Not all holiday traditions are the same. While some see us get a bit indulgent, others bring endless joy. And we have some great news: New research shows that your favorite holiday traditions can be healthy, and come with surprising benefits!
Cheer up by putting on Santa’s hat.
Next time you catch yourself worrying instead of smiling, don a festive (or funny!) Christmas sweater, pair of socks, or Santa hat, and you’ll feel up to 75 percent cheerier in one minute. Scientists at California’s Pepperdine University scientists say wearing holiday-themed clothing prompts your brain to release mood-boosting beta waves, instantly lifting your spirits.
Boost immunity with a glass of eggnog.
If you love celebrating with creamy, dreamy eggnog, you’re in luck: Savoring a glass daily cuts your risk of colds and viruses by 33 percent. And if you add a splash of rum, you’ll lower your illness risk by 54 percent, suggests a study in the journal BMC Public Health. The choline in eggs and amino acids in milk energize immune cells, boosting their production of germ-fighting antibodies, while the alcohol in rum destroys viruses trying to sneak in through the tissues lining your throat.
Cue up some carols to stay healthy.
Those who regularly listen to seasonal songs are 30 percent less likely to get sick if they encounter viruses, say scientists at Pennsylvania’s Wilkes University. Nostalgic music tamps down the production of immunity-weakening stress hormones, so the body can better fend off viral invaders.
Reboot energy with a movie night.
It’s a wonderful time of year to cozy up on the couch and get lost in festive films. And whether you love classics like Miracle on 34th Street or laugh-out-loud films like Elf, enjoying three fun movie nights each week could help you sail through the holiday season feeling 60 percent more energetic and focused. University of Utah researchers explain that enjoying uplifting films prompts the body to release a stamina-boosting, focus-enhancing brain chemical called GABA, which renews your get-up-and-go.
Increase stamina by shopping for yourself.
When shopping for loved ones, grabbing a little something on your wishlist, like a chocolate Santa or cozy candle, can cut your holiday weariness in half. University of Michigan researchers say showing yourself kindness heightens your brain’s release of the energizing hormone dopamine, making it markedly easier to breeze through holiday to-do’s with stamina to spare.
Gaze at a Yule log to lower blood pressure.
Taking 20 minutes each evening to relax by a crackling fire trims up to eight points off your blood pressure—results comparable to many pressure-lowering medications, say University of Connecticut scientists. Credit the mesmerizing sight of a flickering flame, which calms the central nervous system, relaxing and opening arteries. Tip: No fireplace nearby? Gazing at a lit candle can give you the same impressive pressure drop!
Banish blue moods with party gossip.
Enjoying friendly gossip with the gals once or twice weekly curbs the risk of blue moods by 65 percent. And if you’re feeling draggy, it’ll cheer you up more quickly and effectively than Prozac can. So say British scientists, who found the feeling of connection that you get from sharing news with trusted friends spurs the release of the mood-steadying brain chemical oxytocin.
Curl up with a book to feel better.
A great book can reverse a glum mood in just 30 minutes. What’s more, it’ll cut your risk of the winter blues in half if you read daily, University of Nevada scientists say. Reading boosts electrical activity in the brain region that fosters contentment.
Outsmart insomnia with pumpkin pie.
Savoring a slice of this festive treat as a bedtime snack helps you drift off 40 minutes faster and sleep 55 percent more deeply. Canadian researchers say pumpkin boasts rich stores of plant compounds (carotenoids) that relax tense muscles and calm jangled nerves, while its sugar switches off the brain’s production of an energizing, alertness-triggering neurotransmitter called orexin, so you can drift off to dreamland more easily. Just make sure to brush your teeth after.
Celebrate the season with these healthy holiday traditions and you’ll stay sharp and merry.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.