STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Now, one thing we know that clearly benefits health is reducing stress. As NPR's Patti Neighmond reports, new research finds you can lessen stress just by kicking back.
PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: We all know that exercise reduces stress, but it turns out that more simple, stationary things can also help.
MATTHEW ZAWADZKI: Puzzles, sewing, prayer.
NEIGHMOND: That's psychologist Matthew Zawadzkiwith the University of California, Merced.
ZAWADZKI: Watching TV, listening to music.
NEIGHMOND: Watching TV - really? Well, yes, if you're very interested in what you're watching.
ZAWADZKI: It's those moments of absorption in an activity that I think prevent us from thinking; prevent us from ruminating and worrying.
NEIGHMOND: Think of it as a mental escape. To test this out, Zawadzki asked 115 men and women of different ages and races to wear two little electrodes on their chest to measure heart rate. Then over three days, he asked them to record how they felt at six different moments during the day.
ZAWADZKI: When they reported doing leisure, they were about 34 percent less stressed in their own life than when they weren't doing leisure.
NEIGHMOND: And there was evidence to back this up. Their heart rate went down, too, by about 3 percent. The combination of less stress and a lower heart rate can be a positive antidote, he says, to all the other stresses in life.
ZAWADZKI: When we get nervous, when we get excited, when we feel stress, your heart rate goes up. Almost unequivocally, it always goes up.
NEIGHMOND: And when the heart races, blood vessels get thicker and blood pressure increases. Zawadzki says the benefits gained from enjoyable leisure activities can really add up over the years. So the next time you're absorbed in a good book or a good movie or just listening to your favorite music, remember, you're not only enjoying yourself, you're helping your health. Patti Neighmond, NPR News.
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