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4 Ways to Manage Your Holiday Stress

More than any other time of the year, the holidays are a crucial time for testing your stress limits. Whether you’re bracing for holiday-table debate sessions or just facing a to-do list that seems to lengthen by the minute, a bit of stress relief (maybe a lot of it) could make your season merry and bright after all.

Stress management isn’t only good for your schedule — it provides plenty of physical, emotional and mental benefits, too. When you’re feeling the agitation or frustration of stress, your cortisol levels increase, according to Sara Gottfried, MD, author of “The Hormone Cure.” Those spikes can wreak havoc, she says, especially the longer you stay stressed.

“You deplete brain chemicals like serotonin that keep you feeling happy, and high cortisol also negatively affects your sleep,” she says, adding that stress can increase your risk of belly fat, fatigue and sugar cravings. That’s not exactly an ideal way to start the new year.

Fortunately, these four actions can carry you through the holiday season — and any time of year. Set these healthy habits now, and reap the benefits forever.

1. DON’T SKIMP ON SLEEP

Although it may be tempting to get less shut-eye so that you can get more done, that’s a dangerous approach, says Filomena Trindade, MD, of the Institute for Functional Medicine.

She notes that research indicates going from eight hours to six hours will cause higher stress levels within only a few weeks. According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, inadequate sleep can even put you at risk for chronic disease like hypertension and diabetes.

“If you have holiday parties to attend and tasks to accomplish, it can be hard to stay on track with your sleep schedule,” says Trindade. “But the more you can make an effort to get 7–8 hours a night, the less stressed you’ll be.”

2. SNEAK IN A WORKOUT

When holiday schedules get packed, fitness may be one of the first activities to get cut. But it’s much better to see exercise as a must-have when it comes to stress reduction.

According to a survey done by the American Psychological Association, 53% of respondents said they felt good about themselves after exercising, and 30% said they felt less stressed.

Walking seemed to be the most effective activity for lowering stress, but other research has noted that any exercise — including yoga, strength training, group fitness classes and swimming — can be equally significant. That’s because exercise has been shown to reduce fatigue, sharpen concentration, improve sleep and decrease overall levels of tension.

3. EAT HEALTHY FATS

With office holiday parties, cookie swaps, cocktail parties and all the other food-based events that crop up during the season, you may think you’re off the hook for making your own meals. But that might increase your stress levels, says Brianna Elliott, RD.

“Fueling your body with healthy foods can actually help you deal with stress more effectively, because they’re energizing and keep hormones and blood sugar levels stable in the body,” she says.

For an especially quick hit of stress relief, she recommends omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in fatty fish like salmon, as well as walnuts and flaxseed. These healthy fats help keep you full for longer, and they also combat inflammation — which can be an issue when you’re under chronic stress.

4. TAKE SOME MINDFULNESS MINIBREAKS

Setting aside an hour for meditation might seem as likely as Santa stopping by for dinner. Fortunately, you don’t need much time to tap into the benefits of mindfulness, a technique that requires only becoming fully aware of what’s around you.

That might involve simple tricks like taking a few moments to look closely at familiar objects, or pay attention to the way your breath moves in your body, suggests Mayo Clinic researchers.

No matter what tactics you try, the emphasis should be on taking care of yourself, especially as the holidays get busier. Put stress reduction at the top of your holiday to-do list, and you’ll likely have a much more joyous season ahead.

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Stress-Free Christmas Morning Casserole

Christmas Morning Casserole

Start off your holiday morning with Food Fanatic’s bacon, egg and cheese breakfast casserole. Ready in three easy steps, with help from refrigerated biscuit dough, this no-stress morning casserole is perfect for Christmas or any special occasion.

Stress-Free Christmas Morning Casserole

Ingredients

  • 7 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup skim milk
  • 1 (16-ounce) package refrigerated flaky biscuit dough, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 4 medium green onions, chopped
  • 6 slices bacon, cooked, drained on paper towels and cut into 1-inch pieces

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F, and lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish.

In a large bowl, beat together the eggs and milk. Add the biscuit pieces, cheese, onions and bacon and gently turn to evenly coat in the egg mixture.

Pour into the prepared baking dish, and bake for 25–30 minutes. (Eggs should be firmly set and the biscuits puffy and golden.)

Nutrition Information

Serves: 12 |  Serving Size: 2-inch slice

Per serving: Calories: 220; Total Fat: 13g; Saturated Fat: 5g; Monounsaturated Fat: 4g; Cholesterol: 124mg; Sodium: 559mg; Carbohydrate: 18g; Dietary Fiber: 1g; Sugar: 3g; Protein: 10g

Nutrition Bonus: Potassium: 82mg; Iron: 8%; Vitamin A: 7%; Vitamin C: 2%; Calcium: 10%

Recipe and photo created by Heather of Sugar Dish Me.

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The 10 Most Popular Stories on MyFitnessPal in 2016

It’s been quite a year, MyFitnessPal users. We’ve collectively lost millions of pounds, logged thousands of different kinds of foods and done hours upon hours of workouts.

We’d like to think we helped you along your way this year. Below, we’ve pulled together the 10 most-read blog posts on MyFitnessPal in 2016.

Did you read them all? Employ any of the strategies we gave you? Prepare any of the recipes? Try out any of the workout routines? Let us know in the comments below! And if you missed any of the Top 10, now’s your chance to study up before the year is out…

10. The Workout You Need to Do If You’re Trying to Lose Weight
Weight-loss math is simple: You need to burn more calories than you take in. But it’s not necessarily about sweat sessions at the gym. Here’s one simple workout plan brought to you by SELF Magazine that’s optimized to help you shed pounds.

9. 5 Unusual Reasons You’re Not Losing Weight
So about that simple math… maybe it’s not so simple. Your body may be a machine, but everyone’s is different. Here are some of things you might be doing that are affecting your ability to slim down.

8. Ask the Dietitian: What’s the Best Carb, Protein and Fat Breakdown for Weight Loss?
Let’s be honest, macronutrients are complicated. For every new diet fad you read about, there’s some new strategy as to how to approach three of the most important macros. Our dietitian broke through the fray to lay it out simply.

7. 15 of MyFitnessPal’s Most-Pinned Recipes
Want a quick gauge of what our most popular recipes are? The near 165,000 who follow MyFitnessPal on Pinterest already have their favorites, from apple pie muffins to jalapeño cheddar puffs and much more. Here’s some quick inspiration for your kitchen, vetted by the community!

6. A Beginner’s Guide to Meal Planning
Meal planning is a secret weapon — not just for weight loss and healthy eating but for simplifying your family routine and doing it all on a budget. Here’s our step-by-step guide for it all, from making a shopping list to the recipes you need to be successful.

5. The Most Common Weight-Loss Blunders Dietitians See
The pros have seen it all. And they know exactly what pitfalls pop up as obstacles on our weight-loss journeys. Here are 11 of those mistakes, as told by registered dietitians to SELF Magazine.

4. The 28-Day Squat Challenge You’ll Want to Start Now!
All hail squats? They’re easy, and they work out multiple muscle groups, including the butt, thighs and core. Give this challenge a try, and you’ll find you’re getting results — and having fun — with different variations on the humble squat.

3. How Often Should You Weigh Yourself?
Good news: You can definitely weigh yourself too often. And although you think you’re doing the right thing, you’re actually working against yourself. Here’s why small changes in your body affect your weight — and how to keep your eyes on the prize.

2. 10 Make-Ahead Breakfasts Under 300 Calories
Wouldn’t your mornings be easier if you had a hearty, healthy breakfast ready to go? Here were our picks for the 10 best recipes you can prep ahead of time, including hearty oatmeal cups, simple egg dishes, grab-and-go bars and — celebrate! — breakfast burritos!

1. 8 Signs You’re Eating Too Much Sugar
That modest little doughnut hole isn’t going to hurt you, right? Maybe not. We’re all guilty of snacking on too much sugar — here are some of the telltale signs that you might not even realize you’re ignoring.

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Your Guide to Building a Home Gym on Any Budget [INFOGRAPHIC]

MyFitnessPal and Ally have teamed up because they both recognize the connection between finances and physical fitness and the important roles they each have on personal well-being.

Under Armour and its affiliates and employees disclaim any responsibility for errors or any consequences arising from the use of this information. All medical information should be reviewed with a health-care provider. For more information, please review the Under Armour Terms and Conditions of Use – Physical Activities.

While the cost of some gym memberships can be more expensive than your rent, creating a workout space or gym at home is easier and more affordable than you might think. Contrary to what you might believe, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to create a comfortable and effective environment to get your sweat on. By combining a small investment with a little creativity, you can easily transform a home space into a functional gym with numerous benefits.

For starters, you have wonderful amenities at home that you may not experience at a gym, such as a clean, private shower you don’t have to wait in line for. Secondly, you will save the money otherwise spent on monthly membership fees as well as the initiation fees just for signing a contract. That money could easily be invested over time to create the home gym you have always wanted.

Inline Post

At Ally, we don’t just care about your finances — we care about you. That’s why we’ve dug deeper into what it means to be financially fit. Just like physical fitness, there are different ways to be financially fit. Your training program depends on what you want to accomplish, and you should approach your financial routine the same way. Find out what kind of financially fit you are with our financial fitness quiz.

Lastly, time is a precious commodity these days. Many of us don’t have the time it takes to commute to and from the gym, plus do the workout. Your 30-minute workout could easily morph into 90 minutes, and that can impact your schedule so much that you forgo the workout. By making your gym more accessible, you increase your ability to get in a quick workout when time is tight. Here are some ideas that will fit any budget as you create your own gym at home. This list also shows you how, over time, you can invest in larger pieces of equipment or more specialized items.

KEY EQUIPMENT UNDER $ 25

  • Resistance bands ($ 9) are versatile pieces of equipment that take up very little space. You can use them to add resistance to exercises such as bicep curls, overhead tricep extensions, standing rows and squats.
  • A jump rope ($ 5–$ 6) is an inexpensive way to get a great cardiorespiratory workout in a short period of time. It can be easily incorporated into any workout by adding one-minute bursts of jumping rope to increase your heart rate.
  • A yoga mat ($ 10) is a multiuse and functional addition to any home gym. You can use it for stretching, yoga or body-weight exercises, such as planks, supermans and pushups.

ADD THIS KEY EQUIPMENT TO SPEND $ 200 OR LESS

  • Dumbbells ($ 10-$ 100) are great for strength exercises and are very versatile, allowing you to work most muscle groups. Get a lower-body workout by doing exercises such as weighted squats, lunges, deadlifts or step-ups. Target your arms and upper body with bicep curls, tricep extensions, chest presses, bent-over rows, overhead presses and reverse flyes. We recommend getting two pairs to start out: a lighter set for upper body and a heavier set for lower-body exercises.
  • A stability ball ($ 26.95) adds an element of instability and can be used for core, balance and strength exercises. Intensify classic exercises like chest presses, planks and crunches by doing them on a stability ball.
  • Your workout is only as effective as your recovery, and using a foam roller ($ 14) can help you care for your muscles pre- and post-workout. The foam roller is used for self-myofascial release and is a popular method used by athletes to aid recovery.  

ADD THIS EQUIPMENT TO SPEND $ 500 OR LESS

  • A suspension trainer, such as the TRX system ($ 129), can be attached to a door or other anchor point to add endless body-weight exercises. You can work on core stability, strength and power, and it comes with an easy-to-follow brochure and DVD.
  • Add instability and balance training to your workout by incorporating a balance trainer, such as the BOSU ($ 119). The half-dome BOSU can be used for cardio and power exercises as well as balance and core work.  
  • Depending on your space, medicine balls can add another dimension to your workouts: throwing, tossing, slamming and rotating (but watch out for the windows!). With nine weight options, Dynamax Balls ($ 80–$ 125) are a fun, functional way to develop strength and power. Try medicine ball slams, situp throws, chest throws and side-to-side slams.

KEY EQUIPMENT TO SPEND $ 1,000 OR LESS

  • Adding a stationary bike is a space-saving way to add a cardiorespiratory element to your workout. You can choose an option with a console for digital feedback, like this Schwinn Bike ($ 325), or a spin bike ($ 360) similar to options you’ll find at a gym.
  • Ramp up your workout with plyo (short for plyometrics) boxes, which can be used for strength and power exercises. Foam Rogue plyo boxes ($ 225-$ 400) are best for jumping, while Power Systems Plyo Boxes ($ 150–$ 330) have anti-slip surfaces and are good for both stepping and jumping. A few plyo box exercises include weighted step-ups, single leg step-ups and box jumps.

ADD THIS KEY EQUIPMENT TO SPEND $ 1,000 OR MORE

  • Kettlebells ($ 12–$ 80) have been around for a long time, yet they are still unfamiliar to many people. Kettlebells are used for dynamic, explosive movements to yield improvements in strength and power. Proper technique is paramount, but once mastered, kettlebells will enhance your workout with efficient conditioning. Try adding kettlebell swings, cleans and Turkish getups.
  • Depending on your space, a multiuse pulley or cable system can be a great tool for strength and resistance exercises. It can take the place of multiple pieces of equipment and reduce clutter in your home gym. A functional trainer ($ 3,000) is a total-body gym, or if you want to focus more on a pulley system, try the dual cable cross ($ 4,000).
  • If space permits, add a treadmill ($ 1,300) with incline capability to your home gym. Jogging or lower impact walking (with or without incline) can create diverse cardiorespiratory workouts to improve your heart health.
  • A multifunction rack ($ 2,800) can support heavy resistance and weight-training workouts that require weight plates and bars. This piece of equipment is best-suited for traditional strength training, such as squats, cleans, deadlifts, chest press and pullups. The rack would need to be accompanied with the accessories below.
    • You’ll need a barbell of some sort to perform most exercises on the multifunction rack. An Olympic bar ($ 165) is standard for lifting, but a short Olympic bar ($ 120) may be better if you have a small space at home.
    • Weight plates ($ 30-$ 200) are another must for the rack and can be purchased based on how light or heavy you intend to lift.

Written by Shane Barnard, a NASM-, ACE-, AFAA- and USATF-certified trainer and the founder of the Urbankick format and instructor certifications. She is also the co-founder of Urbanplay, a non-profit health and fitness education program for youth.


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