Leave the Stress Behind

Long-term stress can harm your health. Says who? The National Institute on Mental Health. It also warns that stress affects everyone.

And stress doesn’t just affect your thoughts, feelings and behavior — it affects your body, too. Stress can increase your blood pressure and depress your immune system. It’s also known to cause multiple thyroid problems. And, according to the Cleveland Clinic, stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. Bet you didn’t even realize just how dangerous stress could be.

The drastic increase of stress in our daily lives is a worldwide phenomenon. That’s why we’re constantly devising ways to combat stress — from relaxation techniques and deep breathing exercises, to meditation, muscle relaxation and mental imagery techniques. Some use sounds and/or music. Others use biofeedback. Yet one of the best, and easiest, is physical exercise.

Exercise — in any form — can act as a stress reliever. Regular exercise improves your overall health and sense of well-being. That alone puts more pep in your step, say the experts at the Mayo Clinic. But exercise has other stress-busting benefits. Physical exertion boosts secretion of endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals in the brain that resemble opiates and act as a natural morphine. You’ve probably heard it referred to as the runner’s high. The good news is, you don’t have to go running or participate in an aerobics class to get those “feel-good” endorphins released into your body. You just have to exercise. All forms of exercise help reduce the effects of stress on the body and mind by releasing endorphins into the bloodstream. Even yoga and walking.

If that’s more than you want to do, work in the garden. Gardening is peaceful, solitary and good for the soul. Believe it or not, gardening is a great way to work your major muscle groups, such as your abs, back and glutes. With all that bending, squatting, pulling, pushing, you could burn as much as 184 calories in just a half-hour!

There are thousands of ways to get moving. And abundant activities relevant to the time of year — flag football, basketball, Frisbee golf, trampoline parks, mud runs, water aerobics, swimming and other water sports, corn hole and horseshoes, to name a few. Physical activity helps you unwind and connect with family or friends in a fun, social setting. And that reduces stress, too.

Regular physical activity will improve your strength and endurance. It can help you fall asleep faster and deepen your sleep. Exercise delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and helps your cardiovascular system work more efficiently. And when your heart and lung health improve, you have more energy to tackle daily chores … and stress.

The bottom line on any physical activity — it’s a great way to feel better, boost your health and have fun. Let’s leave the stress behind.

 

The National Institute on Mental Health, the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic are independent organizations that provide information on behalf of your health plan.