24 HOURS

TO AT­TACK-PROOF YOUR HEART

Men's Health (UK) - - Front Page -

It’s a scene al­most as tra­di­tional as the na­tiv­ity: des­per­ate men in John Lewis on 24 De­cem­ber, hunt­ing for last-minute gifts for the fam­ily. And, for all the stress, their search re­sults in yet an­other joy­less Christ­mas morn­ing of de­odor­ant sets for all. If the prospect of de­cid­ing be­tween Lynx Africa and Lynx Apollo for your brother-in-law is spik­ing your blood pres­sure, we sug­gest you do things dif­fer­ently this year.

New re­search ex­plains why a lit­tle for­ward plan­ning and some gen­uinely thought­ful gift­giv­ing can im­prove your heart health. Make the ef­fort now and, come Christ­mas Day, you will be re­warded with a flood of neu­ro­chem­i­cals known as “the hap­pi­ness tri­fecta”. This par­tic­u­lar cocktail con­tains pow­er­ful doses of sero­tonin (which in­flu­ences brain cells re­lated to mood bal­ance), dopamine (linked to arousal and mo­ti­va­tion) and oxy­tocin, the “hug­ging hor­mone”.

Th­ese have ben­e­fits that go be­yond help­ing you to smile through a Christ­mas morn­ing sur­rounded by scream­ing kids. Oxy­tocin, for ex­am­ple, low­ers your blood pres­sure and acts as a pow­er­ful anti-in­flam­ma­tory, di­alling down your heart dis­ease, stroke and heart at­tack risk. If you need fur­ther con­vinc­ing, con­sider this: deaths in the hol­i­day sea­son in­crease by around 4%, and the av­er­age age of peo­ple dy­ing around this time is also slightly younger. (This is thought to be linked to the blood pres­sure spikes caused by stress.)

Spend a day in ad­vance pick­ing out thought­ful presents and you can take the anx­i­ety out of Christ­mas – and you’ll be crowned ev­ery­one’s favourite rel­a­tive. Make this year a cracker.

As many as one in three peo­ple are thought to be af­fected by sea­sonal af­fec­tive dis­or­der (SAD) to some de­gree. The daily rou­tine of com­mut­ing to work in the dark and miss­ing out on the sun while shack­led to your desk – then re­turn­ing home in the pitch black – is likely re­spon­si­ble for your in­creas­ingly low moods. But there’s a sur­pris­ing so­lu­tion. If you pity the solo cin­ema-goer, as­sum­ing that he must be lonely, you’ve got it all wrong. By watch­ing a movie on your own, you can boost your men­tal health and even re­lieve symp­toms of de­pres­sion, ac­cord­ing to a study in the Jour­nal of Con­sumer Re­search. It found that im­mers­ing your­self in the film and em­brac­ing time alone were ideal ways to boost hap­pi­ness lev­els and beat the win­ter malaise. Mean­while, re­searchers at the the In­ter­na­tional Com­mu­ni­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion dis­cov­ered in a sep­a­rate study that it’s far more ef­fec­tive than yet an­other night on the sofa watch­ing Net­flix. They linked binge­ing on episode af­ter episode to feel­ings of de­pres­sion and lone­li­ness. SAD is thought to be caused by lack of sun­light – the sun sends nerve mes­sages from your eye to your brain and stim­u­lates the re­lease of mood-boost­ing hor­mones sero­tonin and mela­tonin. Yet em­brac­ing the dimmed lights of the lo­cal cin­ema could reg­u­late your lev­els of th­ese block­buster chem­i­cals. Robin Hood looks good this month – and it could make you a mer­rier man.

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