Health

6 Indoor Activities That’ll Help Protect Your Heart, Fight Insomnia, Shed Pounds, and More

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Research proves the things we love about this time of year, like sitting by a fire or watching snow fall, are actually stealth winter cures!

Girls’ night boosts immunity by 67 percent.

Settle in for a virtual book club meeting or girls’ night with your friends once a week, and you’ll reduce your odds of catching a virus by 67 percent, say Carnegie Mellon University researchers. The reason: Enjoying time with loved ones increases the brain’s production of serotonin, dopamine and endorphins, hormones that improve mood and turbocharge immunity.

Protect your heart by lighting a fire.

Throw on some logs, sit back and enjoy the crackling fire! Doing so keeps your ticker strong. University of Alabama scientists say relaxing next to a fire (whether indoors or a firepit out back) lowers blood pressure by 6 points in 15 minutes. The multisensory experience of seeing the flickering flames, hearing the crackle and feeling the gentle heat completely absorbs you in the moment. Being lost in the moment allows worries and regrets to fall away so you truly feel at ease, which in turns allows blood pressure to drop, protecting your heart.

Shed pounds with mac and cheese.

Good news! Cold-weather comfort food like broccoli Cheddar soup or mac and cheese is a delicious way to reach your happy weight. Research in Nutrition & Diabetes found that women who ate about 2 ounces of cheese daily had 14 percent less body fat, significantly more muscle mass and a thinner waist than those who ate less — and eating more cheese didn’t cause higher cholesterol either! Investigators say that a trio of unique compounds found in cheese (casein, whey peptides, and amino acids) boosts feelings of fullness so you automatically eat less. Plus, they neutralize the negative effects of saturated fat.

Ease joint aches with a relaxing rub.

When joint pain flares up, treat yourself to a spa-like massage. According to a study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, gently rubbing tender joints twice daily with a blend of 5 drops of rosemary essential oil mixed into 2 tablespoons of unscented lotion soothes irritated pain nerves, significantly reducing discomfort in as little as five days.

Silence worries by watching snow fall.

When worries have you wound up, wrap yourself in a plush blanket and admire the snowflakes frosted on your window. Marveling at fractals, or repeating patterns found in nature like snowflakes, pine cones, or a tree’s bare branches, helps your brain shift into a mental comfort zone, MIT researchers report. This dials down stress levels by 60 percent in minutes. Tip: No flurries to admire? Calling up a photo on your phone is one of the many winter cures that work too!

Sidestep insomnia by donning fuzzy socks.

Slipping on a pair of warm socks straight from the dryer feels like a mini moment of bliss on chilly days. Pull them on before bed, and you’ll fall asleep up to 20 minutes faster than if you slept barefoot. A study in Physiology & Behavior found that warm socks signal to the brain that it’s time to wind down in preparation for sleep, making it markedly easier to doze off.

This article originally appeared in our print magazine.

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