Do you love window shopping? That’s because we’re hardwired to ‘gather,’ and browsing for gifts fulfills that urge. And you don’t need to buy anything to get the mood boost! Here, the best ways to reap extra health benefits from holiday tasks.
Baby your heart with a trip to the mall.
This time of year, most retailers are playing holiday tunes. Besides putting a smile on your face, 30 minutes of cheery music as you browse ups blood f low, University of Maryland Medical Center researchers report. The link? Happy tunes release endorphins that create nitric oxide, a compound that widens blood vessels by about 25 percent, results similar to aerobic exercise.
When puttering around the house, sing along to your favorite carols. Belting out tunes in private (where you can really let go) is such a potent emotional release that it spurs a dramatic drop in the stress hormone cortisol, easing pressure on your heart and blood vessels, U.K. scientists say.
Gift treasured books to safeguard memory.
Chances are you’ve got books or scarves you love but don’t use anymore. Wrap them up and give them to friends who’d appreciate them. A Carnegie Mellon study found that folks want to receive items you’ve owned as gifts because the sentimental attachment makes them feel closer to you. That’s great news since strong social bonds make you 70 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s, report investigators at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center.
Ease minor aches by ‘shopping’ your yarn.
You already know your loved ones cherish your knit scarves and hats. Handmade presents feel like they’ve been “made with love,” which makes them even more meaningful, Cornell investigators explain. And now, research proves gifting your handicrafts has a surprising secondary benefit: It curbs discomfort! Being creative reduces pain by up to 62 percent, according to a Cleveland Clinic study. Working on your art shifts focus away from swollen joints, an aching back and other ouches. Plus, the joy of channeling your creativity spurs relaxation, which lessens pain sensitivity.
Bake gingerbread cookies to ease pain.
Everyone loves homemade muffins and cookies this time of year. And as a health bonus for you, inhaling their delicious scent as they bake in the oven dials down discomfort by 41 percent, reveal Canadian researchers. That’s because pleasant aromas stimulate the orbitofrontal cortex in the brain, which quickly blunts pain signals.
Solve problems faster with a virtual gift list.
Turns out spending a few minutes chatting about and looking up gift ideas gives your brain a powerful boost. UCLA researchers discovered that searching the internet triggers a more than twofold increase in activity in decision-making and complex-reasoning areas of the brain (including the anterior cingulate and posterior cingulate), making it easy to come up with ingenious solutions for sticky problems.
Pour a cup of cocoa to boost brain activity.
Treating yo urself to a hot chocolate sweetened with real sugar makes your brain work significantly faster and more accurately, so you come up with clever fixes in a jiffy, say scientists at the U.K.’s University of Warwick. Glucose in sugar fuels the brain, giving you more mental oomph!
Fend off viruses by admiring displays.
Everyone loves admiring a cheery holiday window display, and it turns out taking this kind of mini break lowers the risk of developing a serious cold, flu or other virus by 31 percent, British scientists say. Regularly admiring art reminds you of the beauty around you, which eases stress and boosts positivity. This helps your immune system respond to viral invaders more robustly.
Don antlers to boost immunity.
Or slip on a Santa hat! British scientists say silly fun like this spurs an immediate 65 percent rise in virus-fighting antibodies in your mouth and nose, keeping you cold-and flu-free.
Boost joy by bargain-hunting.
Finding deals in a circular spurs a 38 percent rise in the mood-lifting hormone oxytocin, say scientists at California’s Claremont Graduate University. When you spot a discount on a product you intend to buy (even if it’s just groceries), your brain responds as if you’re being handed cash, increasing joy!
Shopping with a loved one helps you focus on the positive aspects of gift hunting (like imagining your granddaughter’s smile when she unwraps your gift), making it more fun, University of Rochester scientists say.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.