Can Positive Stress Really Be Good for Your Body?

The idea of stress that is good for you seems weird. You’re probably thinking that the words “positive” and “stress” don’t even belong in the same sentence. But it’s true: certain types of stress produce beneficial effects instead of negative ones.

What Is Positive Stress?

We’re not talking about situations that make you feel terrified or anxious. Instead, healthy stress is associated more with activities that are challenging but also produce excitement, fun and happiness.

Positive stress makes life worth living. It’s about overcoming obstacles. It’s about celebrating accomplishments. It’s about trying new experiences. Positive stress gives every day more zing.

What Are Your Healthy Stress Sources?

Everyone views stress in a different way. Some writers love deadlines and get more done with them (I’m not one.) Do any of these situations get your blood flowing in a good way?

  • Work assignments
  • Fixing your car
  • Flying
  • Having a baby
  • Preparing for vacation
  • Working out
  • Taking care of DIY projects
  • Throwing a party

Someone who loves working on automobiles will probably see taking care of minor repairs as something enjoyable. That’s positive stress.

The same thing goes for dating. Falling in love makes your heart beat in a good way. You stay awake at night, maybe a little anxious, but mostly because you’re excited and can’t wait to see the person again.

What Are the Benefits of Positive Stress?

Unlike chronic stress, which weakens your immune system, gives you headaches and triggers inflammation, positive stress has great effects on your mind and body:

  • It motivates you: Reaching your goals can give you a sensation that’s even better than chocolate. It can give your life meaning. It also improves your self-esteem. Running a business can be stressful, but for entrepreneurs, it’s really rewarding to see their company flourish.
  • It improves your creativity: Feeling excited about a project helps you produce better results. My best work is always with topics that I feel passionate about. A little positive stress can help you come up with incredible ideas and solutions, too.
  • It feels amazing: If you’ve ever heard about sports enthusiasts talking about the “adrenaline rush,” that’s what positive stress is. Whether you’re into skydiving, rock climbing, skiing or snowmobiling, adrenaline makes your brain happy.
  • It helps your immune system: Excitement is good for your body’s defenses. Science has shown that good stress activates your immune cells and even helps your body heal faster after injuries. That’s one reason why doctors often recommend that people who are depressed take the time to exercise regularly.
  • It gives you energy: When you have a goal you’re trying to reach, your body literally feels more energized. Imagining yourself fitting into that tight red dress can give you the energy you need to swim, bike, hike or Zumba like never before.

How Can You Boost Positive Stress Levels?

Personally, I find that being a mom is my source of positive stress. I’m nervous sometimes, but also excited and happy. Hearing that “I love you Mommy” is irresistible, and according to science, it’s good for my health, too!

Get more positive stress in your life by doing things that are worth it to you, things that are exciting. Set aside more time for family adventures.

Go on a road trip. Ride a roller coaster with your eyes closed. Try new recipes. Make new friends. Visit new places. Zumba. Find something to be excited about every day!

5 Ways To Protect Your Eyes From Screen Glare

If you’re like me, you spend a LOT of time in front of the computer. I work, shop, chat with friends, watch videos and pay bills from the comfort of my desk. Is staring at a computer screen for a long time bad for your eyes?

Can Staring at a Screen Too Long Hurt Your Vision?

The good news is that using your laptop, tablet or smartphone isn’t going to hurt your eyes. You don’t have to worry about a screen ruining your vision or making you need a stronger prescription. Those are all myths.

It’s still important to take good care of your eyes, though. Bright screens can cause dry eyes. Many people experience eyestrain, or tired eyes, after a long workday. Some people even get headaches from this. There are times when my eyes feel like sore grapes!

Why Can Staring at a Screen Cause Eyestrain and Dryness?

One reason screens make your eyes feel uncomfortable is that they slow down your blinking. Blinking is essential for keeping your eyes hydrated and clean. Normally, you should blink at least 15–20 times per minute. But when you’re staring intently at a screen, you only blink half that much! This can make your eyes really dry, especially after using a computer for hours.

Bright screens can also make your eyes exhausted — literally. Whether you’re absorbed in a book or shopping online, the tiny muscles around your eyeballs are constantly moving. Your eyes have to focus over and over, similar to how a photographer adjusts a camera lens.

Like any other muscle, eye muscles can get tired, too. After a while, focusing gets harder and concentrating on words requires a ton of effort. That’s a sign you’ve pushed your eyes too far. They need a break, just like how your feet want to kick back and relax after standing all day.

How Can You Prevent Eyestrain?

Follow these tips to protect your eyes:

  1. Avoid screen glare: Some newer screens have an anti-glare coating. For extra protection, you can buy a cheap ($10) matte screen filter for your computer. If you wear glasses, another option is to get an anti-reflective coating for your eyeglasses.
  2. Turn down screen brightness: A screen that’s too bright can tire your eyes out more quickly. Turn down brightness as much as possible while making sure reading is still comfortable.
  3. Increase the text size: Most apps let you adjust the size of words on the screen. Making text bigger doesn’t have anything to do with age. It’s about reducing eyestrain. Larger text is just more comfortable. Trust me, I kicked the settings up a few notches and it made a huge difference for my day.
  4. Take a break every 30 minutes: If possible, stop what you’re doing every 15–30 minutes so your eyes can rest and rehydrate. Get up, grab some water, eat a handful of almonds or check on your pot roast. Then, go back to writing your novel or working.
  5. Don’t sit too close: For a computer screen, position your chair so your eyes are about two feet away. For a tablet, hold it at the distance you would a book.

The solution to dry eyes and eyestrain isn’t to use eyedrops constantly. That's actually a bad idea. Prevent CVS instead by making life easier on your eyes. You can still use your laptop or tablet whenever you want; just remember to blink more and take more (healthy) snack breaks!

Does Crystal Therapy Really Work?

You hear so much talk about crystals these days, both good and bad. Some folks swear by them, while others claim their just a lot of new age nonsense. Still, you can't help but be curious when hearing all the positive stories about them.

The truth is, many people do experience benefits from crystals. They might not be able to do all the magical things people claim, like curing major illness or making your dream man fall in love with you, but they can give you a real boost spiritually and mentally when you know what you're doing with them.

Types of Therapeutic Crystals

Healing crystals are not one size fits all. There's actually a wide variety out there, each of which is associated with specific benefits:

Obsidian

Obsidian is said to have protective qualities. If you're feeling emotionally stifled or blocked, it can also help you release some of those built up emotions to achieve a sense of clarity. The stone can be identified by its glassy black color.

Turquoise

You're probably already familiar with turquoise jewelry, which is indeed quite eye catching. However, the stone offers more than just aesthetic appeal. It's also thought to bring balance to your mind and spirit, as well as having intense healing powers.

Moonstone

Looking for a new beginning? Then moonstone is your go-to crystal. It can also quell feelings of stress and anxiety, which far too many people struggle with these days. Moonstone has a sort of earthy look, with grayish-white coloring.

Rose Quartz

Pretty pink rose quartz has a strong association with love. If you're having trouble in any type of relationship, romantic or otherwise, ruminating with some rose quartz can bring you some peace. It can also help you build up the love you have for yourself.

Amethyst

Deep purple amethyst is known for its purifying qualities. It can also help you tap into a deeper spiritual nature. Its healing power is great for dispelling those negative thoughts rattling around your mind.

Tips for Using Healing Crystals

You basically have two options when using your healing crystals. Some people swear by wearing them on their bodies for all day protection through constant contact. Of course, not everyone is comfortable wearing jewelry, especially something like crystals. In this case, just carry them with you. Put them in your purse or pocket when you're out and about.

Before your crystals can do their thing, you must program them. I know what you're thinking, programming is something you do with a computer. What you're actually doing is associating your crystal with an intention. Hold the crystal in your hand and state what you wish to get from it: improved mental health, a better love life, greater self-confidence, whatever it might be. After stating your intention, be sure to thank the universe for the gift it's about to give you.

More intensive crystal therapy may be required if you're really struggling. In this case, do a crystal ritual each morning where you lay down to meditate with crystals on different parts of your body. Place crystals over your seven chakras, or energy centers on the body: base of the spine, lower abdomen, above the navel, over the heart, base of the throat, between the eyebrows, and the crown of the head.

Make sure crystals are also placed liberally throughout your home. Not only can they heal your mind and spirit, they can also make your living space feel more positive and nurturing. If you work from home, make sure there are quite a few hanging around your work desk!

The mind is a mysterious thing, and using crystals to achieve mindfulness is not as silly as it sounds. Also, having a little faith in something kind of whimsical never hurt anyone. Why not expand your mind and give it try?

How and Why To Try Hot Yoga at Home

Hot yoga is the “hot” new workout trend that offers a wide variety of benefits. If you think the idea of doing yoga in a hot and sweaty environment sounds like torture, you’re in for a treat! While it’s true that yoga isn’t “hot” unless it’s done in a humid and warm environment, it’s a much more enjoyable practice than you’re probably imagining in your head. You don’t have to take my word for it, though. Here’s how and why to try hot yoga in your own home this week.

Understanding the Point of Hot Yoga

I have to admit, I used to look that people who did hot yoga were a little crazy. Why in the world would you choose to exert your body in an environment that forces you to release as much sweat as possible? But now that I’ve learned more about it, I’ve come to understand the point of this unconventional form of exercise.

Hot yoga offers the same benefits as traditional yoga (you know, the standard benefits like improved strength, stress reduction and flexibility), but it also gives you an even more intense workout in less time. So if you don’t have an hour to spend on a typical yoga routine, you can spend half an hour doing hot yoga and get the same benefits! Plus, the humid environment a hot yoga session provides is meant to replicate the humid natural environment found in India, where yoga originated. So you get a more authentic experience from doing hot yoga than from doing traditional yoga in an air-conditioned environment. Just make sure you drink lots of water before you get your sweat on!

Benefits of Hot Yoga

Now that I’ve got you thinking hot yoga may not be so bad, here’s a list of some of the impressive benefits the practice can provide.

  • Increased calorie burn

  • Improved flexibility

  • Reduced stress

  • Improved mood

  • Boost in cardiovascular health

  • Improved bone density

  • Decreased blood glucose levels

Now keep in mind that in order to maximize these benefits and stay safe during your hot yoga session, you need to stay hydrated. Drink water before, during and after your hot yoga session. You may also want to guzzle a low-calorie sports drink to restore your body’s electrolyte balance.

If you’re pregnant, don’t do hot yoga unless you’ve been given the green light from your doctor. And if you have certain health conditions, such as low blood sugar, heart disease, anorexia or a history of fainting, hot yoga may be too intense for you.

How to Start Hot Yoga at Home

While prepping your space for a hot yoga session requires a little effort, it’s worth it if you don’t have a gym membership or don’t have time to go to an official hot yoga class. Here’s how to set up any room in your home for hot yoga.

  1. Designate one room in your home for you hot yoga session, and close the doors and windows.

  2. Put a small space heater in the room to bring the space to your desired temperature.

  3. Consider adding extra layers if the space heater isn’t getting the room warm enough for your liking.

  4. Bring in a humidifier and steam things up!

  5. Have a water bottle on-hand at all times.

  6. Complete your planned yoga session, making sure to take frequent water breaks throughout.

  7. If you need help coming up with your own hot yoga workout routine, look online or find a favorite workout on YouTube. You can also make things more fun by inviting a friend to come work out with you.

Hot yoga isn’t for everyone. But for those who like a challenging workout that delivers maximum benefits in minimal time, it’s a must-do routine to work into your weekly schedule. Give it a try this week to see if you’ll fall in love with it like I did!

My Favorite Lotions To Get Through Winter

Natural lotions can treat your hands, face and body to some tender loving care from all winter long. Here are my favorite lotion types and ingredients for protecting my skin during winter weather.

My Favorite Hand Creams for Cold Weather

During winter, I always keep three kinds of hand treatment close by. First, I have an intensive-care hand cream for deep moisturizing at least once a week. This will be your go-to at the first signs of knuckles that look red or cracked. Look for something with hyaluronic acid, a natural ingredient that can hold 1,000 times its weight in water! It sinks deep into your skin and holds moisture there longer.

My other mainstay is a nourishing hand lotion for applying several times every day. This type of lotion isn’t as thick, so it absorbs more quickly when you’re in a hurry. It’s designed to protect your hands against chilly weather. Some women use moisturizing lotion every time they wash their hands during winter. Here are some good natural ingredients for this:

  • Mango butter: Soothing and light, this smooth moisturizer also has antioxidants to block UV rays.

  • Coconut oil: This gentle oil hydrates and brightens skin, but that’s not the only reason I love it. It makes your hands feel amazingly soft and supple.

  • Glycerin: This is a fantastic natural humectant for keep your skin moist.

  • Ceramides: These are basically healthy fats that lock in moisture.

Last, I have a bottle of nighttime hand lotion by my bed for moisturizing before I go to sleep. This is a little thicker, but still not greasy. Go with something that has shea butter or cocoa butter for maximum softness.

The Best Face Lotions for Winter

Winter can dry out your face quickly. That means finding a good facial moisturizer that isn’t greasy or irritating. Almond oil, jojoba oil, argan oil, avocado oil and shea butter are all excellent choices. I also recommend trying essential oils (a few drops diluted with some of the carrier oils above):

  • Frankincense

  • Lemongrass

  • Chamomile

  • Lavender

  • Rose

  • Sweet orange

  • Sandalwood

  • Sage

These aromatic oils can help you relax while soothing reddened skin. They’re a perfect fit for pampering your face in winter. Essential oils have important healing compounds, such as vitamin A, vitamin C and other nutrients.

Heavenly Body Lotion for Snuggling the Cold Away

It’s not just your face and hands that can feel rough during winter. Hot showers can do a number your whole body. That’s why it’s important to hydrate every time you get out of the shower. Here’s one of my favorite DIY recipes:

  • 1/4 cup coconut oil

  • 1/2 cup olive oil

  • 1/4 cup beeswax

  • 1 tsp vitamin E oil

  • Several drops of vanilla bean fragrance oil

Use a double boiler to melt the beeswax and mix the other ingredients over low heat. Whip them well to get a nice texture. Put this mixture into a jar and let it cool, then viola, delicious-smelling body lotion!

These days, you can also find wet-skin moisturizers that you can apply directly in the shower. They’re a breeze for staying hydrated because you don’t have to wait for your skin to dry after toweling off.

Personally, I like to use a body lotion that has an alluring scent, since it makes my special someone excited about snuggling. He thinks it’s for romance, but it’s really because I’m freezing and I want to steal his body heat!

New Year, New You: How to Use Resolutions to Become a Morning Person

Woman Waking Up

Be honest: would you say you're a morning person? If the answer is a resounding no, you're not alone.
Lots of people dread waking up early or can't function until they have at least two cups of coffee coursing through their veins. While molding yourself into a chipper and cheerful morning person may seem unlikely, it's absolutely possible.

With a new year comes a renewed commitment to health, wellness, and personal goals. Like everything else, you just need to tease out those bad habits and develop a strategy for eliminating them. Here are a few great tips to help you beat the morning blues and attack every day with everything you got.

Alarm Clock

Say No to the Snooze Button

The snooze button is an evil temptress. You tell yourself "just a few more minutes", only to find that an hour has passed, and now you're late for work. While it's best to not use the snooze button at all, it can be difficult to go cold turkey completely. Once again, technology comes to the rescue. Smart alarm apps offer creative ways to snooze, including math problems that must be solved before you can secure that ten extra minutes. If you're not a math person, don't fret. The act of working out a problem can help wake up your brain, even if you don't get the correct answer.

Glass of water

Drink a Glass of Water Upon Waking

It's true that coffee is associated with a quick pick-me-up in the morning, but water is a better choice of beverage. Water rehydrates the body, fuels the brain, and gives you the burst of energy you need to function optimally in the early hours. For an even greater rejuvenating effect, make the first beverage you drink in the morning a chilly glass of ice water.

Good night

Establish a Sleep Schedule

A consistent sleep schedule gets your body in tune with waking up early each morning. Additionally, your schedule should extend to the weekends as well, meaning if you get up at 7 am for work during the week, you should get up at the same time Saturday and Sunday. If you have problems falling asleep at a reasonable hour, develop a bedtime ritual. Avoid exercise, digital screens, and caffeine at least two hours before bedtime. Make your bedroom a work-free zone, meaning no laptops, no emails, and no texting. Try reading or taking a relaxing bath to get you in the mood for sleep.

Morning Yoga

Exercise Right After Waking Up

Much like math problems help wake up your brain, exercise helps wake up your body. Now, that doesn't mean you should pop out of bed and go run a half-marathon every morning. Something simple and low-key, like yoga or stretching exercises, should be enough to get you up and moving. There are plenty of free videos online featuring quick and easy exercises you can do each day. Fair warning, the first morning of exercise will probably be difficult. Stick to it, and you'll find each day getting easier and easier.

Cup of coffee

Invest in a Wake-Up Alarm

A bit of sunlight is just the thing to get you up in the morning. When your bedroom lacks strategically placed windows, or you're faced with a gloomy morning, a wake-up alarm is the next best thing. Also known as sunrise lamps, these devices gradually illuminate to mimic sunrise. This signals to your body that it's time to wake up, which is a more comforting process than being roused out of sleep by a blaring alarm.

Anyone can be a morning person when properly motivated. Using one or more of the above techniques can change your perspective, and your life. With the right attitude, you'll be greeting mornings with a smile before you even know it.

5 Tricks To Get a Better Night’s Sleep

Woman Sleeping

Are you having trouble falling asleep at night? Do you wake up many times every night? You’ve love these five easy and effective tricks for getting a great night's sleep all year long:

1. Eat Breakfast at Night

What kind of nonsense is this?! Breakfast for dinner? Well, according to scientists, absolutely.
I know it’s hard to eat a mouthwatering omelet, some lean bacon, a fresh banana and some delicious whole-grain toast for dinner, but … oh, who am I kidding? Breakfast is amazing!

Eating breakfast at night is good for falling asleep because most breakfast foods are rich in the right nutrients. Eggs are packed with protein, toast has filling carbs and bananas are rich in potassium. This combination makes your muscles relax, which is just what your body needs to fall asleep.

Bananas

2. Go Outside

I’m not encouraging you to sleepwalk. What you need is to get some sun and fresh air during the day. Even if it’s just for 10 minutes, go for a short walk, admire your summer garden or watch your dog play around in the snow. Sunlight keeps your normal sleep rhythm balanced, so when it gets dark, your body understands that it’s time to sleep.

Sunny Day outside

3. Try Some Spiced Almond Milk

Just about everyone has heard the secret of drinking warm milk before bedtime. But did you know it doesn’t have to be cow’s milk? Almond milk has a ton of tryptophan, melatonin and magnesium, natural compounds that get your body in the mood to sleep.

Plus, I’ll be honest. The idea of sipping warm cow’s milk doesn’t appeal to me. On the other hand, I love this spiced almond milk recipe. It’s delicious and relaxing, and it helps me sleep like a baby.

What You Need

  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • Pinch of ground ginger
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 tbs almond butter
  • 2 tsp maple syrup or honey

How To Make Spiced Almond Milk

This recipe is really easy. Just put all of the ingredients in a small pot and heat on the stove until it’s warm. Serve in a mug and sip calmly while listening to soft jazz or classical music. I recommend Etta James.

Almond Milk

4. Invest in the Best Sheets

Your mattress isn’t the only thing that makes a huge difference in sleep quality. So do your bedsheets. Look for breathable cotton or silk. Yes, they cost me more than polyester, but they were so worth the investment.
Trust me, if you wake up a lot during the night, tossing and turning, you won’t believe how much great sheets can change that. They keep your body cool, dry and comfortable all night long, so you wake up more refreshed in the morning.

Bed Sheets

5. Let There Be Dark

Your body won’t know it’s sleepy time unless your bedroom is dark. A dimmer switch or lamp is ideal. Turn down the lights about one hour before bedtime, turn off your smartphone or tablet, and try reading a book or listening to an audiobook. You’ll be asleep before you know it.

Dark Bedroom

These are just some of the sleepy-time tricks I have up my pajama sleeves. Next time I’ll tell you about the benefits of wearing socks to bed! Do you have other questions about sleep troubles? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to help.

5 Coffee-Enhancing Hacks To Elevate Your Brew For Optimal Health Perks

Coffee Cup

As you can imagine, I was overjoyed when scientists announced that not only is coffee not a bad thing, it’s actually really good. Did you know there are way to make this amazing drink EVEN BETTER? You have to check out these 5 incredible hacks for taking coffee to the next level:

Coffee Smoothie

1. Supercharge a Smoothie.

Coffee can increase your metabolism (helping you burn more fat than you normally would) and give you more energy. It’s awesome for prepping for workouts. Turn iced coffee into a cardio-boosting smoothie with this recipe:

  • 1/4 cup chilled brewed coffee
  • 3/4 cup almond milk or skim milk
  • 1/2 frozen banana
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter (or another nut butter)
  • 1 tablespoon un-brewed ground coffee
  • Ice for thickness

Before you ask … yes, it’s safe to include ground, un-brewed coffee in your smoothie. It gives you extra caffeine and antioxidants.

Cinnamon Bark

2. Curl Up With Cinnamon.

Cinnamon isn’t just for spicing up (pardon the pun) your coffee’s flavor. This delicious ingredient also has lots of health benefits. It gives you major manganese and antioxidants, helping to protect your heart, lower inflammation and help with menstrual pain. Cinnamon can also lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar and strengthen the immune system. Yes, please!

The easiest way to get cinnamon in your coffee is to add 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder to the grounds before brewing.

Almond Milk

3. Ask for Almond Milk.

For me, creamy coffee is irresistible. In fact, I’m a “no sugar, 2 creamers, please” type of girl. The only problem with that is that milk and creamers add a lot of calories to each cup.

The solution? Choose almond milk instead of dairy. Almond milk still has that supersmooth, creamy texture I love, but roughly half the calories. At the same time, it gives you lots of vitamin D, vitamin E and calcium.

Cup of Coffee

4. Go Bulletproof With Butter & Coconut Oil

Homemade bulletproof coffee uses medium-chain triglycerides to kickstart fat burning. Unlike normal fats, MCTs tend to get turned into energy packets for fuel instead of stubborn belly fat. This helps you avoid the energy drain that sometimes happens with keto diets. At the same time, keto coffee helps fill you up so you don’t feel the temptation to cheat.
To make your own keto brew, here’s what to do:

  • Brew a cup of coffee. Your favorite beans are fine.
  • Pour the coffee into a glass blender jar.
  • Add 1–2 tablespoons of unsalted butter or ghee (clarified butter).
  • Add anywhere from 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of coconut oil or MCT oil.
  • Blend until creamy.

That’s it! Enjoy the frothy, energy-enhancing drink on your way out the door or before working out.

Turmeric Latte

5. Try Turmeric Lattes.

One popular drink in India is called golden milk, a type of bright-yellow latte made with milk and spices. You can put your own twist on this energizing, depression-fighting beverage by adding some to your coffee. Here’s how:

  • Make a golden milk base with 1 teaspoon turmeric powder, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, sprinkle of black pepper and 1 tablespoon water.
  • Brew some coffee.
  • Combine 2 1/2 cups of coffee, 1 1/2 cups almond milk, 1/2 teaspoon honey and a few drops of vanilla extract.
  • Blend everything together until it’s smooth and enjoy!

Turmeric is an incredible spice. It has anti-inflammatory benefits, mood-boosting properties and powerful antioxidants for keeping your whole body healthy.

Do you have other health-boosting tips for my morning java? Please, I’m begging you. Share them with me!

3 Gifts I Will MAKE Instead of BUY

Presents

OK, it’s time for a reality check, and I’m not going to sugar-coat it. The holidays are knocking at your front door, and if you don’t have your gift list nailed down, it’s time to put your game face on. This year has been a crazy one to put it lightly, and if you’re like me, you’re probably feeling a little more sentimental than usual. In the past, I’ve bought most of my gifts online, but this year I decided that my friends and loved ones deserve a little bit more thought. So here are three gifts I will make this year instead of buy. Feel free to use these ideas to make gifts for your own family and friends.

Knit Blankets

1. Blankets

Warm, cozy blankets are some of the best gifts I’ve ever received, which is why I’m going to make a few for my loved ones this year. If you decide to make blankets, be careful. It’s easy to overestimate how many you can make in the days and weeks leading up to the holidays. The last thing you want to do is overburden yourself with so many blankets that you’re stressed out trying to get them done in time.

If you know about how long it takes you to make a blanket, create a schedule for yourself. Figure out how many blankets you can reasonably make by the time the holidays are here. And by “reasonably,” I mean, at a pace that you can sustain while still taking time to clean your house and watch your favorite Hallmark movies.

If your blanket-making skills won’t win you any awards, don’t try to tackle a bunch of King-size quilts. Instead, go easy on yourself and make a few simple lap blankets or throws as gifts. If possible, ask for pictures of your gift recipient’s living rooms or bedrooms in advance so you can create throws and blankets that match their home décor and color themes. Of course, if you’re going for the surprise factor, this isn’t an option. In that case, choose neutral colors that are likely to complement any color palette.

Homemade Tree Ornament

2. Christmas Ornaments

Christmas ornaments make great handmade gifts because they provide memories and cheer year after year. They’re also extremely affordable, which is great news if you’ve already overextended your holiday budget (no judgment here!)

Call me old-fashioned, but I adore making classic cross-stitched ornaments featuring adorable little Christmas characters or scenes. But if you don’t have the time or patterns to make ornaments like these, try making dried citrus ornaments, wooden bead ornaments, or even wood slice ornaments. I’ve found so many online tutorials that make homemade ornaments a cinch to make. So once you decide what type you prefer, go online and figure out how to DIY it!

Stovetop potpourri

3. Stove Top Potpourri Kits

OK, this gift isn’t one that can be used year after year, but it’s one of my favorite gifts to make (and receive). Stove top potpourri kits are so simple, festive and cheery. To make them, just get a few small jelly jars and fill them with holiday-scented items that can be warmed in a pot on the stove to create a heavenly aroma. Here are my favorite ingredient ideas:

  • Small peppermint sticks (make sure they contain real peppermint oil)
  • Pine sprigs
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Fresh rosemary sprigs
  • Dried lemon peel
  • Whole cloves
  • Whole nutmeg
  • Anise pods
  • Cranberries

Mix and match ingredients to create your own custom scents. Place the ingredients in your jar, put the lid on, and tie a festive bow around the neck. Consider including instructions or a label so your gift recipient knows what it is. This gift idea can fill a home with warm, comforting holiday aromas. Plus, it’s just so adorable! Figure out which gift idea you want to try this year and get ready to help create the most sentimental Christmas yet.

5 of the Best Dance Classes for Weight Loss

Dance class

For me, what makes dancing amazing for exercise is the way it keeps you motivated. A great beat keeps you energized and helps you push through the burn for even better results. Here are five of my favorite dance classes:

1. Hip-Hop

Do you love to bounce and sway when your favorite songs come on the radio? I do. If you're like me, a hip-hop dance class is perfect for you. It involves a range of motion for your entire body, including arm punches, shoulder moves, high steps, hip slides, spins and jumps. These classes are a blast, and they’re amazing for slimming your waistline. You can easily reach 400–500 calories burned per hour or more.

Dance class

2. Freestyle

Freestyle classes are a great choice for people who love to dance but don’t like having to remember steps. Whether you’re into hip-hop rhythms, Latin music, electronic vibes or even classical music, freestyle lets you do your own thing. The important thing is to stay active the whole time, but you can move your feet, arms, hips and tummy however you feel like.

3. Belly Dancing and Bollywood

If your goal is to specifically target stubborn tummy fat, then belly dancing is hard to beat. This exotic dance comes from places such as Morocco and Egypt. It involves precise movements of the hips, belly and buttocks, from slow gyrations and twists to sexy slides and vibrations. All of these movements are heaven for your midsection, burning fat while toning abdominal muscles and glutes like no tomorrow.

Bollywood dances use some of these motions while including whole-body moves and unique hand and arm flairs. Think hip-hop with a touch of gracefulness. These are some of the best feel-good dance activities out there. Trust me, you will have a huge smile afterwards.

Tango

4. Tango

Ballroom dances such as tango may burn less calories than intense aerobic activities, but they’re also gentler on your body. It takes some practice to learn the steps, but showing off your tango prowess is kind of the point. Other options include foxtrot and waltzes.

5. Salsa or Merengue

Latin dance rhythms can help you burn TONS of calories. You only need to learn six simple steps and the rest is up to your mood! Salsa is a high-energy, fast-tempo dance that gets your feet moving. It’s excellent for cardio and moves your lower body and hips a lot.

Merengue has a slower tempo than salsa and is lower impact for people with tender joints, but it still gives you a great workout. Salsa and merengue exercise your legs, glutes, hips and abdomen. Add in some arm movements and you’ve got a great whole-body workout that keeps you pumped.

Dancer

All the Benefits of Dancing

One hour of dancing can help you burn 400 calories or more, which is what you get from riding a bicycle, jogging or swimming. That makes it great for weight loss. In addition, you get tons of other benefits:

  • Better flexibility
  • Stronger bones
  • Higher energy levels
  • Happier mood
  • Less stress
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved cardiovascular health
  • Lower risk of memory problems

Want some extra fun? You can do most dances with a partner for excitement (or some romance). Burning calories as a team is a great idea. No matter what dance class you’re interested in, my advice is just try it! You won’t believe how awesome you feel and how many calories you sweat.