Tag Archives: exercise

Chill out! Why less stress (and more sleep) is essential for good health.

Chronic stress can have serious emotional, psychological, and physiological effects that contribute to or exacerbate many health problems. In fact, the negative health effects of chronic stress are like those of eating a poor diet or not getting enough physical activity. That said, managing stress, including getting enough sleep, is often overlooked as a key component of good health.

The effects of stress and the importance of stress management is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

stress


The word “stress” is typically used to indicate both the feeling of being “under a lot of stress” as well as the things that cause that feeling. The events and situations that cause stress are properly called stressors, which lead to a stress responsethat includes consequences we feel as well as physiological changes we may not notice.

The immediate effect of a stressor is called the “fight or flight” response since it prepares the body to deal with a dangerous situation. A classic example of this is a caveman who encounters a saber-toothed tiger, clearly a stress-inducing event.

The sympathetic nervous system is immediately activated, which raises heart rate and blood pressure to pump more blood to the muscles. Additionally, stored fat and carbohydrate fuels are broken down as fuel for the muscles. The adrenal glands release catecholamines (adrenaline) and cortisol (the stress hormone) to prolong and enhance this effect. This coordinated response makes sure the caveman’s body is ready for action. After the danger passes, everything returns to normal.

This physiological response is appropriate for major events like saber-toothed tiger encounters, but not for less perilous stressors like being stuck in traffic, pressure at work or home, and other personal and family issues. But the body responds with the same increase in blood pressure and hormones to them all. Unlike a rare saber-toothed tiger encounter, these stressors tend to occur on a daily basis, leading to continuous stress response.

The increase in hormones can lead to high blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic diseases. This is partly due to elevated levels of cortisol, a hormone that plays a role in storing fat and increasing appetite. While elevated cortisol during exercise (including running away from a saber-toothed tiger) is normal, chronic overproduction can have negative effects.

While it is impossible to avoid all stress in life, minimizing stressors and managing the way you respond to stress can have important benefits. To the extent that it is possible, avoiding stressful situations through better time management, setting realistic expectations for ourselves and with others, and learning to say “no” are common recommendations.

Learning how to deal with stressors to avoid the negative effects of stress is also important. Techniques that can be implemented in the heat of a stressful moment include taking a break from the situation, listening to calming music, and progressive relaxation. Even taking a deep breath can help.

Exercise has long been recognized as beneficial for reducing stress and the long-term effects of stress on your health. This includes doing something active during a stressful situation and exercising regularly to improve the way your body responds to stress. While all forms of exercise seem to work, much research and practice has focused on specific types of exercise including yoga and Tai Chi.

Other effective strategies traditionally include meditation and relaxation exercises. More and more research shows that getting enough sleep is also critical for reducing stress and the impact it has on your health. Eating a healthy diet can reduce the effects of stress as well.

The bottom line is that a healthy lifestyle includes stress management as well as a good diet and regular activity. Since all three are essential for good health, it would be wise to eat smart, move more, and chill out!


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What should you drink to recover after exercise?

It used to be that water was the preferred after-exercise drink. Nowadays, though, you are likely to find that recreational and competitive athletes of all ages consume a specialized recovery drink after a game or training session. These drinks and, sometimes bars, have become part of a post-workout routine recommended by coaches and personal trainers.

 

Most of these recovery beverages contain some combination of carbohydrates, protein, electrolytes, vitamins, and water, although the specific nutrients and relative amounts of each vary from brand to brand. Depending on the formulation, these supplements may help with rapid recovery from a bout of prolonged exercise, promote muscle growth following resistance training, or reduce muscle soreness after an intense workout.

 

While research supports consuming some of these nutrients, alone or in combination, in recovery, there are some considerations for determining which supplement, if any, may be right for you.

Sports drink

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If exercise is medicine, why didn’t your doctor give you a prescription?

What if I told you that there is a prescription your doctor could give you that would prevent and treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes as well as lowering your risk of heart attack, stroke, and most cancers. It can also decrease depression, improve memory and cognitive function better than any other available treatment, and reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. And it can help you maintain a healthy body weight, increase your strength, and help you live longer. You would insist your doctor prescribe this for you, right?

The good news is that this prescription exists. The bad news is your doctor may not tell you much about it. This is because it isn’t a drug or other medical treatment—it’s exercise!

exercise-rx

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Diagnosis and treatment of heart disease explained.

Coronary artery disease or heart disease is caused by atherosclerosis, a process which involves the accumulation of cholesterol plaques in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. These plaques can narrow the blood vessels and reduce blood and oxygen delivery to the heart, leading to symptoms like chest pain (ischemia). The plaques can also rupture and form a blood clot, blocking oxygen delivery and causing a myocardial infarction—a heart attack.

Coronary_angiography_of_a_STEMI_patient,_showing_partial_occlusion_of_left_circumflex_coronary_artery

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Get out of debt—health debt—in 2019.

Getting out of debt is a worthwhile goal and a common New Year’s resolution. This almost always means financial debt, which is a burden for millions of Americans. Many individuals and families have gotten themselves into debt by spending too much and not saving enough. For most, this situation has been years in the making, has no simple solution, and will have an impact lasting years into the future. Reducing this debt is essential for achieving financial health.

This is not the only type of debt we face—many people are also in health debt. Poor eating habits and increasingly sedentary lifestyles have led to an obesity epidemic. The problem is widespread, since most Americans are overweight, fewer than half of US adults meet minimum recommendations for physical activity, and about one in six adults smoke. Alone and especially in combination, these poor health habits are the major causes of the most common, and preventable, diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.

Even if we have not been diagnosed with diabetes or heart disease or other health problems, our lifestyle has put us on that path. Small changes in what we eat or how active we are have added up over the years to create a condition of poor health. And our overall health and potential complications get worse year after year, so the longer we are overweight and inactive, the worse our health is likely to be in the future. That is our health debt. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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Keeping up with fitness trends for 2019

There seems to always be something new in the fitness world. Whether it is a new piece of equipment in the gym, a new exercise class, or a new way to perform traditional exercises, the fitness industry is constantly evolving. Some of these become popular enough that they are considered “trends,” attracting attention from fitness experts and exercise novices alike.

Each year the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) surveys health and fitness professionals to identify exercise trends for the upcoming year. The 2019 report was published this month, so it is a good time to catch up on the leading fitness trends to look for in the upcoming year.

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Happy Walktober! Celebrate by going for a walk outdoors.

 

Now that cooler fall weather is finally here (at least in our area), being active outdoors is more enjoyable. October is a great time to get outdoors and go for a walk! That is the spirit of Walktober, an initiative adopted by health organizations, companies, and communities around the globe.

Walking is a great way to be active to help you control your weight, increase your fitness, and improve your health. The most common form of exercise for most people is walking, and for good reason: walking doesn’t require any special equipment (beyond comfortable shoes) or skills, and you can do it almost anywhere.

You can meet basic physical activity recommendations by walking briskly for 30 minutes most days of the week. Even this amount of walking can lead to a lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers as well as improved mental health, cognitive function, and greater feelings of wellbeing.

father and son walking in woods

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