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REDUCE STRESS WITH EXERCISE

With all of today's modern conveniences, you'd think life would be easier. The truth is that cell phones, laptop computers, beepers and other high-tech gadgets have actually increased the workday for most Americans.

The average workweek has jumped from 37 hours in 1970 to 52 hours in the 1990s. In an age when most couples juggle two jobs as well as a family life, stress levels are rising.

But stress is much more than a minor inconvenience in today's world. Studies have linked it to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, immune system disorders, certain cancers, alcoholism, obesity and more.

Now more than ever, it is important to find effective ways to relax and re-energize. Exercise remains one of the most effective ways to reduce stress. Aerobic workouts that elevate the heart rate to a training level for an extended period of time trigger a release of endorphins in the brain which elevate mood and help wash tension away.

Deep breathing is another wonderful relaxation tool that is often more convenient than a workout. Simply sit or stand tall, close your eyes and breathe slowly as you count to five, then exhale as you continue counting to 10. Do this whenever you feel tension escalating.

Meditation is also an effective and inexpensive stress buster. For best results, experts recommend making it a part of your daily routine. Find a quiet place, sit comfortably with good posture and choose an object to focus on or a simple phrase to repeat.

Stretching is an excellent way to relax tense muscles and reduce stress. The following stretch targets the muscles that run down the sides of the body.

Grab a medium-sized towel and stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width part. Reach your arms overhead with your hands about two or three feet apart.

Stand tall as you reach up and out to one side, stretching to the point of moderate tension, but never to a point of pain. Hold this 10 to 15 seconds, breathing naturally.

Slowly return to a vertical position, then reach up and out to the other side. Again, hold the stretch for 10 to 15 seconds as you breathe naturally. Continue by alternating sides as desired.

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