TO ATTACK-PROOF YOUR HEART
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.