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December 2008
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Healthy Holiday Gift Ideas
Get Creative, Stay Healthy

 Cartoon of gift box with pictures of healthy gifts on wrapping paper

We all know how hard it is to stay healthy over the holidays. This year, don’t be part of the problem. Here are some gift ideas to help your family and friends be more, not less, healthy.

Typical food gifts encourage unhealthy eating during the holidays. Instead of giving a box of rich chocolate, try something more nutritious, like a box of fresh fruit. You can also bring gift boxes of almonds, walnuts and other unsalted nuts. Or how about a collection of gourmet teas?

You can find such healthy food gifts in stores or search for them online and have them sent directly. Many come in reusable metal boxes that can serve as a reminder of your thoughtfulness for years to come.

Another option is to prepare something yourself. You might put together a soup mix in a nice mason jar. Or you can simply get a gift card to a health food store or a quality grocery store to encourage them to pick out what they like themselves.

Other gifts beside food can promote nutritious eating. Reusable bento boxes, which have several small compartments for food, can encourage people to take healthier, homemade lunches to work. Traditionally, these boxes have been used in Japan to pack small portions of rice, vegetables and fish or meat. As we’ve reported before in this newsletter, the size and shape of containers can as much as double the amount of food you consume. So containers that hold only small portions of a variety of healthy foods can go a long way to encouraging healthier lunchtime eating at work.

You can also give a healthy foods cookbook. In addition to commercial cookbooks, NIH has several no- and low-cost cookbooks with nutritious recipes that have been reviewed by NIH experts.

NIH’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) offers healthy cookbooks for $4 each (downloads are free).Keep the Beat: Heart Healthy Recipes (item #03-2921) shows that you don’t have to lose flavor to gain heart health. Want recipes for popular, easy-to-prepare, taste-tested Latino and African-American dishes created in a heart-healthy way? Order the bilingual English/Spanish Delicious Heart Healthy Latino Recipes (item #08-4049) and Heart Healthy Home Cooking African American Style (item #08-3792). Just go to to order any of these, or call 301-592-8573.

Down Home Healthy Cooking: Recipes and Tips for Healthy Cooking, from NIH’s National Cancer Institute, provides recipes that are low-fat, high-fiber versions of traditional favorite African-American recipes. Order it for free at or call 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).

Physical activity, of course, is the other part of staying healthy. For kids, sports equipment can be a great gift. Even something small like a flying disc, boomerang, football or soccer ball can provide hours of healthy and fun family activity.

Exercise clothing—particularly outdoor clothes for cold weather exercise—can make a great holiday gift. So can accessories, like a pedometer, which is an inexpensive device you clip to your belt to measure how many steps you take per day. It gives you a general measure of physical activity (see A good goal is to get at least 10,000 steps per day.

A watch with a heart rate monitor can be a wonderful gift for active people. It can help them exercise at a level that safely improves their fitness. For runners, a watch with a GPS (global positioning system) can help them track not only how far they’re running but also their average pace. Hikers might also appreciate a GPS device or other accessories, like a walking stick.

With a gift of a bicycle trainer, a cyclist can keep cycling no matter how bad the weather. The hub of a bicycle’s back wheel clamps into one of these devices, allowing cyclists to spin indoors. Cyclists can switch gears to vary resistance and at the same time read, watch TV or use a video to boost motivation. For the more serious cyclist, bicycle rollers provide a realistic, albeit pricier, indoor cycling experience.

Other pricier fit gift ideas include a bicycle, push scooter, ping-pong table or indoor exercise equipment like a treadmill. Some video game systems have special accessories that encourage physical activity as well.

If you’re not sure what they’d like, consider giving a gift card for an outdoor or sports shop and let them pick something out themselves. For someone who’s not sure where to start, a drop-in gift certificate for exercise or yoga classes at a local health club—or a visit with a fitness trainer—might encourage them to get into the exercise habit.

Books and videos on health and fitness are also a good gift idea. These can outline a fitness program or help improve performance in a sport. Or try a book of local walking tours, hiking paths or bicycling paths.

From NIH, you can order The Healthy Heart Handbook for Women from NHLBI (item 07-2720) for $4 at Also from NHLBI is the 2009 Keep the Beat wall calendar, which has creative healthy living tips and helps you track heart disease risks. Order your copies today at You can also order from NHLBI by calling 301-592-8573.

Another idea is to give a subscription to a healthy living magazine. Whether cooking, fitness or general health, a monthly dose of good advice can help people stay on track all year round.

Chronic stress has been linked to high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular problems. So why not give something to help with relaxation? It could be soothing music, candles or soaps. Also consider a gift certificate for a massage or relaxation spa.

As we’ve reported in these pages, scientists are finding that the arts can benefit both your mental and physical health. So how about some nice art supplies as a gift? Or a musical instrument? A gift certificate for dance lessons can improve both mental and physical health.

You don’t even have to spend any money to give a great gift, either. You can make up a coupon for a run, bike ride or a workout together—or even just to meet for a walk. Get creative and give a gift you know they’ll love, and that will love them back.

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Wise Choices iconWise Choices
A No-Cost Gift for Your Family

Perhaps the greatest gift of all for your family would be to make a family health portrait.

Tracing the illnesses experienced by your parents, grandparents and other blood relatives can help family doctors predict the disorders your family members may be at risk for, and help you all take action to keep healthy.

NIH and the U.S. Surgeon General have created a free web-based tool to help you build a drawing of your family tree and a chart of your family health history that you can print and share with your family members and doctor. It takes some work to gather all this information, but your family will doubtless appreciate the gift.

Go to now to start building your family health portrait.

Links iconWeb Sites

Heft for the Holidays: How to Hold Off Those Extra Pounds)

Stressed Out? Stress Affects Both Body and Mind

More than a Feeling: How the Arts Affect Your Health

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