Our expert guide to the healthiest gifts

Have yourself a healthy little Christmas! From yoghurt makers to these ingenious ‘stars’ to soothe itchy skin, our expert guide to the healthiest gifts

Gadgets that are a breath of fresh air

Chi aroma diffuser

£85, nealsyardremedies.com

Indulge in some aromatherapy using this elegant ceramic diffuser. It emits a scented mist for up to six hours and comes with a built in ‘breathwork coach’ that guides you through three breathing exercises using the brightening and dimming of its light, to boost your mood. Essential oils available separately.

Chi aroma diffuser

SURI Sustainable Sonic Toothbrush

£84, trysuri.com

Not only is this electric toothbrush good for your teeth, having been nominated for a British Dental Industry Association award, but with its corn starch head, castor oil bristles and aluminium body it’s good for the environment, as all these materials can be recycled fully. Available in pastel green, white or sleek black, it’s one of the prettiest electric toothbrushes around.

‘Effective tooth brushing involves manipulating the brush to remove soft plaque without damaging the gums,’ says dentist Dr Raj Mehta, at Lister House Dental Centre in Essex and Sarum Dental in Wiltshire. ‘Electric toothbrushes have pressure control, create an oscillating action and vibrate at high frequency to eliminate soft plaque, allowing for a more effective clean.’

SURI Sustainable Sonic Toothbrush

HoMedics TotalClean PetPlus Air Purifier

£179.99, homedics.co.uk

Ease the breathing of a loved one with allergies with this gift of fresh air — a five-filter air purifier. A 2020 study by allergy researchers at Yonsei University College of Medicine in South Korea found the use of air purifiers with HEPA filters — such as this one — significantly reduced the need for medication in patients who had allergic rhinitis (where an allergy causes cold-like symptoms) and significantly lowered concentrations of fine particulate matter indoors, which other studies have suggested can help to improve blood pressure.

HoMedics TotalClean PetPlus Air Purifier

Heated Eye Wand

£60, peepclub.com

This is a useful product for people who suffer from dry eyes — a classic but often forgotten side-effect of menopause, as well as an unpleasant consequence of using screens all day — providing a warming, soothing compress.

‘We’ve been recommending the Peep Club eye wand for close to two years,’ says Anthony Josephson, optometrist at Maskell + Josephson in Altrincham, Cheshire. 

‘It offers a relaxing, therapeutic massage of the eyelids while simultaneously helping to improve the condition of the meibomian glands in the eyelids [key to maintaining well-lubricated eyes]. It’s our number-one choice for heat therapies for dry eye management.’

Heated Eye Wand

Gut health all wrapped up

EasiYo 1kg Red Yoghurt Maker

£17.99, lakeland.co.uk. Plus EasiYo Wellbeing Greek Style Unsweetened Yoghurt Mix, £15.99

‘Fermented dairy-like yoghurt has been linked to successful weight management, and heart health,’ says Dr Megan Rossi, our gut health guru (see previous page), a research fellow at King’s College London. ‘If you make your own yoghurt, you can ensure it’s free from additives such as thickeners, artificial sweeteners and added sugars.’

EasiYo 1kg Red Yoghurt Maker

Smeg Blender

£179.95, smeguk.com

‘Aiming for 30 different plant-based foods in your diet each week is my mantra for good gut health — and blending them is one of the easiest ways to do it!’ says Dr Rossi of this stylish, sturdy blender.

Smeg Blender

Kefirko Fermenting Food Kit 

£29.99, kefirko.co.uk

Fermented foods — which are rich in probiotics and prebiotics — nourish the good bacteria in your gut. ‘A fermenting set like this is a great buy, as shop-bought kimchi can be quite pricey, but you can pick your own veg and make it for pennies,’ says Dr Rossi.

Kefirko Fermenting Food Kit

Organic Kombucha Making Kit

£35, boochi.co.uk

Kombucha is the trendy drink of the moment, lightly fizzy and made by fermenting tea — this kit allows you to make your own. ‘In properly brewed kombucha there are a range of benefical chemicals with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties,’ says Dr Rossi. ‘But a lot of commercial products don’t actually contain the ‘good stuff’ as they’re not made with live bacteria.’

Organic Kombucha Making Kit

Little luxuries

Cosi Care Scratch Star

£35, cosi-care.com

This pretty ‘scratch star’ (pictured below) is the ultimate useful gift. It’s designed to be kept in the fridge, then used to apply moisturiser or medicated cream for conditions such as eczema, says Dr Andrew Birnie, a consultant dermatologist and dermatological surgeon at Kent and Canterbury Hospital and the developer of the Altruist sunscreens range.

‘Scratching can be damaging, so something that offers relief should help protect the skin, while allowing creams and medications to work.’

Cosi Care Scratch Star

Heated scarf

£25, boots.com

This pink USB-powered heated scarf will keep your neck warm and soothe your shoulders. Washable, it comes with a USB cable to warm it up, with three temperature settings.

Heated scarf

Phonak Audeo Lumity Life Hearing Aids

From £1,245 at hearingaid.org.uk

These ‘healthable’ hearing aids combine improved hearing with fitness tracking, which you can use via an app on your phone, says audiologist David Taylor, who is based in Redditch, Worcs.

‘Healthable hearing aids are designed for those with hearing loss who want to maintain an active lifestyle and build healthy habits using tracking features.

‘As well as being waterproof [so you can wear them to swim], these have sensors to track activity levels, helping you to hear better and stick to health goals.’

Kit fit for an A-list body

Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III

From £98, vivobarefoot.com

For the weight-lifter in your life, Lily Chapman — an exercise nutritionist and performance coach for P3RFORM digital coaching (p3rform.com) — recommends the correct shoes for lifting in. Flat or minimalist shoes — such as this pair made from recycled materials — offer greater stability than cushioned trainers.

‘Minimalist shoes provide the sensation of training barefoot while offering a small amount of protection to the feet,’ she explains. ‘Studies have shown that this can help you control foot stability and provide a more stable base [than trainers or running shoes] during certain exercises such as squatting.’ They are suitable for all ages.

Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III

Liforme X You Yoga Mat

Liforme X You Yoga Mat

From £60, liforme.com

Mats are essential for yoga or mobility exercises but those that are made from PVC are bad for the environment, both for the way they are made and how they are disposed of.

Liforme’s mat can be customised with colours, your name or a motivational quote, and is the only one on the market proven in an Imperial College London study to be biodegradable. ‘Ending a lifting session with mobility exercises or yoga is a great warm-down following a high-intensity session, lowering heart rate back to resting levels,’ says Lily Chapman. Perfect for every yogi.

Les Mills Smart Bar and Weight Set

£399, shop.lesmills.com

This nifty bar with up to 17kg of additional weights is an excellent gift to promote longevity. It’s attractive and ergonomically designed — for instance, the individual weight plates have handles so they can be used as handheld weights separate to the bar (in place of dumbbells or kettlebells). This kit is also very space-efficient compared with most sorts of weight sets.

Regular resistance training not only increases your strength, range of motion and mobility of muscles, ligaments and tendons, but studies have shown that strength training can also boost bone health and reduce the chances of developing the crumbly bone disease osteoporosis as we get older, says Lily Chapman.

WHOOP Any-Wear Adjustable Bralette and Thong

£46, plus membership from £18 a month, whoop.com

The one downside of most health trackers is that they’re not versatile — if you don’t want to wear a bulky, sporty-looking watch or band, you can’t wear a tracker at all. Not so with WHOOP — they’ve added clothing and even underwear with little tracker-sized pockets to their range, so you can slip the WHOOP tracker in unnoticeably with any outfit (even into a bra and thong) and monitor your activity, recovery and sleep imperceptibly.

Stocking fillers

Research shows too much reliance on your mobile phone can lead to feelings of anxiety, disrupt sleep and give you repetitive strain injury from texting. How To Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price (£6.99, amazon.co.uk) could be the Christmas gift that finally helps the phone addict you love to keep to their New Year’s resolutions.

Put a sweet treat for your sweetheart under the tree — one that’s also packed with antiviral and anti-inflammatory benefits and can be spread on toast (940 MGO Manuka Honey, £45 down from £90, manukadoctor.co.uk).

How To Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price (£6.99, amazon.co.uk ) could be the Christmas gift that finally helps the phone addict you love to keep to their New Year’s resolutions

Put a sweet treat for your sweetheart under the tree — one that’s also packed with antiviral and anti-inflammatory benefits and can be spread on toast (940 MGO Manuka Honey, £45 down from £90

Dream gifts for a restorative night’s sleep

Soul Sanctuary Yoga App subscription

£14.99 per month, mysoulsanctuary.co

‘Yoga is the perfect way to relax the body and can also improve the quality of your sleep,’ says sleep psychologist Dr Katherine Hall, of Somnus Therapy sleep therapists in London.

‘Yoga stimulates your vagus nerve [the longest nerve in the body which links the brain to organs all over the body], which relays messages to the brain to relax.’ The Soul Sanctuary app offers four new yoga routines each month, as well as classes, including ‘yoga nidra’, to help you drop off to sleep.

Soul Sanctuary Yoga App subscription

La Nuit Drowsy Sleep Mask

£69, drowsysleepco.com

A sleep mask might help the restless sleeper in your life finally to get a decent night’s rest. This 100 per cent silk version, by Drowsy, in cosmic print is softly padded, gentle on the skin and muffles sound by wrapping over your ears.

‘One of the main advantages of a sleep mask is that they block out light,’ says Dr Katherine Hall — and too much light is proven to interfere with sleep even if you are unaware of it.

‘They also minimise distractions including checking your electronic devices and can significantly help with insomnia.’

La Nuit Drowsy Sleep Mask

Groov-e Light Curve Wake Up Light

£24.99, robertdyas.co.uk

A thoughtful gift for those who struggle to get up in the morning, a wake-up light offers a gentler start to the day than the shrill summons of an alarm.

‘Alarm clocks have the ability to disturb your sleep cycle abruptly, whereas gradual exposure to light can leave you feeling more alert and improve concentration,’ says Dr Katherine Hall. It has a sunrise simulation feature, so the light gradually brightens over half an hour.

Groov-e Light Curve Wake Up Light

Something for every age

Hot Water Bottle Foot Warmer

£22.95, heat-treats.co.uk

Heat therapy doesn’t have to be high-tech — this cute hot water bottle foot warmer is the perfect present for someone with arthritis or poor circulation such as an older relative.

The fleecy cover protects the skin. ‘Heat therapy works by improving blood flow to a particular area — it can relax muscles and heal damaged tissue, and is particularly useful for tight muscles and arthritis,’ says Pete Talbot, a physiotherapist at P3RFORM (p3rform.co.uk) and head of rehabilitation for the Professional Footballers’ Association at St George’s Park in Staffordshire.

Hot Water Bottle Foot Warmer

Modibodi Sensual High-waist Bikini

£28, modibodi.co.uk

For your eco-friendly Gen Z-er, a pair of cute and colourful, period-absorbing pants offers an effective option for that time of the month, says Leanne O’Brien, a women’s health lead physiotherapist at Ten Health & Fitness (ten.co.uk).

‘Disposable pads are bleached and can irritate the skin, but period pants are reusable menstrual products that allow you to save money and the environment,’ she says.

BAM High Waist Bamboo Leggings

£27.50, bambooclothing.co.uk

‘If you’re suffering with menopause or perimenopause hot flushes, bamboo clothing can help regulate body temperature, by wicking away sweat,’ says Leanne O’Brien.

BAM High Waist Bamboo Leggings 

Why shopping for loved ones can give you a boost too

By John Naish for MailOnline

This may not feel true as you scour the entire internet and try every shop to find the ideal pressie for a loved one, but giving Christmas gifts is, in fact, surprisingly beneficial for both your body and brain.

Indeed, most of us believe the opposite to be true.

The most stressful part of the festive season is thinking about what presents to buy, how much they cost, and the rigmarole of getting them, a YouGov survey of more than 1,680 Britons found last year.

Nevertheless, Christmas presents really are gifts that keep on giving — at least to the person buying them.

For example, in a study of 1,700 students published in the Journal of Personal and Social Psychology two years ago, Lara Aknin, a professor of psychology at Simon Fraser University in Canada, told half the students to buy something for themselves and half to buy for a stranger in need. She then assessed the students’ happiness levels and found that those who had spent on others had more buoyant moods.

Youthful idealism, perhaps? Not so, suggests another Canadian research paper, published in June. This looked at survey data from more than 15,500 Americans and found that people in every age group got a mood boost from spending money on gifts for others.

Middle-aged and older adults get the biggest lift, reported the social psychologists at the University of British Columbia in the journal PLoS One.

And, according to brain scans conducted by researchers at the University of Lubeck, in Germany, we are hard-wired to be made happy by giving.

The neuropsychologists gave 100 Swiss francs (£88) to 50 volunteers and asked half to pledge that they would spend it on buying treats for others, while the others could spend it on themselves.

As in the previous studies, the gift-givers reported feeling significantly happier.

What’s more, results of their fMRI scans [a functional magnetic resonance imaging scan measures and maps the brain’s activity] reported in the journal Nature Communications in 2017 suggested why: the gift-givers had much stronger communication between two regions of their brain, the temporoparietal junction and the ventral striatum. The temporoparietal junction, on the left side of the brain, is involved in regulating our interactions with other people, while the ventral striatum, at the brain’s centre, is involved with giving us a sense of reward.

When the two communicate, as in buying and giving a gift, the social interaction gives us a sense of joy and satisfaction, this study suggests.

It makes sense, according to Dr Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist who practises in Bath. ‘Individual human beings as a species are fairly weak in survival terms,’ she says. ‘We instinctively survive by being in groups that work together and support one another. If you bond with someone, you feel safer.’

Moreover, Dr Blair says that gifting does more than just make us feel momentarily happier: it can sustain better health. ‘Research shows that people who habitually gift feel a greater sense of control over their environment and are less likely to feel depressed,’ she says.

‘What’s more, a 2002 study by investigators at Michigan University in the journal Psychological Science shows that you live significantly longer if you give gifts.’

Indeed, the researchers found that it can reduce older people’s risk of dying by nearly 60 per cent over a five-year period.

And while it makes sense that when we’re happy, we’re more disposed to be generous, it can be a two-way street.

‘In fact, the time when you should be giving most is when you are depressed,’ Dr Blair argues. ‘It will make you feel socially involved and meaningful — and thus can raise you out of low mood.’

Meanwhile, evidence shows that finding the perfect ‘surprise’ present for a loved one doesn’t matter much: we’re better off asking them what they want.

A 2011 study by researchers at Harvard and Stanford, involving nearly 200 married participants, found that those who recalled receiving a gift from their wedding list were more appreciative than those who recalled receiving a gift they hadn’t asked for.

Finally, last December’s YouGov survey found that only one in eight thought unwanted gifts are a bother, with most appreciating the effort.

In other words, it really is the thought that counts.

John Naish

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