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Surprise, the holidays are good for you

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The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is lit during a ceremony, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, in New York.AP

There’s lots of buzz this time of year about the supposed detriments of the holiday season. There are sensational and gloomy news reports about  the dangers of overspending, weight gain, high stress levels. And then there are stories about Wal-Mart stampedes by people fighting over Black Friday deals. 

But a deeper look on the holiday season reveals a much happier picture. Recent studies have demonstrated the benefits of holiday activity like increased prayer and more time spent in community, helping others, and even retail therapy/consumerism, all of which are integral to the holiday season and good for your health.  

A recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, found that praying helps people maintain self-control. This is consistent with prior research showing that prayer reduces levels of infidelity, and alcohol consumption.   

Recent studies have demonstrated the benefits of Holiday activities, like prayer and community, are good for your health.

Holiday prayer even has direct health benefits. Time spent in church is correlated with lower blood pressure, according to a study from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Other benefits of churchgoing include less depression and anxiety, and stronger immune system. Researchers attribute these benefits to the friendship, social support and community from attending religious services. So attending those Christmas and Advent services is not only good for your conscience, but also your health.    

Not only does the holiday season benefit people on an individual level, but it also benefits all of us on a societal level.

Although the news is replete with warnings about charity scams, a survey by Charity Navigator found that charities receive 41 percent of their donations during the holiday season.

Volunteerism, which also rises during the holiday season, enhances empathy for others and has tangible health benefits. A 2013 report in the journal Psychology and Aging confirmed a clear link between volunteering and greater longevity.

The increased shopping during the holiday season is good for our economy and businesses. It sustains businesses, jobs, and economic growth despite the naysayers decrying consumerism. 

Retail therapy may help individuals as well. A 2011 study from the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health showed how seniors who shopped often had a 27 percent lower risk of death than less-frequent shoppers. This was attributed to shopping enhancing personal well-being, health and security, on top of making exercise easier than formal methods..

Since the 2013 holiday season began two weeks ago weight gain scares have been circulating. One report bellowed about how holiday weight gain “could be a more important factor in the obesity epidemic than many people realize” citing the average of two pounds of weight gain during the holiday season.

While festive meals and lounging could invariable lead to weight gain, that should not be a reason not to celebrate. If anything, it should be viewed as an opportunity to raise awareness on healthy eating and getting out to exercise. It could also be used as a time to engage in healthy home cooking, as opposing to artery clogging foods in restaurants.   

Despite gloomy news, there is much for you to benefit from the holiday season: Spending money helps our economy, praying helps our psyches, giving to charity helps others in need, and of course eating festive meals with a health conscious attitude can bring pleasure.

Don’t let anyone spoil the joys of the season.

Eliyahu Federman writes frequently on religion, culture, business and law. Follow him on Twitter @EliFederman and find him on Facebook.com/eli.federman. He is also an executive at the e-commerce company 1Sale.com. The opinions expressed here represent his personal views.