Why the Holidays Smell So Good (According to Science)

The smell of pine and fresh-baked cookies aren't only good for your nose. Research shows there could be serious health benefits to some of your favorite holiday scents.

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Photo by Lew Robertson/Getty Images

Pause a moment from the holiday hustle to take a deep breath. Turns out, the smells you're taking in could be doing wonders for your body and brain.

Pine can decrease stress.

That fresh-cut Christmas tree may bring more to your house than holiday cheer. The scent of pine could help bust some of the stress that goes hand-in-hand with this time of year. Researchers at Japan's Kyoto University found that participants who took two 15-minute walks through a pine forest reported improved moods and lower feelings of depression and hostility. This time of year, the fragrance is as easy to find as a fresh-cut tree or a scented holiday candle. Better yet, since the study participants coupled the scent with exercise, take a walk through a Christmas tree farm.

Peppermint can boost brain power and soothe your stomach.

The smell of a minty candy cane can help your belly and your brain. Sniffing peppermint can give you a burst of energy and may even improve your concentration. Plus, peppermint could also help you resist all the holiday treats this season. Just taking a whiff of the stuff can reduce cravings and curb your appetite, The New York Times reports. In one study, participants who smelled peppermint once every other hour consumed 1,800 fewer calories per week than they typically did. So, ditch the fruity flavors and stick to the classic when buying your candy canes this year.

Chocolate may improve your memory.

Looking for a reason to make another batch of that chocolatey dessert this holiday season? While we already knew that consuming chocolate could keep age-related memory loss at bay, research also suggests that just breathing in the smell can do your mind some good. Those who get a whiff of the sweet stuff can notably increase their memory power, according to research from Yale University. (In case you still need a few extra reasons to indulge, eating chocolate may also prevent heart disease and reduce inflammation.)

Cinnamon could increase your attention.

Chocolate and peppermint aren't the only scents that can help sharpen your mind. Researchers at Wheeling Jesuit University linked cinnamon with improved scores on tasks related to attention processes. So sprinkle a little extra on your hot cocoa this year and enjoy the aroma.

Vanilla inspires happiness and relaxation.

Keep on baking those holiday cookies (with an extra drop of vanilla extract!). The aroma of the vanilla in those warm, oven-fresh cookies might help you feel happier and more relaxed, according to research published in the journal Chemical Senses. Not only did the paper show improved moods, but participants in the study also reported lower levels of negative feelings like depression and stress.