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8 Great (and Healthy) Holiday Gifts

Looking for something to give this season? Try these: They’re good for mind and body

6. Household Helpers

For people with arthritis, everyday chores can be … well, a chore.

Luckily, there are all sorts of gadgets to help.

There are "reachers" that prevent bending and straining to retrieve items high and low; "thumb rest" coffee cups and easy-grip nail clippers to prevent hand or wrist pain; rubberized grips that allow for easier lid opening; switches that are touch-sensitive or rocker-style, so you can painlessly turn on lamps; and for easier door opening, adapters that fit over hard-to-turn round doorknobs. Scores of products can be found with an online search of "arthritis aids." And for a real gift, consider reorganizing a relative's kitchen to make everyday items within easy reach.

"So many times I've found that older persons keep their pots and pans on the bottom shelf, and hurt themselves reaching for them," says Maguire. "Or they may not use them at all" because of where they're stored.

7. Pets

Sure, they are an ongoing commitment in time and money (read: not the best surprise gift). But the payback from pets? Better health for mind and body.

Canines rule as top dog in helping to preserve or improve cardiovascular health, studies say, and you can guess why: Those daily walks help manage weight and lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as improve blood vessel functioning. But cat owners are also less prone to heart problems and other health woes compared with people in feline-free homes.

Having a pet reduces stress hormones, helps control depression and Alzheimer's-related outbursts, improves immune system function and pain management, and boosts attention and alertness in older adults. Studies indicate that being with pets increases a person's levels of oxytocin, the feel-good, so-called bonding hormone, released during sex and breast-feeding, that is linked to better heart health and mood, and less inflammation.

A good gift for someone who already owns a pet could be paying for pet insurance to help with veterinary bills or buying six months' (or more) worth of pet medicine or food.

8. Mediterranean Diet Cookbooks

Delicious and nutritious, the Mediterranean diet is smart eating — literally. For decades, scores of studies have found that regular meals rich in olive oil, nuts, fish, fruit and beans (with a little red wine, to boot) lower the risk of cognitive impairment and boost heart health.

The latest evidence — a study recently published in Annals of Internal Medicine that tracked 10,670 women in their late 50s and early 60s over 15 years — even credits the Mediterranean diet for a longer and healthier life, finding a 40 percent greater chance of living past age 70 with no chronic illness.

Cookbooks recommended by AARP health and food writer Candy Sagon (who happens to be no slouch in the kitchen) include The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook: A Delicious Alternative for Lifelong Health by Nancy Harmon Jenkins and The Mediterranean Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone.

Sid Kirchheimer, author of Scam-Proof Your Life, writes about consumer and health issues for AARP Media.

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