Over the years, health promoters and nutritionists alike have challenged the state of Santa’s health based upon his penchant for cookies and his pant size. Because of this, there has been a public outcry from health professionals for Santa to change his ways and serve as a healthier role model for children everywhere. Interestingly, if we were to consider the broader factors that relate to good health and longer life, Santa may not only be a great role model for health, but could also teach those health professionals a lesson or two.
Based upon what we know about the life and times of Mr. Clause, the following factors may be what add the life to his years and the years to his life. So get ready to suck on those sugar free candy canes, health promoters, Santa really is the poster-man for good health and well-being, and here’s why…
Spiritual well-being is one aspect of health that doesn’t get the attention it deserves, but it can do plenty for us. To be spiritually well means to feel a sense of connection to others, feel love and appreciation for the important things in our lives, and a belief in something bigger than ourselves. It means having a purpose in life, connecting with nature, or appreciating the sunrise.
Santa, as we know, is a big believer in the spirit of giving and as a result of this, he enjoys many of the same physiological benefits as exercise and eating well. He is more able to cope with stress, depression, and chronic pain in addition to enjoying a longer life. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why he has lived as long as he has?
The term “V02 Max” represents the maximum amount of oxygen our lungs can take in in one breath. The suggestion is the greater the V02 Max, the healthier and more efficient we are at circulating oxygen to the body. At higher altitudes, athletes are more efficient at oxygen transport due to the lower oxygen levels resulting in a greater Vo2 Max at sea level.
If this is the case, and considering the high altitudes Santa travels, he has developed amazing lung capacity and efficiency at oxygen transport. In addition, it takes a strong core and amazing flexibility to perform the twists and turns he does to inch down the chimney. Simply put, Santa enjoys a level of fitness reserved for elite athletes.
Santa not only appreciates a good sense of humor, but is known to be quite the giggler. While delivering presents or supervising his staff, he always makes time to enjoy a belly laugh or a jolly “ho ho ho”. Little does Mr. Kringle know; his penchant for laughter and humor has a positive relationship with his overall health and well-being.
Laughter can enhance mood, decrease blood pressure, release endorphins, bring us together, increase our immune system, and much more. Not only that, it has been suggested that a good belly laugh is equal to the benefits received from about 10 minutes on the rowing machine.
If Santa is known for one thing, it’s his extreme generosity and global acts of selfless giving. Giving to others is one way of reaping amazing health benefits. A wide range of research has shown that through giving (volunteering, donating, and gift giving) we benefit from reduced stress, increased immune system function, decreased blood pressure, and a higher quality of life.
Stephanie Brown, and her colleagues at the University of Michigan, found that those elderly couples who helped their neighbors, volunteered within their community, and/or provided emotional support to their spouses decreased their risk of dying over a period of 5 years. It’s important to note that giving doesn’t necessarily mean spending money, but giving of ourselves and our time to others.
In his landmark study, Dr. Stephen Blair found that those overweight and obese who exercised regularly lowered their risk for heart disease and an early death significantly and could be considered healthier than those naturally thin and sedentary. In other words, it’s not the size of a person that counts, it is the activity level.
If this is the case, the size of Santa’s waistline does not necessarily mean he is in poor health. By the nature of his job, he must maintain a level of fitness that allows him to squeeze down chimneys and navigate the physical challenges of riding a sleigh. To deliver presents to the world in less than 24 hours, he must keep up a level of physical health and activity to achieve this super-human feat.
For as long as we can remember, Santa has always been happily married and supported by his wife throughout his gift giving career. Although marriage comes with the ups and downs of sharing one’s life with another, according to the research, the benefits of wedlock outweigh the consequences.
A study in the Journal of Marriage and Family suggest that men who are married experience less depression and addiction issues than their single counterparts. Another paper from the Journal of Health and Social Behavior noted that marriage was associated with a lower risk of mortality. Let’s face it, although marriage hasn’t kept Santa’s cookie addiction at bay, he has lived a very long life.
The key to good communication and leadership is the ability to listen. How many times have we witnessed, in malls all over North America, Santa patiently and silently listening to a child who is struggling to tell her story? His ability to focus and his attention to nonverbal communication can make any kid feel like he has been heard (even if he is kicking and screaming).
The ability to listen (really listen) to others can not only improve communication but also strengthens relationships. Stronger relationships result in an increased sense of connection with others and all the health benefits that result. From reduced blood pressure and heart rate to a stronger immune system and increased quality of life. A good listener, like Mr. Clause, is more apt to enjoy an enhanced productivity among his staff and a healthy approach to conflict management.
Not only does Santa’s ability to give to the people of the world sustain his good health, but his kind approach to people is also an effective health management tool. Bob Hope once said, “If you haven’t any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.” The research suggests the same.
Kindness to others enhances heart health, happiness, slows the aging process, and improves our relationships. Kindness is contagious and when witnessed can have a vicarious effect on others around.
Everything we know about Kris Kringle suggests he is not a fan of fad diets. While he may advocate for cookies and milk, we won’t be seeing him join in on the detox diet revolution or eliminating his simple carbohydrates any time soon.
Since the birth of the image of Santa around the 19th century, he has always maintained his robust and portly figure. For many, this may be cause for concern, but for health researchers this may be cause for celebration based upon the rate of weight regain overtime (and the shame and self-loathing that comes with it). In addition to weight regain, Amos Pines, from the Department of Medicine at the Ichilov Hospital in Tel-Aviv, Israel published a study in 2012 suggesting that the process of weight loss and regain may result in permanent loss of bone density.
Keeping in mind Santa knows if we have been naughty or nice, it stands to reason he is socially connected to everyone! Santa is the most connected of all of us…and that’s without the aid of social media.
The health research cannot be clearer that social connection is good for the heart and soul. In fact, those that enjoy a sense of connection with others also enjoy the same physiological and cognitive benefits that come from exercise. We are born to bond with others!