With shorter days and often high expectations for the holidays, it’s common to feel low right around this time of year. But fortunately, new research suggests a mood fix might be just one “downward dog” away.

Researchers from Boston University put healthy volunteers (22 women, 12 men, average age 25), on either a walking or yoga regimen of one hour, three times a week. After three months the yoga practitioners scored 240% higher on mood surveys compared to the walkers. While one might pooh-pooh such tests as subjective, actual brain scans showed similar mood enhancements. Using nuclear magnetic resonance, the scientists found that the yogis had 14% higher levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter linked, at low levels, to depression and even epilepsy.

In addition to channeling more holiday cheer, yoga can guide you through this stressful season in other ways — for example, by helping you resist weight gain: One long term Seattle study found that yoga practice helped check middle-age spread. Yoga also helps reduce certain menopausal symptoms, while improving sleep quality.

Bonus: “Zinc” happy thoughts! Getting more zinc from sources like oysters, crab, lobster, lentils and white beans might help reduce hostility and depression.

Published December 1, 2011