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Treat yourself with a little tender loving care these holidays — these tips for body and spirit help!

Late work nights, missed workouts, party chatter, loneliness all make the holidays a stressful time. But no need to dread the holiday season! We've got simple tips to help gladden that holiday heart.

First rule: Don't dive into the Godiva. While it may taste great, exercise is the best de-stressor there is. Exercise boosts your sense of well-being, self-esteem, and body image, says Jesse Pittsley, PhD, a spokesperson for the American Society of Exercise Physiologists.

When we experience mental stress, adrenaline is released into the bloodstream. Our muscles tense as we prepare to react, blood pressure rises, and breathing becomes shallow and rapid. A pent-up stress reaction produces fatigue, tension and, eventually, chronic health problems like heart disease.

Exercise lets the body get back to its natural mode of functioning using the large muscles in difficult environments. Walking, running, and other forms of aerobic exercise help with holiday stress reduction because they increase oxygen circulation, and generally use the body more effectively. Aerobic exercise also triggers production of endorphins, the natural chemicals that elevate mood.

Exercise Tips for a Healthy Holiday Heart

Here's one game plan for stressful holidays:

  • Start each day with deep-breathing and meditation.
  • Take a walk before a meal, and another one afterward.
  • Take a walk between dinner and dessert.
  • If you exercise in the morning normally, keep up that schedule. Don't skip it.
  • Walk with a family member. It's a good time to catch up.
  • Put on some holiday tunes and dance!

Whatever exercise works for you, just do it. Whether it's power walking, running, Pilates, yoga, or weights, what's most important is doing it. Carve out three to four times a week -- and exercise for 20 to 30 minutes, making sure you get your heart rate up. Do all that, and you'll ease the negative effects of stress and anxiety.

Tips for Calming Holiday Emotions

Getting enough sleep will help you cope better during the season. Also, sift through your list of commitments. Decide where your priorities are highest -- and focus there. Some ideas:

  • Say "no" if you need to -- and don't feel guilty.
  • Take time for religious services, if that's important to you.
  • Don't expect to throw the perfect party or find the perfect gift.
  • Taste a sip of mulled cider or a drop of eggnog.
  • Indulge your senses. Smell the gingerbread, listen for tinkling bells, delight in sparkling lights.

Take your focus off petty problems, and enjoy the holiday season -- with a glad heart!

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