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November 20, 2006

12 ideas for healthy holiday gifts

Instead of fudge and cookies, give pedometers and balsamic vinegar this holiday season, University of Michigan family doctor suggests

ANN ARBOR, MI – Thinking of giving cookies, fudge or a box of chocolates as a holiday gift? That’s so 2005.

Caroline Richardson, MDThis year, think about giving something healthy to your loved ones, co-workers, neighbors and friends. 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 the recipient will actually enjoy.

“Everyone thinks it is their own personal struggle to stay healthy, and that it is their own failure that they can’t keep their weight under control or stay fit,” Richardson says. “But this is something almost everyone struggles with. Helping out by getting someone a gift that will help them eat healthier or become more active is a wonderful thing to do during the holidays.”

In addition, Richardson notes, this is the time of year “that people fear most” in terms of the potential for weight gain. “People get plates of fudge and cookies at their offices. Food is everywhere, and most of it is not good for you.”

Dr. Caroline Richardson’s 12 ideas for healthy gifts
For healthier eating:

  1. Oil and vinegar. Richardson is a big fan of giving high-quality balsamic vinegar and olive oil as a gift. If someone is trying to lose weight by eating a lot of salads, some aged balsamic vinegar and a dash or two of good olive oil can make the difference between a boring salad and a nice treat. “This can be a really luxurious gift,” Richardson says.
  2. Sessions with a nutritionist. Lots of people have tried to go low-fat or low-carb, or have ridden the wave of the latest fad diet. But what works for individual people can vary dramatically. A nutritionist can help tailor a diet plan to a person’s individual likes and dislikes, and can come up with something the person is more likely to stick to, Richardson says.
  3. A healthy cooking class. Stores such as Whole Foods offer classes on how to cook healthy foods. In Ann Arbor, the U-M Health System’s MFit health promotion division offers classes. Other stores and community organizations around the country also offer classes.
  4. A healthy-eating book. One option, Richardson says, is Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating by Walter C. Willett and P. J. Skerrett. And given the popularity of the book You: On a Diet, it seems some people are already following this advice.
  5. A crock pot, rice cooker or steamer. These will help the gift recipient prepare food in a healthier way, Richardson notes. Throw in a few recipes for a tasty soup or a meal that includes steamed vegetables.

    For getting – and staying – active:

  6. Clothes for winter outdoor sports. “Get someone silk long underwear or furry, soft gloves or a good hat, and they will be more inclined to get outside and exercise,” Richardson says. This not only helps with physical health, but also can improve people’s mental well-being and reduce “cabin fever,” she says.
  7. A massage gift certificate. “Relaxation and stress relief are important for overall good health,” Richardson notes.
  8. A fun exercise class. Is the gift recipient someone who gets bored easily and may have trouble sticking to some types of fitness routines? Try signing him or her up for a dance class, or some sessions in yoga, Tae Kwon Do, water aerobics, indoor rock-climbing or spinning, Richardson says.
  9. A pass to the local park system. In the Ann Arbor and Detroit areas, a Metropark permit will provide access to a series of parks and outdoor activities. The gift recipient can go bicycling through the trails in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter. Other areas of the country also have excellent park systems that can encourage people to exercise in the great outdoors.
  10. A session with a personal trainer. Do you know someone who can’t stay motivated to exercise? A personal trainer is a great way to get people on track with workouts that help them build muscle tone and endurance, Richardson says.
  11. A tune-up for a bicycle. That bicycle with the broken chain isn’t doing anybody any good rusting away in the garage. Pay for the tune-up of a friend’s bike, and throw in an offer to go on some rides with him or her this year.
  12. Last but not least, a pedometer. Richardson is a huge fan of pedometers and often gives them to people as presents. Make sure it’s a good one; “some pedometers just don’t count steps accurately,” she says. One good one is the Omron HJ-112 digital pedometer because it is easy to use and accurate, she says. Also, www.sportbrain.com is a Web site that uses uploadable pedometers and gives users feedback on a Web page. And some books offer guidance about walking and using a pedometer, such as Walking Magazine’s The Complete Guide To Walking: for Health, Fitness, and Weight Loss, by Mark Fenton, and Manpo-Kei: The Art and Science of Step Counting: How to Be Naturally Active and Lose Weight! by Catrine Tudor-Locke.

Written by Katie Gazella

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