13 Holiday Health Benefits for Your Body and Your Mind
These holiday health benefits are just another reason to celebrate the season!
The holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year. It gives you an excuse to spend time with friends and family, it means presents galore, there are tons of delicious treats, and, if you're lucky, there's the added bonus of time off from work. But did you know that the holidays are scientifically proven to be good for your health, too? So many of the traditions—from putting up Christmas decorations to singing Christmas carols—can have a positive effect on your mental and physical well-being. Keep reading to learn more about some of the holiday health benefits of this holly jolly season!
Putting up Christmas decorations boosts your mood.
The sooner you get your Christmas tree up, the more your health benefits during the holidays. "It does create that neurological shift that can produce happiness," psychologist Deborah Serani told Today. "Christmas decorating will spike dopamine, a feel-good hormone." As psychoanalyst Steve McKeown told Unilad, the mere act of decorating for Christmas can bring out your "inner child" by eliciting happy childhood memories (i.e. before you had to deal with all the stress of being an adult).
Buying gifts reduces your blood pressure.
In a 2017 study published in Nature Communications, researchers found that people who decided to spend money on others reported higher levels of happiness. And a 2016 study published in Health Psychology identified yet another holiday health benefit that comes from spending money on others: lower blood pressure. So don't be afraid to be generous this season—if not for others, then for your physical and mental health! Yep, giving gifts might actually be one of the most selfish things you can do this Christmas.
And receiving certain gifts makes you happier, too.
It's great to give gifts, but receiving them can be pretty good, too, especially if the gift is an experience. During a presentation at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Annual Convention in 2014, researchers Cindy Chan and Cassie Mogliner revealed that experiential gifts strengthen relationships more than material gifts, regardless of whether the experience is shared with the giver. Since a 2017 study published in Personal Relationships found that strong friendships are a good predictor of health and happiness as we age, receiving experiential gifts during the holidays might just be the key to living a long, happy life.
Caroling is good for your heart.
For many people, singing is an effective stress reliever. And if you sing with a group during the holidays, the benefits could go even further. A 2013 study published in Frontiers in Psychology monitored the vital signs of singers during several joint singing tasks and found that choral singing increased the amount by which a person's heart rate varied. And that's good news, since low variability in heart rate may be linked to high blood pressure.
Your Christmas tree can destress you.
Research has proven time and time again that being surrounded by nature can help to boost well-being—so it's fair to assume that your festive fir will have similar effects. And those holiday health benefits might be even greater if you get up close and personal with your tree; according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology, smelling and touching indoor plants can reduce physiological and psychological stress.
What's more, since trees purify the air, having a real tree in the house might stop you from getting a cold or the flu. A 2000 study from the Agricultural University of Norway found that sickness rates fell by up to 25 percent in offices and school settings where plants were present.
Family mealtimes reduce obesity.
Eating together as a family—which happens often during the holidays—is beneficial for your mind and your body. For instance, research published in the journal Pediatrics in 2011 found that regular family meals—at least three per week—improved kids' nutrition, reduced their risk of childhood obesity, and encouraged healthy eating habits.
Watching cheesy holiday movies makes you feel jolly.
Before you grumble when someone turns on a Hallmark movie this holiday season, you should know that those cheesy flicks might just give you the emotional support you need this season. As behavioral scientist Pamela Rutledge explained to NBC, Hallmark movies "allow us to experience the emotions associated with social validation, the yearning for connection, compassion, and empathy." According to Rutledge, they "provide simplistic solutions to all those stressors that the holidays can bring: family conflict, isolation, [and] financial pressures."
Resolutions keep you in shape.
It's typical for most people to start thinking about the new year around Christmastime. And while sticking to those New Year's resolutions might be easier said than done, research shows that most people have their health in mind when they set them. According to an Inc. survey of 2,000 people, the most popular New Year's pledges for 2019 were to "diet or eat healthier" (71 percent), followed by "exercise more" (65 percent).
To increase your chances of sticking to your resolutions, the American Psychological Association suggests starting small, joining a support group, and being kind to yourself. See? Your health sounds like it's improving already!
Family traditions boost self-esteem.
Bonding over family holiday traditions helps to maintain close relationships, instill a sense of belonging, and boost self-esteem. "Family connections can provide a greater sense of meaning and purpose as well as social and tangible resources that benefit well-being," wrote sociology professor Patricia A. Thomas, PhD, in an article published in Innovation in Aging in 2017.
Not sure how to get closer to your kin this season? A simple but effective way to bond during the holidays is with music, according to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Family Communication. "If you have little kids, and you play music with them, that helps you be closer to them, and later in life will make you closer to them," study co-author Jake Harwood said in a statement. So crank up your Christmas playlist and enjoy a family sing-along this holiday!
Playing Christmas Eve games keeps your mind sharp.
And if your family holiday tradition is playing games like cards, chess, and Monopoly, you're doing wonders for your cognitive function, too! A 2019 study published in The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences found that people who began playing more games in their later years were less likely to exhibit a decline in thinking skills, particularly in memory and thinking speed.
Getting it on boosts your immunity.
A 1999 study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine notes that there is an increase in sexual activity during Christmastime. And getting intimate during the festivities comes with a few health perks, such as warding off those winter bugs, according to another 1999 study from Wilkes University. The researchers found that people who have sex once or twice a week have a 30 percent increase in the antibody immunoglobulin A that boosts your immune system. Plus, orgasms lead to a release of the so-called "love hormone" oxytocin, which can have a calming, sedative effect, especially when combined with endorphins (or "feel-good" hormones).
Holiday naps improve brain power and heart health.
Who doesn't love a good post-Christmas dinner nap? Well, if you need motivation to take a quick snooze, consider that doing so might be good for your brain, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society. Of the more than 3,000 seniors who participated in the study, those who took naps for up to 90 minutes performed better on memory tests and math problems than those who didn't nap at all.
And that's not all: Another study, published in the journal Heart in 2019, found that napping once or twice a week could be the key to a healthy heart. Researchers from University Hospital of Lausanne in Switzerland concluded that people who enjoyed a small number of daytime naps significantly slashed their risk of heart attack and stroke.
Laughter lowers blood pressure and cholesterol.
We can only hope your Christmas is filled with a whole lot of "ho, ho, ho"-ing. Why? Well, according to the Mayo Clinic, the short-term health benefits of laughter during the holidays include reduced stress and stimulation of the heart, lungs, and muscles. And long-term, laughing may even boost your immune system; positive thoughts can actually release neuropeptides (which are small protein-like molecules used by neurons to communicate with each other) that help ward off stress and other serious conditions.
So don't be afraid to throw yourself into the family fun over the holidays. Whether you're giggling at your kids' jokes around the dinner table or getting into the holiday spirit with a Home Alone viewing, just know that you're benefitting your health every time you chuckle!