Tag Archives: stress

Chill out! Why less stress 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 response that 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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How washing your hands, going for a walk, and getting enough sleep can make this a healthy New Year!

Now that the holiday season is behind us and 2016 is underway we can focus on our goals and resolutions for the new year. Staying healthy is essential for achieving these goals, whatever they may be. Unfortunately, the natural spread of cold and flu viruses at this time of year can interfere with your plans. The good news is, there is much you can do to reduce your risk of getting sick, which I explain in my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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For starters, getting a flu vaccine is the most important thing you can do to prevent seasonal influenza (flu). And it’s not too late if you haven’t gotten your flu shot yet. You can also protect yourself by not touching your eyes, nose, or mouth and by washing your hands frequently with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. You have probably been doing it wrong, so you may want to learn this song.

Exercise can have a positive effect on your immune system. People who exercise on a daily basis have fewer and less severe colds and have up to 50% fewer sick days than those who aren’t regularly active. Research in animals and humans shows that exercise increases the activity of certain immune cells called helper T cells. This makes the immune system response to viruses, like the cold and flu, more robust. The strongest evidence is seen when the exercise is moderate in intensity and duration, such as a 30–60 minute walk or jog each day.

More exercise isn’t always better, though. Very vigorous and prolonged exercise can have the opposite effect. Athletes who engage in long, intense training tend to be more susceptible to upper respiratory infections. Research shows that immune function is depressed in the weeks leading up to and after running a marathon, resulting in an increased risk of becoming sick. The bottom line is that while exercise improves your immune system, very vigorous exercise may not.

Regular exercise also enhances the immune system response to the influenza vaccine. This means that the flu vaccine can be more effective in people who exercise. If you don’t exercise already, you can still benefit: one study showed that a single 45 minute exercise session can improve the immune response to the flu vaccine. You can get this benefit by going for a brisk walk before your flu shot.

Good nutrition is also important for optimal immune system function. Deficiencies of certain nutrients can have a negative effect on immune function, so eating a balanced diet is essential. That said, there is no support for “boosting” the immune system by taking high doses of vitamins, minerals, or other supplements, despite the claims made by supplement companies. In fact, one supplement company paid $23 million to settle a class action lawsuit regarding false claims that it prevented colds.

You can get benefits from two more common-sense recommendations: getting adequate sleep and reducing stress. Poor sleep habits are associated with suppressed immunity and more frequent illness. Sleep deprivation can also reduce the positive immune response to a vaccine. Another study showed that sleep following a vaccination enhanced the effectiveness of that vaccine. High levels of stress increase susceptibility to colds and the flu and can lead to more sick days from work or school. Stress and poor sleep habits tend to occur together, creating a double negative effect on the immune system.

In order to have your best chance of staying healthy this year you should exercise every day, eat a healthy diet, manage your stress, and get enough sleep in addition to following the traditional advice to get a flu shot, wash your hands frequently, stay away from people who are sick, and stay home yourself if you are ill. As a bonus, many of these habits will also help you lose weight and reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers along with keeping you healthy this cold and flu season.


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Chill out! Why less stress is essential for good health.

Chronic stress can have serious emotional, psychological, and physiological effects that lead to or exacerbate many health problems. While it is impossible to avoid all stress in life, minimizing stressors and managing the way you respond to stress can have important benefits. Regular exercise, including yoga, managing time better, and getting enough sleep, can help with minimizing your feelings of stress as well as the effects it has on your body.

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


Chronic stress can have serious emotional, psychological, and physiological effects that lead to or exacerbate many health problems. In fact, the negative health effects of chronic stress are similar to 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 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 response that 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-tooth 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-tooth tiger encounters, but not for less perilous stressors like being stuck in traffic, pressure at work and home, or other personal and family issues. But the body responds with the same increase blood pressure and hormones to them all. Unlike a rare saber-tooth 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-tooth 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!

Eat smart, move more, chill out

The goal of being “more healthy” is a good one, but can include an almost endless list dietary, activity, and other behavioral changes. Some people may feel overwhelmed and unsure of where to begin. Furthermore, there is a perception that you have to implement all of the changes simultaneously or follow a complicated diet or exercise program in order to see results.

But it doesn’t need to be this way. My Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week outlines a few simple guidelines that have the potential to lead to significant improvements in health, fitness, and wellbeing. Not only are these things you can implement right now, but they are scalable, so the more you do, the bigger the benefits.

1. Eat smart.Healthy eating isn’t necessarily about eating less or avoiding certain foods, it’s about making smart choices when you shop, cook, or eat out. Many problems with the typical American diet probably have to do with the fact that we tend to eat heavily processed, calorie-dense foods. The major difference between what we eat now and what most people ate before the current obesity epidemic is the processing our food undergoes.

You can eat smart by focusing on eating real food—fresh and minimally processed plants and animals—instead of the processed and pre-packaged food that is so common in restaurants and in meals we eat at home. That isn’t to say that all processed food is necessarily unhealthy, but it would be wise to shift the balance toward more real food.

This isn’t necessarily new advice…it was featured on the cover of a popular book in 2009, after all. But this message seems to have gotten lost in the chaos of health claims made by manufacturers in advertisements and on food labels.

You can do this right now by having a piece of fresh fruit, some nuts, or vegetables for a snack. Later, you can make most of your food purchases from the perimeter of the grocery store, and less from the aisles in the middle.

2. Move more. Most people spend too much time sitting and not enough time moving. In fact, the amount of time someone sits during the day has nearly as much impact on their health as their exercise habits. So, step one is to sit less.

Next, move more, which means just that—finding ways to be active during the day. This includes simple things like standing rather than sitting when you talk on the phone, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and getting up off the couch during commercials. It also includes dedicating time every day for structured exercise or other activity like yard work, house work, or taking the dog for a walk. Every little bit helps, but aim for a minimum of 30 minutes per day.

Right now you are probably sitting, so stand up and stretch or move around a little. Later, go for a walk or do something active around your house.

3. Chill Out. With so much emphasis placed on diet and exercise, the health effects of stress are often overlooked. Chronic stress can have serious emotional, psychological, and physiological effects that lead to or exacerbate many health problems. While it is impossible to avoid all stress in life, minimizing stressors and managing the way you respond to stress can have important benefits.

Exercise is one good way to manage your feelings of stress as well as the effects it has on your body. Yoga has long been recommended to help reduce and control stress, but all types of exercise can help. Managing time better, including getting enough sleep, is helpful for many people.

Right now you can close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to relax. Later, spend some time doing something you enjoy.

So, if you are feeling overwhelmed by complicated and confusing health recommendations, keep it simple: eat smart, move more, and chill out!