By Dayle Hayes, MS, RD 2017-12-30 11:40:53
»»» Why taking a walk or simply dancing around the office may be your best bet for stress reduction. STRESS: We all have plenty of it. In our crazy-fast world, stress is pretty much a fact of daily life. Many common stress “relievers”—food, alcohol and medications—often make things worse rather than better. Most of us don’t have the finances for get-away-from-it-all vacations on secluded islands or the inclination to learn new tools like meditation (although you should give it a try, starting with the article on page 52). PHYSICAL ACTIVITY: Few of us are getting enough. We know we should move our bodies more, but somehow we don’t have “enough time” to find the motivation. We join gyms and make promises for the New Year, but slip, slide back to our old sedentary ways before we fully realize it. Once we do, the guilt of not meeting our exercise goals can be one more stressor in our already stressed-out lives. Author’s Note: Before we go any further, I want to clarify my terminology. I am not a fan of the word exercise for one simple reason: Many people do not enjoy “exercising.” No matter how much they love to walk, dance, swim, ride bikes or play ball, they hate to exercise. And so, they don’t. I prefer to advocate for physical activity or movement, which are more neutral, descriptive terms. I really like the word play because it implies fun! Whatever you choose to call it, moving your muscles is one of the smartest, most-effective—and often least-expensive—types of stress relievers. Best of all, you do not have to run a marathon or even sweat through a t-shirt to completely enjoy the many benefits. All you really have to do is stand up, put a foot in front (or in back) of the other, and move in one or more directions at a steady pace for at least 5 minutes. It may help to cue up some music and shimmy across the floor or to go outside and smell whatever is blooming. All you really have to do is move. “Can it possibly be that easy to reduce my stress?” you ask? Yes, it can—and it is. “Okay, if it is really that easy, maybe I’m doing it already?” You probably are, since it’s a lot less complicated than you think, but you do need to start making it a habit. Let’s answer other common questions. HOW CAN PHYSICAL ACTIVITY HELP RELIEVE MY STRESS LEVELS? Based on decades of examination and hundreds of studies, researchers believe that physical exercise reduces stress in both physiological and psychological ways. On the physiological side, muscle activity and physical fitness change the chemicals in your body in two important ways: » They increase your brain’s production of natural feel-good chemicals, the neurotransmitters called endorphins. » They also regulate the production of cortisol, known as a stress hormone. Over-production of cortisol, which happens when you suffer chronic stress, can affect blood pressure, food cravings, sleep quality and more. Psychologically, physical activities—especially those you find enjoyable—can help give your mind a break from both the major problems, as well as the minor irritations of daily life. Regular exercise has been shown to improve self-confidence and to reduce the symptoms associated with anxiety and depression. These are just some of the reasons that many therapists today recommend physical activity as a key component in the treatment of mood disorders and other stress-related mental health problems. WHAT TYPE OF PHYSICAL ACTIVITY CAN HELP ME BETTER MANAGE MY STRESS LEVELS? Here’s the really, really good news: Almost any kind of regular physical activity can help relieve stress. It can be as short as a 5-minute activity break at the office or as long as a 90-minute yoga class in a peaceful studio. It can be as intense as kickboxing at the gym or as peaceful as gardening in the backyard. The most important aspect to “ex-[er]-cising your stress away” is to do whatever activity you choose on a regular basis. Aiming for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate activity on most days of the week is a great goal, but keep in mind that it does not have to be done all at once. In a small 2016 study, office workers reported that six 5-minute bouts of activity were more effective than one 30-minute bout in improving mood, decreasing fatigue and reducing food cravings at the end of the day. Some experts suggest that the most effective physical stress reducers may be those that include some aspects of meditation, such as deep breathing and smooth muscle movements. You may want to check out options for these classes online or in your community: » restorative (also called Yin) yoga; » the ancient practice of Tai Chi; » Ai Chi (a newer practice done in water); and » Neuromuscular Integrative Action (NIA), a combination of martial arts and dance. If you already enjoy endurance exercises, such as running, biking or spin classes, they can certainly help you manage your stress levels. However, for less-fit individuals, these activities can actually increase stress hormone production and inflammation. The bottom line is that when you’re deciding which particular physical activities you will focus on in developing your new habits, you should ignore the “no pain, no gain” philosophy. It does not apply in this context. The “pain” isn’t just about the intensity of the workout, it also refers to something you have to talk yourself into doing. That’s counter-productive, especially when it comes to stress relief. WHEN SHOULD I EXERCISE TO GET THE MOST STRESS-RELIEVING BENEFITS? Author’s Note: At this point in writing this article, I took a real-life activity break. Writing about the benefits of physical activity always makes me want to take a walk, so I did. Lesson: The best time to be active is completely at your own discretion. It’s when you can and when you want to! I took a one-hour walk, kicked my endorphins up a notch, enjoyed the sunshine and ultimately got more focused to finish the article. If you wait for the “perfect” time to exercise, you may never find it. If you decide to wait until all your emails have been answered or all your forms are completed, you may never get up from your desk! If you wait until all your other daily tasks are completed, you will probably fall into bed without any exercise—likely feeling frustrated and even more stressed out, as well. Here are a few tips for “finding” the right time to move more each day: » Choose the specific time(s) that you will be most likely to enjoy physical activity. For some folks, that is before the start of the workday; for others, it is at the end of the day. As you consider the time(s), remember: Stress-relieving physical activity can be done all at once or broken up into smaller, more manageable bouts—10 minutes here, 15 minutes there and so on. » Schedule physical activity sessions as though they are among the most important appointments in your life—because they are! Make notes in your phone or calendar about that yoga class, a walk with a friend or simply your desire to get up and take a short five-minute walk every hour. » Use your phone or computer to support your efforts to make regular exercise a habit. There are a host of apps (try Wunderlist) and other useful tools to aid you, offering reminders and incentives. For example, if you wear a fitness tracker, make the most of its functions. Most trackers have silent alarms and other cue features. Several provide personal “challenges” that you can take alone or with friends—a little competition can be a great motivator for some people, even if it’s as simple as the number of steps you’ll take in the course of a day. WHERE IS THE BEST PLACE TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF STRESSRELIEVING ACTIVITIES? As with scheduling physical activity, location is more about convenience and personal preference than about finding the “perfect” place to exercise. Some people love the gym and others are stressed out by having to wear gym clothes. Yogis tend to love the Zen-like peace of a studio, while others find that atmosphere downright creepy. Pick a place where you feel comfortable and where it is safe to move the way you want to move. Being outdoors may provide extra stress-relieving benefits. Some studies have concluded that a walk in the park, instead of on a treadmill in the basement, can put the brain into a calming, meditative-like state. While I, personally, will always choose outdoor activity over indoor fitness, I also make certain that I have the right shoes and clothes for the conditions and that the area is safe. WHO MAKES A GOOD PLAYMATE FOR MY STRESS-REDUCING PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES? As with timing and location, it is critical to consider whom you want to play with! There are many self-help articles and podcasts full of advice about identifying the “best” workout buddy or reviewing strategies for getting your family members up off the couch and away from their electronic babysitters. Such tips are all well and good, if you like to exercise with other people. If you prefer to be alone with music in your ears or to walk a furry friend, then that is the ideal stress-relieving way to go for you. Do watch out for fitness teachers, classes or personal trainers that may cause you more stress than they relieve. If you feel intimidated, bullied or way out of your league, look for a different situation. Negativity increases stress and makes it difficult to establish a long-lasting habit. Speaking of furry friends, pet therapy is now recognized as a bona fide way to improve stressful situations like test taking and being in the hospital. The ideal de-stressor for me is to walk a well-behaved dog along a beautiful path in the mountains. However, for someone who dislikes dogs, is afraid of heights and/or is uncomfortable in nature, that scenario is likely to be a very stress-full situation. When it comes to ex-[er]-cising your stress away, remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. WHY SHOULD I GET PHYSICAL IN ORDER TO RELIEVE MY STRESS? That’s easy! Whether you call it exercise, physical activity or play, moving more is one of the smartest, most convenient and most effective stress-relievers on the planet. Inside, outside, all by yourself, with your family or your pets, physical activity can be effective—and it can be fun, too. So, in the marketing words of a very successful international brand, just do it! STRESS: WHAT’S FOOD GOT TO DO WITH IT? If you have a phone or computer, you have instant access to thousands (if not millions) of tips on how to avoid, handle or stop eating when you are stressed. It actually stresses me out to read long lists of all the things that I should or should not be doing. It almost drives me right to the cookie jar or the bag of chips. Seriously, the most important thing to do when you are stressed is avoid adding more stress to your life. After 35 years as a dietitian, I can tell you with absolute certainty that it is not complicated to eat well during times of high stress. Here’s my advice: Take a deep breath and stop beating yourself up about whatever you have been eating or drinking. Stress hormones like cortisol really do increase your appetite, so some of your cravings are natural physiological responses. Eat regularly, because skipping meals (or snacks) creates more stress on your body and in your brain. Being “hangry” (hunger + angry) is a real thing. When you go too long without food, you do not make rational choices when you finally start to eat. Take a 5-, 10- or 15-minute walk. If you are truly hungry, take a snack to eat while you walk. Better yet, take a friend for a walk-and-talk or a dog for a walk-and-no-talk. A short activity break is an easy way to break the counter-productive stress-eat-stress-eat cycle. Drink plenty of fluids. Your brain can get confused between hunger and thirst. Folks who are “too busy” to eat are often “too busy” to stay well hydrated. If you go hours without “going,” then you are probably dehydrated. Drink. More. Water. Keep smart foods on hand—actually within reach of your hands. We all know that we need to eat more fruits, veggies, lean proteins and whole grains. So buy them, cut into bite-size pieces, and have them nearby to crunch and chew on whenever you need. In my opinion, it really is that simple to eat better—albeit not perfectly—when you are stressed. Of course, mindful-eating techniques will help. Of course, turning off your screens and paying more attention will help, too. Planning meals ahead of time and having them all cooked in the freezer is another effective strategy. Being able to afford a personal chef or a fancy meal delivery service—yup, that would be nice, as well. All that said, sometimes the simplest answers are the smartest places to start. In fact, I will personally guarantee that if you breathe more, eat regularly, walk often, drink more water and have smarter snacks on hand, you will eat better whenever you are stressed—and you will feel less stress, too! DID YOU KNOW? Conventional wisdom asserts that it takes 21 days to establish a new habit—but that may be overly optimistic! Studies conducted at University College London suggest that 66 days may be a more realistic estimate. But don’t be intimidated by that figure; keep your eyes on the prize and take it one day at a time. Be patient with yourself. It makes no sense to stress out about trying to relieve stress! Dayle Hayes is a school nutrition and social media consultant based in Billings, Mont. She maintains several social media channels under the School Meals That Rock brand. You can reach her at EatWellatSchool@gmail.com.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://mydigimag.rrd.com/article/Ex-%5Ber%5D-cise+Your+Stress+Away/2975450/466007/article.html.