12 surprising benefits of the holidays

    6:23 AM, Dec 24, 2012   |    comments
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    It's easy to get caught up in the chaos of the holiday season, but new research shows many aspects of preparing for and participating in holiday festivities have surprising health effects. 

    Here are 12 ways in which you can boost your mental and physical health, courtesy of MSN Healthy Living.

    1. Reminisce about past good times.
    Remember the good old days? Waxing nostalgic about the past is shown to increase empathy, boost self-esteem and increase feelings of charity, according to new research published in the Journal of Consumer Research (June 2012). People who become nostalgic around the holidays tend to excel at maintaining personal relationships.

    2. Eat peppermint candy canes. Peppermint is one of the healthiest holiday flavors with benefits that include antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and stomach-calming effects. Even better than a candy cane, try a cup of peppermint tea.

    3. Go shopping. Whether you're shopping for others or for yourself, regular retail therapy may help you live longer. Researchers believe that shopping captured several different dimensions of well-being, health and security. Double up on the benefits by walking the mall early in the morning before the big rush, for an aerobic workout at the same time.

    4. Sing holiday carols. Listen to or sing along to your chosen song for at least 12 minutes or until you reach the calmness you desire. If you're uncomfortable singing, it also works to listen to music alone or sing along.

    5. Gather around the dinner table. Dining out regularly not only costs more than home-cooked meals, but it is also linked to poor food choices and bad health. On the other hand, children who eat frequently with the family tend to eat more fruits, vegetables, fiber and vitamins, according to researchers at Rutgers. The holidays may be a good time to introduce foods to kids as well.

    6. Be grateful. Giving thanks this holiday season may make others feel good and allow you to reap some wholesome benefits. Send a gratitude note for the gifts you receive this year - not an email thank you note, but a good, old-fashioned handwritten note.

    7. Sprinkle cinnamon on your hot chocolate. Few things go together like cinnamon and the holidays. Whether you bake with it or keep a bowl of cinnamon-scented potpourri near the fireplace, the aroma of cinnamon evokes comfort and warmth. Sprinkling cinnamon on your cookies or in your hot cocoa can also lower blood pressure.

    8. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Helping others less fortunate than you creates a win-win situation. When you volunteer at a soup kitchen, for example, you're not only helping a fellow human being, you may also be adding years to your own life.

    9. Attend Christmas church services. If you attend church once a year on Christmas, you may want to make it a regular habit. The more often you go, the lower your blood pressure becomes. In fact, any faith can reap the health benefits of religion, according to a study from the University of Missouri.

    10. Find awe. Taking a drive after a fresh snowfall to view the picturesque scene, listening to a live  holiday concert, and finding other ways to experience awe in your life can ease stress in as little as one minute, according to a new study published in Psychological Science (2012) by Stanford University researchers. Awe works as a stress reliever by drawing people into the present moment.

    11. Bake holiday cookies. If one of your family traditions includes baking and decorating holiday cookies, you may be staving off milk allergies in sensitive children. Eating cookies, muffins and waffles that contained baked milk enabled children to outgrow their milk allergies because high baking temperatures used in baking causes the milk proteins to break down, reducing their allergic properties.

    12. Prepare food for guests. Preparing dinner for houseguests and relatives can take days of work. If you can avoid the temptation to eat as you work, you can burn a significant number of calories. For the average American woman, every hour spent standing versus sitting equals 1.3 calories per minute difference or 78 calories in an hour (equivalent to approximately one-third of a candy bar or two cookies). This can add up to three calories per minute or 180 calories in an hour. Take minibreaks to avoid becoming tired if you work long hours, ideally every 15 minutes.

    (Source: MSN Healthy Living)

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