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Give the gift of health this year

Pistachio nuts lower cholesterol and increase antioxidants in the blood, making them a very healthy Christmas gift alternative. (Illustration by Brad Saleik of The News-Sentinel)
Pistachio nuts lower cholesterol and increase antioxidants in the blood, making them a very healthy Christmas gift alternative. (Illustration by Brad Saleik of The News-Sentinel)
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Monday, December 16, 2013 12:01 am
Still trying to think of gift ideas for those hard-to-buy-for people on your holiday list? They likely don't need another shirt or slow cooker or box of candy.With the help of a few other people, I came up with a Gifts of Health list. These gifts have minimal cost, if anything.

None need to be wrapped. They are lifetime or long lasting presents, and many benefit the giver and the recipient. Here are suggestions made by community health leaders along with a few of my own ideas. Happy healthy gift-giving!

1. A bag of pistachio nuts – The powerhouse nuts lower cholesterol and increase antioxidants in the blood. Compared to other nuts, pistachios are high in carotenoids such as lutein and beta-carotene and also in gamma-tocopherol, a form of vitamin E. All are antioxidants that protect the body from free radicals, which damage cells through oxidation, and help rid the body of the “bad fats” or LDL. In a controlled-feeding study at Penn State University, subjects who ate pistachios while adhering to the medically-recognized Step I diet had higher levels of of antioxidants in their blood as well as a lower LDL levels compared to those who followed the same diet but did not eat pistachios.

This gift is under $10; put a red ribbon around the bag and you are good to go!

2. Time with friends – True friendship – the nurturing, face-to-face kind that goes beyond a periodic email or Facebook post – will add years to your and your friends' lives and improve health. The Australian Longitudinal Study of Aging found that having good friends is more likely to increase longevity than even close relationships with adult children or other family members. Subjects with the largest number of close friends – and this held true for both sexes – outlived those with the fewest friends by 22 percent. Another study found individuals with the fewest friendship connections were most likely to have heart disease or be depressed or anxious.

3. Eat together as a family – Want to give a meaningful, healthful gift to your child? Holli Seabury, CEO of McMillen Center for Health Education, suggests parents make a commitment to eat at least three meals a week together as a family. Put away the cell phones. Turn off the TV. Talk to each other. Children who eat at least three weekly meals together as a family have better social and emotional health compared to their peers who don't have family meals. They are also less likely to bully other children, less likely to attempt suicide and have higher grades, research shows. Seabury suggests introducing children to Pinterest to find fun and interesting recipes. Encourage children to help prepare the food. On the day one child picks the recipe to be served, another child chooses the table conversation topic. Family meals are a great time for parents to pass down funny stories about their childhood or to share a time of adversity when they were a child and how they got through it.

“Let's tell our children about our values and talk about ways they can handle tough situations,” Seabury said. “Through family meals, we can make sure our children know they come from a strong, loving family who supports them.”

4. Protection for babies – Allen County Commissioner of Health Dr. Deborah McMahan recommends that grandparents give the gift of protection to their grandchildren by getting a pertussis, or whooping cough, vaccination, especially if there is a baby in the family or soon to be one. Even though they've started their vaccination series, infants under 6 months of age lack enough immunity to ward off whopping cough. In 2010, 27,500 U.S. cases of whooping cough were confirmed, with 25 deaths in babies under age 1. It's important to note that adults can unknowingly be carriers of this highly infectious disease.

5. Protection for older adults – McMahan's second suggestions is to give the gift of snow shoveling for an older relative, friend or neighbor. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine recently reported that U.S. hospitals treat about 11,500 people each year for cardiac or other emergencies related specifically to snow shoveling. Snow shoveling places “extraordinary demands on your heart and can raise heart rates above recommended upper limits after only two minutes,” McMahan said. Freezing temperatures constrict peripheral blood vessels which further stresses the heart, and the activity increases fall risk.

6. Be a healthy role model – A valuable gift for the child, grandchild or niece or nephew on your list is to teach them to eat new foods, said Marsha Worthington, health educator with Parkview Physicians Group Cardiology and Fort4Fitness director of Community Wellness. Help the children think of a fruit or vegetable they have never eaten. Research the food together on the Web and find recipes using the foods. Once the kids have made their choices, take them to the grocery and let them find them in the produce section. Prepare the recipes together.

While the meal is in the oven or food is marinating or chilling, Worthington advised, “Go for a brisk walk in the neighborhood. Model both healthy eating and active moving.” It's a gift for a lifetime!

7. Mental health support – Andy Wilson, executive director of Carriage House, said this is the perfect time to support someone who dealing with a mental illness or struggling emotionally.

“One of the most difficult parts of struggling with depression or anxiety is the feeling of being alone. This year, share a story with friends about a time that you or a loved one struggled with depression or anxiety. Then listen gently. We will never know who could use an ear, especially at this time of year. It could be the very best gift to your friend, your friendship and to the world!”

8. Living organ donor candidate – While this gift likely can't be given by this Christmas, you can start the process now. By this time next year, you may have freed someone from the need for dialysis and given them a quality of life they have not experienced for years. It costs nothing for a donor candidate to be evaluated or to give a kidney, said Valerie Barto, living donor coordinator for Lutheran Hospital's Kidney Transplant Program. To start the process, call Barto at 435-6275. Since 2007, 94 individuals have given this gift of health.

Happy giving gifts of health!


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