Reduce Stress with Diet and Exercise
Small lifestyle changes can make a big difference on how you feel emotionally. Start with your diet and fitness routine.
Sep 21, 2009Self-Care & Mental Health
Pew Foundation Scholar in Nutrition and Metabolism
Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine
University of Maryland
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More than one in 10 of those who responded to HealthyWomen's survey on stress said they coped with stress by doing unhealthy things such as overindulging in alcohol and food and other self-destructive behaviors. I can guarantee these actions won't help them feel any better; in fact, such behaviors only exacerbate the harmful effects of chronic stress on your health and likely add a whole host of other issues to deal with.
For the reality is that there is very little you can do about the stress in your life. What you can do something about, however, is how you let it affect you. And the best place to start is with a bedrock of healthy living. This strong foundation may help protect you against the harmful effects of the chronic stress we all live with.
That means following a healthy lifestyle, particularly when it comes to eating and exercising.
Eat Your Way to Calm
Here's how to do it:
If I were to make a list of the studies showing the benefits of exercise on reducing stress hormones, it would be longer than my arm. Simply moving-walking, running, biking, swimming-changes the balance of stress hormones in the brain.
Studies suggest that by making the body stronger and healthier, exercise enhances your ability to respond to stress, thus thwarting many of its negative effects such as anxiety, depression and heart disease. Regular exercise also helps flush out the byproducts of the body's stress response - those hundreds of chemicals released in response to a stressful situation - enabling you to return to a normal state quicker.
Then there are the meditative benefits of exercise. There is a "zone" you get into when you swim, or walk, or jog, an enhanced feeling of self-esteem that results from doing something you know is good for you and from seeing the physical results of that action, the social support if you're working out with a friend, and even the fact that physical activity improves your sleep.
It doesn't really matter what kind of exercise you do; what's most important, studies find, is that you do something you enjoy, not something you feel you simply have to do. Otherwise, you're just stressing yourself out again!