from 4959 participants, that those who had the highest intake of dairy products (at least twice a day), which included milk, had a lower risk of high blood pressure than those who only consumed a minimal amount, Dr Lee said.

The doctor explained: “This finding was not thought to be due to the calcium content of the dairy products, but the authors suggested it could be linked to other constituents of milk, such as magnesium and potassium, which are vital in the control of blood pressure.

“In the study, those with the lowest risk of high blood pressure also had the highest levels of linoleic acid – a polyunsaturated fat derived from vegetable oils, known to be beneficial for the heart.

“The authors also discovered a link between a low saturated fat intake and a lower risk of high blood pressure, implying semi-skimmed or skimmed milk probably has advantages over full-fat milk in those at risk of heart disease.”

Does reading lower blood pressure too?

You might be surprised to find out that the simple act of reading lowers blood pressure, so imagine the impacts when combined with hot chocolate.

In an interesting 2009 study, researchers set out to establish the effects of reading, yoga, and humour, on stress, heart rate and blood pressure and reading was just as good for you as the other things.

Dr Lee said: “22 college students had their stress levels measured using a stress inventory.

“They then participated in one session of either reading, yoga or humour for 30-minutes, once a week, for three consecutive weeks.

“Their blood pressure and heart rate were recorded before and after each session, and after each intervention, their stress levels were also measured.

“All three interventions had a similar effect on reducing stress levels.

“Systolic blood pressure (the upper reading) and diastolic blood pressure (the lower reading) fell after all three interventions by around 3 mm Hg, and heart rate slowed by around two beats per minute.”

The participants were asked to read non-fiction articles about historical events and innovative technology, but if they relaxed into a good novel, the results might have been even more impressive.

Reading has also been proven to reduce stress, which is obviously very beneficial for your mental and physical health.

A study from the University of Sussex revealed that reading for just six minutes a day can lower stress levels by 68 percent!

Dr Lee said: “Researchers believe that delving into a good book helps you unwind and sends you on a mini-mental state vacation.

“It’s best to read something you enjoy first thing in the morning or last thing at night.”

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