Amidst the wool socks, reindeer-covered sweaters and mixed pattern ties, holiday gifts that offer the potential to enhance health and wellness can be a welcomed surprise.
1. For the love of cocoa
If you’re inclined to give a basket of sweets, select dark organic chocolate with more than 70 percent cocoa. This tasty treat boosts endorphins (our natural pain-reducing compounds). It also contains tryptophan (a building block of serotonin) and the brain chemical phenylethylamine known to promote our feelings of attraction, excitement and love.
Chocolate is also good for our heart and blood vessels. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, eating a small portion of dark chocolate each day can lower blood pressure without packing on extra pounds. Dark chocolate’s heart-healthy effects are thought to come from flavonoids, natural compounds in cocoa beans that give dark chocolate its bittersweet taste. Dark chocolate is richest in flavonoids, whereas white chocolate contains none. Flavonoids have been shown to inhibit blood clot formation, ease constriction of blood vessels and slow the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. This mood elevating, health-promoting gift is sure to please everyone’s taste buds.
2. Give the gift of strength
Without resistance training we lose approximately one pound of muscle per year after the age of 30. A few personal training sessions for a friend or loved one can be the perfect holiday gift — and one that will get their metabolism revving in the new year. Only 30 minutes, three times per week is truly all that is required to build muscle. Toss in a new workout tote along with a stainless steel water bottle and it quickly becomes the complete gift of fitness.
3. Youthful yoga
With its full spectrum of poses, yoga can bring the body back into its natural alignment, restore our muscular imbalances and correct physical weaknesses. For the athlete or cardio-junkie on your list, yoga can improve their performance by enhancing flexibility, relaxation, breathing and balance. But anyone can improve posture, energy and endurance with regular yoga practice. It also offers fabulous benefits for calming a stressed nervous system, restoring hormonal balance and strengthening muscles. A few one-on-one yoga lessons, or a pass for a series of group classes can be a wonderful gift for anyone who needs a break from everyday stresses. Wrap it up with a yoga mat and you have the perfect present. My personal favourite type of yoga is anusara. If you live in the Toronto or Oakville, Ontario areas, Kula studio offers a special introductory pass: 30 days of yoga for 30 bucks is a fantastic deal.
4. Offer a naturally healthy glow
A selection of high quality skin care products is a fabulous gift for anyone on your list, but be sure to select those that are free of harmful ingredients. Methyl parabens, propyl parabens, formaldehyde, imidazolidinyl urea, methylisothiazolinone, propylene glycol, paraffin, isopropyl alcohol, sodium lauryl sulphate and other difficult-to-pronounce chemicals should be avoided. Parabens, in particular, have been identified as estrogenic substances that disrupt normal hormone function and may increase the risk of breast or prostate cancer. Instead, choose products containing pure oils, protective vitamins and natural scents. My favourite all-natural brands include Korres, Juice Beauty, Caudalie and Naturopathica. Skinceutical’s vitamin C serum is one of my favourite must-have additions for any skin care routine. Vitamin C increases the production of collagen in the skin and aids in cell regeneration, which translates to younger looking skin and improved firmness.
5. De-stress kit
High amounts of the stress hormone cortisol can have a negative effect on body composition, by increasing the breakdown of precious muscle and fueling the deposition of fat, especially around the abdomen. If a pass for a few yoga or pilates classes is out of your holiday budget, search out the brain-enhancing sound series called Sonic Aid. The music on these CD’s has been researched and compiled by Dr. Lee Bartel to specifically increase the brain waves involved in creativity, stress reduction, sleep or focus. Complete your gift of stress-reducing ambiance with the addition of a natural soy or beeswax natural candle (check out Dirt candles or Dani candles) and perhaps top it off with a calming peppermint foot lotion for tired or overworked feet.
Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and The Supercharged Hormone Diet. Her newest release, The Carb Sensitivity Program, is available across Canada. She is also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.