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Giving the Gift of Health This Holiday Season

Ideas from U-M physician include economical options

ANN ARBOR, Mich., Dec. 1 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A bottle of cologne, a new pair of pajamas or a video game are all quick and easy gifts to buy and wrap for the upcoming holiday season. But this year, why not give something more healthy and beneficial to a loved one? Why not give the gift of health?

Staying healthy around the holidays can be challenging, and this year, many Americans are faced with extra hardships due to our tough economy.

Caroline R. Richardson, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School (, offers some guidance for buying healthy gifts that may be leaner on your body as well as on your wallet.

"This is the time of the year that people fear the most; food is everywhere and most of it is not good for you," says Richardson. Many people also find it difficult to stay physically active during the colder winter months. In addition, she says, it can be a very stressful time for a lot of people, and the prospect of having to buy presents for many people only adds to the stress.

Some kinds of gifts that help reduce stress or help recipients remain healthy include nutritious foods, things that help people stay physically active and gifts that reduce peoples' stress levels. Richardson says there are many options for gifts in all three categories.

Healthy Foods

Richardson says her favorite healthy gift to give is olive oil and vinegar. These items help people get their daily vegetable intake because a good olive oil and vinegar dressing make salads and other foods much tastier, she notes. It can also be paired with homemade bread for dipping. Another inexpensive option that can help people stick to a healthy diet is a soup mix. Soup mixes are easy to create at home by using rice, beans and a variety of spices.

Physical Activity Gifts

According to Richardson, "the least expensive form of physical activity that is accessible to everyone, to children, to adults, to older people, is walking. It doesn't require much equipment and can be done just about anywhere."

Richardson suggests some gifts that will help people stick with a walking program, such as comfortable walking shoes and sweat-wicking socks. These are critical for maintaining a walking program but can be a bit expensive, so a gift certificate could help toward the gift recipient's purchase.

Pedometers -- devices that count the number of steps someone has taken -- are a good option because they allow people to track their physical activity and are also relatively inexpensive.

Another idea is to sign someone up to receive e-mails from with free weekly walking tips. is a good place to find reviews for all kinds of walking products including good walking shoes, socks and pedometers, Richardson says. For a little more money, you can give a one-year membership to a Web-based walking program such as or; Web-based services that offer a pedometer to track steps, diet-tracking features, graphs and feedback on your progress; and individualized e-mail coaching for a healthy lifestyle.

In order for children to stay healthy, they must be active, Richardson notes. It's relatively easy helping kids stay active without breaking the bank. Simple items such as waterproof gloves or a pair of winter boots allow kids to get outside and become active while having fun in the winter weather.

Even some video games have moved away from the sedentary nature of earlier games. If you are buying a gift for someone who loves video games, consider helping them turn their addiction into a healthy pursuit. Video games that encourage physical activity with activity tracking, coaching and feedback are available for many gaming systems. The new Apple Wii Fit program and Dance Dance Revolution are two examples of games that will get kids off the couch, Richardson says.

Gifts to reduce stress

Due to the poor economy and high stress levels, holiday gift ideas that will help people reduce their stress levels are a great idea and can be done relatively inexpensively, Richardson says. Simple things that can help reduce stress levels include a gift of tea or some soothing, relaxing music.

Richardson also suggests that "one of the best ways to reduce stress is to help others, and there's going to be plenty of people this winter that need help. It's a great thing to do alone, as well as involving the family, to volunteer at an activity or charity this upcoming holiday season.

Instead of giving a child a toy, search for a kid-friendly volunteering opportunity in your community and do it with a child, work with a child to find a charity that he or she would like to support and send a donation in the child's name, or donate gifts to a shelter for homeless kids. "You may get some grumbling up front, but kids remember these kinds of activities long after all the plastic toys have broken," notes Richardson.

For more ideas about healthy and inexpensive gifts, visit

For more about Dr. Richardson, see

SOURCE University of Michigan Health System
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