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De-stress your way to a healthier lifestyle

In part two of a three-part series on "Today," Rosemary Ellis of Prevention magazine shares some stress-busting tactics to help you better your life.

Looking to change your life? If so, you might be able to forget those hours in the gym or that crazy diet plan. The editors of Prevention magazine say making a few small changes can have a big impact. Rosemary Ellis, editorial director of Prevention, was invited to appear on “Today” for a special series on three ways to change your life. Here are some tips she shared about beating the stress in your life:

Study after study shows us that stress harms our health. It can raise our risk for heart disease, stroke, depression, obesity, and a host of other illnesses. Conversely, actively managing your stress can lower your risk for these diseases.

A Duke University study found that simply learning to recognize stress and practicing deep breathing could lower high blood pressure and other markers of heart disease as effectively as a half-hour of aerobic exercise.

So, how do you get started?
Set the mood for relaxation in your home. Create a sanctuary in your home that says “I’m in relaxation mode.” Also, make sure you carve out at least 10 minutes of alone time for yourself (no TV, no kids, no co-workers). 

Simple steps to beat the stress:       

1. Listen to calming musicand practice relaxation
People who listened to a gentle piece of classical music — "Pachelbel’s Canon" — during a stressful task had lower heart rates, blood pressures, and anxiety than those who worked in silence. Here's how to do it:

Choose soothing music with a slow, steady beat. If your tastes run to classical, you have plenty of options.  If you prefer contemporary music, Norah Jones could be a good choice. Or try a natural sounds CD such as a waterfall or ocean waves. As the music calms you, try this relaxation exercise: Starting at your feet, gently tighten and then relax your muscles. Then do your calves, thighs, and so on until all the muscles in your body are relaxed.

2. Take a  bath before bed

3. Meditate
In an 18-year study of patients with hypetension, those who meditated daily were 23 percent less likely to have passed away from all causes, 30 percent less likely to have died from heart disease, and 49 percent less likely to have died from cancer. Here's how to do it:

  • Sit in a comfortable position — cross-legged if you like — or lie down on your back.
  • Choose a focal point: It could be a flower, a soothing mental image (like a waterfall or a peaceful image from your last vacation) or a mantra (such as “om”). If you’re not looking at something, close your eyes.
  • Gently allow yourself to bring your full attention to your focal point. Your mind will naturally drift, but don’t get frustrated. Simply try to return to your focal point.
  • Throughout, try to breathe deeply.

4.  Do deep breathing and exercise
At any given moment of the day (caught in traffic, facing deadlines at work, kids starting to drive you crazy), stop and try this breathing exercise:

Breathe in for a count of five, then slowly exhale at the same rate. Sit (or stand) up straight and let your shoulders drop. Roll your head around to loosen your neck muscles as you continue to breathe deeply. Take about 10 to 15 deep breaths before going on with your day. 

5. Practice laughing

Getting started:
Here is some more information from Prevention to help you get started:

Chill Out! 7 top stress experts share 22 anti-meltdown tips

Stretch Away Stress: Why yoga helps you relax

Choosing Peace Over Stress: Scientist, author and mom Joan Borysenko shares her centering exercise