200171335-001Whether you’re planning the perfect holiday with family and friends or missing a loved one, there’s one gift that you can give yourself that’s guaranteed to enhance your health and well-being and it’s free. A collection of research on the tremendous value of counting your blessings reports that gratitude boosts serotonin levels (the brain’s feel-good chemical) and that it has the power to improve health. Whether you keep a gratitude journal or make a point of holding it in your heart, remember it can:

? Lower your blood pressure. A study of hypertensive African Americans saw significant drops in blood pressure when they made note of what they were grateful for at least once a week.

? Protect your heart health. Gratitude can actually encourage a healthier heart rhythm by nurturing emotional balance.

? Make you happier. Being grateful does not mean ignoring the negative aspects of life, but focusing on the positive can reduce depression and stress.

? Help you get fit and feel better. Study participants who kept gratitude journals also found it easier to exercise more regularly. They also slept better and reported fewer physical complaints.

? Reduce money worries. People who are grateful, research shows, are less likely to focus on the material things in life and more likely to define success in other ways.

Fierce Facts: Taking You Behind the News

Confused by so many studies and so much conflicting advice? Fierce makes it easy for you by getting to the bottom line of what’s really new and relevant for black women. Here’s a customized takeaway on new reports about gratitude, nuts, arts smarts, obesity and vitamin D.

Nuts Are a Must for Good Health

Pick your crunchy, savory favorite nuts, and indulge. A new study is the largest to report that people who regularly eat peanuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, macadamias, pecans, cashews, pistachios or pine nuts were thinner and lived longer.

In an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers reported that nut eaters had a 29 percent reduction in their risk of dying from heart disease (we have a disproportionately high rate of heart disease) and an 11 percent reduction in their risk of dying from cancer.

This is the latest study to show that nuts are good for you. Previous work has shown that they can reduce the risk of diabetes and color cancer. Of course, portion control is still important. It’s best to stick to one ounce a day — the amount in the average small package of peanuts, and it’s better to munch the salt-free variety.


Take the Kids to a Museum

Need a reason to stand in long museum lines with your cranky, texting teens or rambunctious grandchildren? It turns out one of the best things you can do to help a child develop better critical-thinking skills, empathy, tolerance and an interest in culture is expose them to art. A study involving more than 10,000 K through 12 students also found the effects were most profound for children from low-income or rural backgrounds.

Obesity Health Risks Develop Over Time

In recent years, researchers studying obesity reported that roughly 30 percent of people who had a BMI (body mass index) of 30 or above were overweight. However, new work, published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, shows that for some people, it may simply take longer for obesity-related health risks to develop. For black women, who have the highest rates of obesity in the United States, the research offers an important warning about what we need to do to protect our health.

The scientists found that even if you were obese and overweight, you still had a greater chance of becoming diabetic or developing heart disease than people closer to normal weight. Bottom line, even if you appear healthy in your current checkups, you need to drop the weight.

Vitamin D Measure Faulty for Black Americans

A key protein used to measure the level of vitamin D in the blood is lower in black Americans, according to new research. The finding explains why black Americans are thought to have lower levels of vitamin D than white Americans, while having greater bone density.

No health risk is associated with the lower level of the protein, but it is important for scientists to have an accurate measure of vitamin D levels. Identifying deficiencies is critically important for women.

Even though we call it a vitamin, D is also a hormone that supports healthy cholesterol levels and may make help the body fight breast cancer, maintain healthy levels of calcium and phosphorus for healthy bones, and protect against heart disease. The new study suggests that doctors need a new way of measuring vitamin D in African Americans.

Getting vitamin D from food is difficult, so the current recommendations for supplementation are 600 international units (IU) a day.

Sheree Crute is editor-in-chief of FierceforBlackWomen.com.