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Why Christmas is good for your health

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There's no denying that most of us eat and drink more during the festive period – but there are actually several ways in which this time of year is good for our mental and physical health.

Nutritious food

It would be remiss not to start with Christmas food, because although lots of it has a reputation for being rich and laden with sugar, there are plenty of seasonal vegetables, dried fruits and nutritious nuts doing the rounds. "Brazil nuts, for example, have an extraordinarily high selenium content," says nutritionist Rob Hobson. Selenium is important for immunity and male fertility.

"The humble sprout, meanwhile, is rich in disease-fighting phytonutrients called 'glucosinolates' and also has powerful antioxidant properties," continues Hobson. "They actually contain more vitamin C than broccoli or strawberries, which is a great immune boost."

Don't forget about your cranberry sauce, either. "Cranberries contain fibre, vitamin C and the bioflavanoid 'anthocyanin', which has been linked to promoting proper eyesight and a reduced risk of degenerative disease," says Hobson. "For an extra boost, try a cranberry supplement."

Christmas dinner

Thanks to the variety of vegetables in our Christmas dinner, the Food Standards Agency estimates that people eat more fruit and vegetables on Christmas Day than on any other day of the year.

Having fun

Never underestimate the value of having a good time. According to research from the Journal of Happiness Studies, being happy can have as big an impact on your life as not smoking.1

Being happy is also linked to a healthier lifestyle2 (including getting more exercise and making healthier food choices), a stronger immune system3 and improved heart health, including lower blood pressure4 and a reduced risk of heart disease.5

...and spending time with loved ones

Research from the Sahlgrenska Academy and Lund University suggests that our relationships are more likely to make us happy than material things,6 so whether it's playing a family-friendly game, or belting out some Christmas carols, doing things together and strengthening our relationships is great for our health.

Enjoy some rest and relaxation

Forget feeling guilty about lie-ins or afternoon naps over the festive break. According to one study, taking a siesta could lower your risk of developing heart health problems by reducing blood pressure.7

New ways to exercise

Your normal gym routine or training might be off the table, but that doesn't mean you can't find other ways to stay active.

No-one is suggesting that you force yourself into a gruelling fitness regime, but a good walk after your lunch has gone down, or an afternoon playing with the kids on their latest games could go a long way to helping burn off those extra calories.

Don't forget all those festive season parties, too. A good stint on the dance floor could burn up just as many calories as a trip to the gym.

A time to look forward

Most of us will use the run up to New Year as a time to consider what we want to achieve in the year ahead. By all means, set goals – eating more healthily, investing more time in relationships or starting a new hobby will all add to our life – but make them achievable. Small changes that are sustainable are much more likely to be successful long-term.

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References

1 Veenhoven, R. (2008). Healthy happiness: effects of happiness on physical health and the consequences for preventive health care. Journal of Happiness Studies, 9, 449–469.
2 Sapranaviciute-Zabazlajeva, L., Luksiene, D., Virviciute, D., Bobak, M., & Tamosiunas, A. (2017). Link between healthy lifestyle and psychological well-being in Lithuanian adults aged 45-72: a cross-sectional study. BMJ open, 7(4), e014240.
3 Cohen, S., Doyle, W. J., Turner, R. B., Alper, C. M., & Skoner, D. P. (2003). Emotional style and susceptibility to the common cold. Psychosomatic medicine, 65(4), 652–657.
4 Bostock, S., Hamer, M., Wawrzyniak, A. J., Mitchell, E. S., & Steptoe, A. (2011). Positive emotional style and subjective, cardiovascular and cortisol responses to acute laboratory stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 36(8), 1175–1183.
5 Boehm, J. K., Peterson, C., Kivimaki, M., & Kubzansky, L. D. (2011). Heart health when life is satisfying: evidence from the Whitehall II cohort study. European heart journal, 32(21), 2672–2677.
6 Garcia, D. & Sikström, S. (2013). A Collective Theory of Happiness: Words Related to the Word "Happiness" in Swedish Online Newspapers. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 16:6, 469.
7 Kallistratos, M. S., Poulimenos, L. E., Tsinivizov, P., Varvarousis, D., Kouremenos, N., Pittaras, A., Triantafyllis, A. S., & Manolis, A. J. (2020). The effect of Mid-Day Sleep on blood pressure levels in patients with arterial hypertension. European journal of internal medicine, 80, 86–90.