6 Reasons the Holidays Are Healthier than You Think
The holidays get a bad rap when it comes to health, but the physicians of The Doctors explain how this time of year can actually boost your mind and body.
Cocoa improves your health
This sweet treat lowers LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, raises HDL cholesterol, and even improves cognitive function and memory. In 2012, the European Food Safety Authority (a group similar to the FDA) issued a scientific opinion that said consuming 200 mg of cocoa flavonoids a day can contribute to healthy blood flow. A cup made with a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa can contain or even exceed this amount. To minimize clumping, mix powder into milk that's already warm. Add spices like cinnamon and a small amount of sugar or honey to cut the bitterness.
Singing can reduce stress hormones and boost oxytocin, the "love" hormone that promotes feelings of trust and bonding. Swedish research published last year found that certain aspects of singing make people adopt a calm breathing pattern, like that associated with yoga. Singing in a group can improve self-esteem and increase feelings of social belonging, which can ward off loneliness. Even if you're not apt to belt Christmas tunes door-to-door, sing along with your kids or your partner to a holiday radio station while you run errands or drive to visit family.
Shopping burns calories
Hoofing it at the mall for an hour can burn 200 to 300 calories, depending on your size; what's more, it's time you're not on your duff. Too much sitting increases your risk of everything from type 2 diabetes to cancer. The more "incidental" fitness — stringing holiday lights, rummaging in the basement for decorations, bustling around the kitchen while preparing holiday dinners — you can squeeze into your day, the better off you'll be.
Writing holiday cards can promote gratitude
Instead of treating holiday cards as a chore, consider each one an opportunity to write a personal note expressing how much the recipient means to you. One study found that people who jotted down what they were thankful for each week felt more optimistic about their lives, exercised more, and even had fewer visits to physicians than people who wrote down things that annoyed them or neutral events.
Gifting an experience boosts happiness
Studies have found that spending money on experiences increases happiness more than shelling out for material goods. Now new research shows this mood lift can come from simply making your list (and checking it twice): A 2014 Cornell study found that people who merely anticipate making an upcoming experiential purchase, such as ski lessons, report higher levels of happiness than those who plan to buy, say, a new tech gadget.
Peppermint eases digestive distress
A 2011 Australian study found that peppermint soothes pain-sensing fibers in the colon, which can reduce inflammation related to irritable bowel syndrome. Though a yummy seasonal treat, candy canes fall short of the healing doses used in clinical studies; researchers recommend consuming peppermint-oil capsules to tame your tummy. But there are other science-backed reasons to enjoy a candy cane. Sniffing peppermint can cut cravings, lower the amount of calories people consume, and increase focus and attention behind the wheel, studies show.