Pedometer: If everyone took 10,000 steps a day, the world would be a better place — or at least the people in it would be in better health. That's the word from many doctors and fitness experts. It's estimated that, on average, Americans miss that mark by 6,000 or 7,000 daily steps. But most people have probably never counted theirs, unless they have a pedometer to do the counting for them. Actually, counting steps is the least a pedometer can do for a person. Depending on how high-tech it is, a pedometer can also keep track of pace, heart rate, distance covered, calories burned and more. (It might even come GPS-equipped, though that would be waaaay out of stocking-stuffer price range.) Happily, plenty of models come in well under $25.
Puzzle books: The brain needs regular exercise too, and research shows that working on puzzles is a good way to get it. The crossword or Sudoku you solve today may reduce your risk of Alzheimer's disease tomorrow. Books of all sorts of puzzles are available at all sorts of prices, many less than $10.
Peppermint-flavored antacid: Why peppermint? Because it's the holidays. Why an antacid? Because of how people eat over the holidays. In fact, the best choice may be one containing simethicone, which can relieve symptoms of ... well ... gas. Expect to spend about $5 for 150 regular-strength tablets.
Considering the way people drink over the holidays, a hangover remedy might be an option for some of those on your gift list. Various types are available for less than $10. But there's no compelling evidence that any are generally effective.
Pill alarm: This is not necessarily appropriate for everybody — just those who get busy or absent-minded and also need to take medication. The $5 model I saw can be attached to a vial and set to beep when it's time for a dose. For a much fancier version that's way over the $25 limit, you can get containers that organize multiple pills and beep whenever it's time for any of them to be swallowed. (I saw one model that could be set for up to 37 alarms a day.)
Alarms are just one way of making pill-taking easier and safer. Others include pill splitters, crushers and planners (plastic containers with compartments for each day's doses). There are also grippers to help open the vials and magnifiers to make it easier to read dosage directions. These are all available for less than $10.
Earplugs/earmuffs: It's estimated that about 15% of Americans ages 20 to 69 have some degree of hearing loss due to exposure to excessive noise. Enter a $3 package of ear plugs. Or a more expensive — but still less than $25 — set of airtight sound-dampening earmuffs. Muffs are said to block out more noise than plugs, although not if they're worn over glasses. Plugs and muffs together work best, but note that you still won't be giving anyone the silent treatment. Though these hearing protectors reduce background noise, wearers can still hear the telephone, doorbell or even normal conversation.
Before you head to the drugstore, a few cautionary notes:
• In your search for standout stocking stuffers, beware of individual needs and preferences. If someone likes Brand X body wash — and only Brand X — it simply won't do to give that person Brand Y.
• Worse yet would be to decide that someone on your list could use, say, a dandruff shampoo or an extra-strength deodorant. In fact, certain items that are clearly health-and-well-being enhancers will probably not make very cool gifts for anybody. Included in this category are nose hair clippers, wart removal creams and any product that claims to renew, restore, replenish, repair, revivify, rejuvenate or otherwise rehabilitate the skin. Such items could just possibly imply that you have perceived certain flaws in a recipient that the recipient prefers to believe are imperceptible.
• Finally, avoid any products that are of such a highly personal nature that their functions might well qualify as none of your gosh darn business. You'll know them when you see them.