Tag Archives: yoga

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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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!

Stretch it out.

My Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week is about stretching and flexibility. This is one aspect of  a comprehensive exercise program that you might be missing. Here’s why that is a problem and what you can do to start improving your flexibility.


 

The benefits of regular exercise include increased endurance, strength, and flexibility along with increased energy expenditure for weight loss and weight maintenance. These benefits will vary depending on the type of exercise you perform.

Endurance (aerobic) exercise will improve your cardiorespiratory fitness and endurance. These improvements allow you to exercise at a higher intensity or for a longer duration. Aerobic exercise like walking or jogging is also the most effective at burning calories.

Resistance training (weight lifting) will improve your muscular strength. The practical benefit is that you will have an easier time completing physical tasks at work or at home, something that is increasingly important as you get older.

Ideally, your exercise program will include a combination of endurance and resistance training. But there is another type of exercise that you should also include—stretching.

Stretching is an important and often overlooked part of an exercise program. Stretching exercises improve your flexibility and range of motion. This can help reduce back pain and muscle stiffness, improve your posture, and may reduce your risk of injury when you are active.

Here are some key points to keep in mind as you add stretching to your exercise routine:

  • Target major muscle groups. When you’re stretching, focus on your calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck and shoulders. Also stretch muscles and joints that you routinely use at work or play.
  • Warm up first. The idea that stretching is a good warm-up before exercise is outdated. Stretching muscles when they’re cold increases your risk of injury, including pulled muscles. Warm up first by exercising at low intensity for five minutes or, better yet, stretch after you work out.
  • Hold each stretch for at least 15 seconds. It takes time for the muscles to stretch and lengthen. That can seem like a long time, so keep an eye on the clock or your watch. Then repeat the stretch on the other side. For most muscle groups, a single stretch is often sufficient if you hold it long enough.
  • Don’t bounce. While it might seem that bouncing would give you a better stretch, the opposite can be true. In extreme cases you could even damage the muscle making you less flexible and more prone to pain.
  • Focus on a pain-free stretch. You should expect to feel the stretch, but it shouldn’t cause pain. If it hurts, you’ve gone too far. Back off to the point where you don’t feel any pain, then hold the stretch.
  • Relax and breathe freely. Don’t hold your breath while you’re stretching. This is especially important if you are doing a workout that emphasizes stretching, like yoga.

Yoga is one example of an exercise that results in improved flexibility as well as promoting stress relief. There are different types of yoga, some of which improve strength and endurance along with flexibility. Yoga classes can be modified to accommodate even the least flexible participants, so don’t be afraid to try it.

You may want to start by stretching at two to three times a week to improve and maintain flexibility. Exercises that target the major muscle groups should take less that 10 minutes to complete, so this can easily fit into other activities.

As with any exercise, doing more can yield better results. If you have a problem area, such as tightness in the back of your leg, you might want to stretch more often. And keep in mind that you can stretch anytime, anywhere — in your home, at work, or when you’re traveling.