Go ahead and treat yourself to the best gifts of the season. They’re proven to cause you have to have a happy mind and healthy heart!
A fun ‘LOL’ break cuts stroke risk by 60 percent.
Putting your feet up and enjoying a laugh-out-loud funny movie, such as the classic comedy Planes, Trains and Automobiles, lowers your risk of stroke by 60 percent and heart trouble by 21 percent, according to a study in the Journal of Epidemiology. A hearty guffaw spurs the release of artery-relaxing compounds in blood vessels, allowing for better blood flow.
Lower ‘bad’ LDL with a slice of apple pie.
Digging your fork into this treat does wonders for your cholesterol. So say Ohio State University researchers, who found that women who ate an apple a day lowered their “bad” LDL cholesterol by 40 percent within four weeks, the same result you’d get from cholesterol-lowering statins. Apples strike a one-two punch: They deliver a hefty dose of antioxidants that prevent free radicals from forming more LDL cholesterol in the body, and their pectin fiber attaches to cholesterol in the gut and ushers it out of your body before it can be absorbed.
Unclog arteries with plush socks
Donning a pair of soft, cozy socks can make you feel allover toasty in an instant. And when you wear them at bedtime, your warmed-up tootsies help you doze off 7 minutes faster and sleep 32 minutes longer, according to a South Korean study. That’s important since Harvard researchers found that clocking a solid 7 to 8 hours of shut-eye nightly helps prevent harmful buildup of plaque in your heart’s arteries. A good night’s sleep regulates the hormone hypocretin, which plays a vital role in keeping arteries clear and healthy.
Tame blood pressure with a crackling fire.
Whether you enjoy snuggling up to an indoor fireplace or gathering around a backyard firepit, a crackling flame is also great for a healthy heart. University of Alabama scientists say the sight and sound of a fire releases calming brain chemicals that ease blood pressure — raising anxiety, reducing your systolic (top number) blood pressure by 6 points and diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure by 3 points in 15 minutes. No fireplace? Videos of glowing fires are just as effective!
Balance blood sugar with a steamy soak.
Those relaxing baths you take do a world of good for your ticker! Japanese scientists say enjoying a soak five days per week markedly improves blood-sugar control. Steamy bathwater triggers the body to release nitric oxide, a compound that helps remove excess glucose from the bloodstream, lowering elevated blood-sugar levels. Not only does this reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, it also curbs the liver’s production of heart-harming fats — a double win!
Raise ‘good’ cholesterol with a cup of hot cocoa.
It’s a tasty way to chase away a chill, and when you make it with dark chocolate, you’ll keep your cholesterol in check and lower your heart disease risk by 38 percent. Japanese scientists say chocolate’s polyphenols trigger a 24 percent increase in your “good” HDL cholesterol when you enjoy two cups of cocoa or two-and-a half squares of chocolate daily.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.