Healthy Life

Five ways Christmas and the festive season can be good for brain health

December 30, 2021

Gifting presents, spending time with family and enjoying lots of food are things we think of around Christmas and the New Year.

Brain health isn’t something that would usually come to mind, but there are some ways that the festive season can be good for helping to keep one of your vital organs in check long-term.

Here are some ways that this time can be good for our brains.

  1. Spending time with family and friends

Studies show how important it is to get regular social engagement, and Christmas is no exception. Socialising with family and friends is one part of the festive season a lot of us look forward to after a long, busy year of work.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made in-person socialising more challenging, but phone calls, video calls and messaging all help to reduce the effects of loneliness and isolation.  

So, make more effort to speak to the cousin you only see once a year at the dinner table, or video call your family – not only will it make them smile, it will help your brain too.

  1. More time for exercise

It’s easy to lounge on the sofa right through to Boxing Day, but why not make the most of having some spare time and go for a run, cycle or walk? You could even go for a long family walk after lunch. 

Aerobic exercise is scientifically proven to have a positive impact on the brain – from increasing blood flow to improving memory. 

  1. Eat a variety of nutritious foods

The typical festive menu is not known for its health benefits, but with some simple adjustments, you could make it more nutritious. 

The best foods to eat for your brain health are those with healthy fats, vitamins and polyphenols. 

  • Aim to reduce the amount of unsaturated fats you use to cook with (such as butter and goose fat) and avoid full fat dairy products.
  • Try to incorporate polyphenol-rich foods into your roast, such as kale, broccoli, cranberries and red cabbage. 
  • Other foods with polyphenols include berries, red wine and dark chocolate – but don’t overdo it with the wine and chocolates
  1. You can get more sleep

Early mornings can be brutal in the month of December, so make the most of time off over the holiday week by getting some lie-ins. 

You should aim for seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep every night for optimal brain health. People in their 50s and 60s who sleep for six or less hours each night are at increased risk of developing dementia, studies have found.

It’s worth using the downtime to start forming good sleeping habits, which you can find in our guide to sleep.

  1. Playing games to keep an active mind

Playing board games and cards together is the tradition in some families at Christmas, but any type of party game can help contribute towards maintaining good brain health.

This is because it combines two of the most beneficial activities for preventing Alzheimer’s – socialising and keeping an active mind.

More challenging games like chess or sudoku are ideal. Studies show these types of puzzles may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by up to five years, because they improve cognitive reserve.

Find out more about maintaining good brain health

See our brain health pillar guides to keeping a healthy life, active mind, gut health, exercise, nutrition and sleep.