Tag Archives: reduce stress

11 Exercise Benefits You Don’t See

exerciseWhat’s the most common reason why people exercise? To lose weight. Yet, physical activity provides so many more benefits. Do you want to feel better? Need more energy? Want to live longer? Then get out there and get moving!

Here are 11 important benefits to exercising that you don’t see:

Improved mood
If you’re in a bad mood or have had a stressful day, you can blow off some steam by going for a brisk 30-minute walk or working out at the gym. Exercise stimulates brain chemicals that make you feel happier and more relaxed. You may also feel better about yourself because you fit a workout into your day.

Energy boost
When you’re tired, the last thing you want to do is move. Yet, when you use energy to exercise, it gives you an energy boost. By exercising more regularly, you may also be able to eliminate fatigue and find that you have a lot more pep.

More confidence
Working out can make you look better on the outside. It can also make you feel better on the inside. Exercising can make you feel more empowered and boost your self-esteem. You feel ready to conquer anything.

Sleep better
We need our beauty rest so that our bodies can recover, repair damage, renew energy and clear the mind. Exercise is an all-natural sleep aid. People who exercise regularly have less insomnia and a higher quality of sleep.

Reduce stress
Exercise calms your body and your brain. After you work out, the levels of stress hormones – such as adrenaline and cortisol – drop. Especially after aerobic exercise, stress and anxiety melt away. You may also be able to cope more easily with stress when you feel confident about yourself.

Pump up your heart
If high blood pressure and heart disease run in your family, exercise can help you strengthen your heart. Being active boosts HDL or “good cholesterol” and lowers unhealthy triglycerides. Physical activity keeps your blood flowing and decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Combat disease
In addition to giving you a healthy heart, regular physical activity can help you prevent or manage a wide range of health problems. Do you have a family history of certain types of diseases? Get moving and reduce your risk of stroke, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes depression, certain types of cancer, arthritis and falls.

Relieve arthritis pain
Regular exercise can help ease your pain if you have arthritis. It can make your daily activities easier. Consider non-impact exercises like swimming. These types of exercises can be easier on your joints.

Strengthen bones
It’s important to keep our bones and muscles strong as we get older. Weight-bearing exercise, such as weight-lifting, walking, tennis and dancing, can help you strengthen and build bones. It can also help ward off osteoporosis and improve balance and coordination.

Look younger
People who work out often look younger than their friends. Now research has found that exercisers are truly younger on a cellular level than their peers. Exercise more and feel free to lie about your age!

Live longer
In addition to looking younger, regular exercise can add years to your life. You don’t have to be a hard-core fitness buff. Just get up and get moving. Even a little exercise can help you live longer than not exercising at all.

The bottom line: exercise is a great way to feel better, gain confidence, combat disease and improve chronic health conditions. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day. So get moving!

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9 Simple Ways to Handle Stress

relaxOur lives are filled with stress. It’s impossible to avoid. You’re already late for an appointment and get slowed down by road construction. Your boss dumped a proposal on you that’s due tomorrow. Your schedule is hectic, and you need to be in two places at once.

Research shows that some stress can be good for you. However, if you’re dealing with persistent – long-term stress, such as a sick parent or a demanding boss, it can actually lead to a variety of health issues.

Here are 9 simple and practical ways to copy with stress in your daily life:

Enjoy some fresh air
Make it a point to get outside every day. Research shows that vitamin D from sunlight can elevate your mood by releasing feel-good serotonin. Taking in the sights, sounds and smells around you will take your mind off your worries or frustrations. Even feeling the wind on your face can lift your spirits.

Take a walk
When you’re stressed, it’s easy to turn to bad habits to make you feel better, such as a candy, cigarettes or caffeine. Next time you’re feeling anxious, go for a quick stroll. Studies show that even 10 minutes of exercise can provide a mental boost. Better yet, climb a few flights of stairs. Climbing stairs requires you to pay more attention to what you’re doing and helps vent frustrations.

Rely on rituals
You probably already have rituals that help you relax, and you may not even realize it. For example, you may read the newspaper as you eat breakfast, listen to music while you clean or take a bath before going to bed. Our bodies naturally crave routines, so focusing on regular rituals can help you relax physically and mentally. If you’re feeling stressed, make sure you stick to your regular routines.

Put down the junk food
Do you handle stress by eating? In hectic times, you may choose comfort foods, such as refined carbs or sugary snacks. You will most likely experience a sugar crash, leaving you feeling tired and sluggish. Extra calories can also quickly add up to extra pounds. The next time you’re feeling anxious, make sure you have healthy snacks on hand, such as fresh fruits, vegetables or a handful of nuts.

Get out of your head
Stress likes to mess with your mind. Do you ever get stuck in an ongoing loop of negative thoughts or playing back conversations in your head? A great way to get out of your own head is to engage in fun activities that put your focus on your hands or body. For instance, you can cook, knit or crochet, climb a rock wall or play a sport. When you do something creative or an engaging activity, you fall into a rhythmic pattern and your brain helps you relax and feel more grounded.

Visualize calm
Find a quiet area and create a happy place for a few minutes each day. Just sit still, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Clear you mind and concentrate on thinking about nothing stressful. It’s harder than you think! Find a comforting and calming image that works for you and helps you relax. Read more about relaxation techniques.

Focus on the present
It’s easy to get sucked into worrying over things that have already happened or imagining what could happen in the future. Let go of thoughts about the past and future, and focus on the present moment. Be aware of where you are and what’s happening right now. Think about how the air feels on your skin, the sound of your kids laughing or a friend telling you about their day. Being mindful of the present can help you let go of stressing about the past and future.

Express your gratitude
Take a few moments each day to express gratitude. It can be as simple as going over the good things that happened that day before you go to sleep. You can write your feelings in a journal. Or, you can let friends and family know you are grateful for them. Research has shown that showing more gratitude releases hormones that make you feel good and lowers stress levels.

Connect with your spiritual side
Spirituality can boost happiness in times of stress. Many religious groups and native tribes use prayer beads to guide their spiritual practice. Having something to hold while communicating with a higher spirit can provide comfort and routine. Prayer can also help you pass your worries over to God and give you peace.

Learning how to cope with stress on a daily basis can help you improve your overall health and well-being. Take the time each day to acknowledge stress and find ways – like the tips above – to help you let it go and live a more balanced life.

6 Ways to Improve Your Brain Health

crossword_background_001I worry about my brain. As the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia increases, I want to do more to protect my memory and cognitive function.

While we wait for a cure for Alzheimer’s or better treatments for dementia, what can you do to help prevent the diseases? You can lead a more brain-healthy lifestyle that can slow down the process of deterioration. No matter what your age, you can take steps now to keep your brain healthy.

Here are 6 ways to start improving your brain health today:

Stay active
Physical activity is a valuable part of living a more balanced life and can also lower the risk of cognitive decline. According to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, physical exercise reduces your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 50%.

In addition to protecting against Alzheimer’s and dementia, creating a regular exercise routine can also boost your mood, increase energy levels and reduce stress.

Read more about the benefits of exercise.

Eat a healthy diet
Your brain needs a nutritious diet to perform at its best. Make sure you are eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats. Focus on creating good eating habits that reduce inflammation and provide a steady supply of fuel.

Here are more diet tips to keep your brain healthy and protected:

  • Follow a Mediterranean diet – This approach to healthy eating includes a balanced diet rich in fish, whole grains, nuts, olive oil and fresh produce.
  • Avoid trans fats and saturated fats – You should reduce your intake of full-fat dairy products, red meat, fried foods, fast food and processed foods.
  • Eat heart-healthy options – If you’re following a diet plan that’s good for your heart, it’s also going to be good for your brain. When you reduce your risk of heart disease, you’re also helping protect your brain.
  • Add omega-3 fats – Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Eat cold-water fish, such as salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel and sardines.

Keep mentally active
When you continue to learn new things and challenge your brain throughout life, you are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s or dementia. It’s a good idea to follow the “use it or lose it” approach. Activities that involve multiple tasks or include different types of stimulation, such as communicating, interacting and organization, will offer the greatest benefits and protection.

Here are more ways to exercise your brain.

Have a social life
We are social creatures. Relationships are important to our health. If you are isolated, you’re not thriving and neither is your brain. Studies show that the more connected we are and the more relationships we have, we test better for memory and cognition.

Do you have trouble making friends? Here are a few ways to build a strong support system and develop new relationships.

  • Volunteer – There are so many great causes you can support and giving back is good for your health!
  • Make weekly plans with friends – Take the initiative and get together with friends. You can go to the movies, visit the park, creating a walking group, or check out local museums.
  • Take a class – Join a gym or sign up for classes at a local college. It’s a great way to meet new people and stimulate your brain.
  • Get to know your neighbors – You may have people nearby who have similar interests to you. Make it a point to know your neighbors.

Manage your stress
Chronic stress takes a toll on the body as well as on your brain. Stress can lead to shrinkage in key memory areas of the brain, hamper nerve cell growth and increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

There are many things you can do to prevent stress and keep your stress levels in check. Even the foods you eat can help you control stress.

Get plenty of sleep
Your brain needs to rest. A good night’s sleep helps your brain function at maximum capacity. When you don’t get enough sleep, you are cranky and tired. Lack of sleep also impairs your ability to think, solve problems and store or recall information. Deep, REM state sleep is important for memory formation and retention. Most adults need at least 8 hours of sleep per night. If you’re getting less sleep than that, your health, productivity and creativity can suffer.

To protect your brain health, embrace a balanced lifestyle that will improve your overall health. A balanced life includes exercising, eating a nutritious diet, establishing good relationships, reducing stress, and getting plenty of sleep.

10 Health Benefits of Smiling

laughter-1120282-mDo you ever catch yourself scowling or frowning? When I am stressed, feeling overwhelmed or just in a bad mood, I notice that I tend to have a sour look on my face. I seem to spend a lot of time in a mood – and it most likely isn’t a good one.

We recently wrote a blog called the 9 Truths About Your Mood. While external factors may impact your mood, you have the power to control how you react to them. You can choose to have a positive attitude.

Even if you don’t feel like it, try smiling. You can smile for your health, to reduce stress and to look and feel better.

Here are 10 reasons to simply smile:

Lower your heart rate
Smiling slows down your heart rate and helps relax your body. That means your heart isn’t working as hard. Smiling also reduces your blood pressure temporarily.

Reduce stress and anxiety
Stress can show up on your face. You can usually tell when someone is upset or anxious. Stress relief may be as easy as smiling a little more throughout the day. You also look more relaxed and energized.

Release endorphins
Smiling releases endorphins that counteract and lower stress hormones. Endorphins can improve your mood. When you’re feeling down, put a smile on your face. Even if it’s not genuine at first, you can trick your body into helping change your mood.

Be more attractive
A smile makes you more attractive. You look friendly, personable and approachable. Someone is more likely to start a conversation with you if you’re smiling.

Make friends
If you want to make friends or attract the opposite sex, try a smile. Studies show that people are more willing to approach and talk to others who are smiling. A smile tells people you want to interact with them.

Strengthen your immune system
Smiling makes your immune system function better. Your immune system becomes stronger by making your body produce white blood cells that fight illness. You may be able to prevent colds and the flu by smiling.

Build confidence
If you’re feeling nervous or worried, put on a smile. You will appear more confident, and in turn, you will feel more confident. If you’re going to a meeting or appointment, people will perceive you as calm and collected and react to you differently when you smile.

Increase productivity
There may be some truth in the “whistle while you work” concept. Smiling has been shown to increase productivity while you’re performing a task. Having personal items that make you smile in your workspace may motivate you to work harder.

Look younger
When you smile, you use muscles that lift your face and help you appear younger. Studies show a smile can make you look three years younger on average. Smile your way through the day, and you’ll look younger while improving your mood.

Live longer
Smiling can extend past how you look on the outside. People who smile more may even live longer. Studies have shown that those who spend more time smiling may live up to 7 years longer. Smiling releases stress, improves your heart and boosts immunity – all of which keep you healthy longer.

So, make it a habit to smile throughout the day, even when you may not feel like it. You can improve your mood and your health. Plus, smiles are contagious – you can lift someone else’s spirits, too!

12 Unexpected Benefits of Exercise

jogger-657075-mI know I should be exercising. I know it’s important to good health. I know it will help me find better life balance. Yet, I manage to make excuses and find reasons why I can’t fit a workout into my daily routine.

So, if you’re like me and need more motivation to just get moving, here are 12 unexpected benefits and rewards of exercise:

Reverse the effects of stress
You probably already know that physical activity is a stress buster. What you may not realize is that you are actually reducing stress levels. That’s because when you workout you reduce the levels of stress hormones – adrenaline and cortisol – in your body. You can calm your body and your mind to help you get in the right mindset to identify and tackle what’s causing your stress.

Release happy chemicals
Working out can help boost your mood. Exercise releases endorphins that help create feelings of happiness and euphoria. Studies show that exercise can even alleviate the symptoms of someone who is clinically depressed. In some cases, working out may be as effective as antidepressant pills.

Build self-esteem and confidence
Physical fitness can boost your self-esteem and improve your self-image. It’s not about age, weight or size – exercise can help elevate your perception of your attractiveness and self worth. You can also feel a sense of accomplishment when you finish a challenging workout or reach a difficult goal.

Alleviate anxiety
You might be surprised to learn that jogging can be more relaxing than a warm bubble bath. Getting on the track or treadmill for some aerobic exercise can help reduce sensitivity and anxiety.

Live longer
Research shows that regular exercise can add years to your life. Working out and being active can lower your risk of early death by 30%. We’re not talking extreme – just a little exercise can help you live a longer, healthier life.

Sleep better
Regular exercise may help you enjoy a good night’s sleep. Try walking, running, biking or strength training during the mid morning or early afternoon to promote better sleep. Avoid evening workouts because they may interfere with sleep patterns.

Boost your brain power
Exercise can make you smarter. A study has shown that mental agility improves when testing is conducted on a treadmill. When you’re physically active, more blood flows through all parts of your body, including your brain. Cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells and improve overall brain performance.

Get more done
Sitting on the couch or at your desk and feeling uninspired? Research shows that taking the time to exercise on a regular basis can increase productivity and leave you feeling more energized. Getting in a workout during the workday seems to benefit your health, mood, efficiency and even relationships.

Strengthen your bones
Your bones and muscles get stronger with physical activity. Weight bearing exercises, such as walking, dancing, tennis and running, can help lower your risk of osteoarthritis, help you maintain balance, and improve coordination.

Ward off illness
Many health experts feel that one of the most important habits you can adopt for good health is regular physical activity. Exercise may help prevent a variety of ailments from heart disease and diabetes to breast cancer and the common cold. A 30 to 45 minute walk every day can boost your immune system and help you lower your risk of chronic disease.

Be more creative
Vigorous exercise that gets the heart pumping can help boost creativity for up to two hours after you’ve finished. Physical activity can free your mind from your worries and help you let the creative juices flow. If you’re blocked at work, take a walk outside, get some fresh air and let your mind wander. You can free up your mind and refresh your brain.

Keep Alzheimer’s at bay
In addition to improving brain power and learning, exercise may also help ward off Alzheimer’s disease. Working out can boost brain chemicals that support and prevent the degeneration of the hippocampus, an important part of the brain for memory and learning. A daily walk or jog can help lower the risk of Alzheimer’s or even slow its affects once it’s begun.

Working out can have positive benefits beyond the gym. You can improve your mood, boost your self confidence, get more creative and increase your life span. Those are all good reasons to step away from the computer and get moving!

9 Intriguing Things to Know About Stress

Intriguing Things to Know About StressWe have written about holiday stress, summer stress, vacation stress and even tax time stress. There are foods that can help reduce stress as well as relaxation techniques.

We know that stress is bad for our health and can interfere with finding balance in our lives. At this point, you may feel like you know everything there is to know about stress.

Here are 9 interesting and intriguing things you may not – but should – know about stress:

Big or small – your body feels stress
Your body doesn’t know the difference between a big stress and a little stress. Whether you were just in a car accident or if you’re panicking over get a report finished on time, your body reacts in the same predictable ways. When you are stressed, your system is cascaded with 1,400 biochemical events in your body. Left unchecked, this stress reaction can cause damage over time.

Contributes to top-most causes of death
Chronic stress is interconnected with some of the major killers: accidents, cancer, heart disease, suicide, lung disorders and cirrhosis of the liver. Stress is often called the “silent killer” because we spend so much time in a state of stress that we may not even realize how seriously it affects us.

Stress can make you do stupid things
Researchers have found that stress causes something called “cortical inhibition.” This reaction helps explain why sometimes smart people do dumb things. When stress interferes with your brain, you aren’t able to function and think like normal.

Your pupils dilate when you’re stressed
When you’re in a stressful situation, your pupils will dilate. It’s your body’s way of trying to gather and process more information about what is happening.

Stress can make you lose your hair
While there’s no proof that stress can make your hair turn gray, it may contribute to hair loss. Studies have shown that you may experience hair loss as much as three months after a stressful event occurs.

Being stressed affects your blood
Stress can lead to physical problems like high blood pressure, irregular heart beat, chest pain and heart disease. Being stressed can also thicken your blood. Your body is naturally preparing for an injury and makes your blood more sticky. Your capillaries also constrict so that you won’t bleed as much if you have a wound.

Stress makes you prematurely age
How much stress you experience and how well you handle it can be a factor in the aging process. Stress speeds up the wear and tear on your body, making you look older and feel more run down than your actual age.

Simple things can help control stress
Little things like laughing, eating dark chocolate and listening to music can help you relieve stress. Chewing gum may ease stress as well. Of course, playing with a pet, hugging a child or spending time with friends and loved ones are also good stress relievers. Getting enough sleep can help you feel more rejuvenated and combat one of the side effects of stress – insomnia. Exercise is a natural way to alleviate stress, too.

Live in the moment
To a large extent, stress is all about mind over matter. A positive attitude goes a long way toward combating stress. Stress is often brought on by over thinking and worrying about things that are beyond your control. If you can spend more time living in the moment – rather than obsessing about the past or what might happen in the future – you can instantly create a more relaxing state of mind.

How do you cope with stress? What are your tips for avoiding it or changing your reaction to it?

12 health benefits of listening to music

Listen to music improve health life balanceIt’s official – I have turned into my parents. I recently yelled at my kids to turn the music down because it was making my head hurt.

After the horror of realizing I am getting old, I started thinking about the possible benefits of music. I like listening to music while I’m driving, cleaning house and doing dishes. I just can’t handle it loud anymore.

Listening to music is one of the few activities that uses your whole brain. It can put you in a good mood and lift your spirits. You may have very specific memories associated with certain songs. When you’re watching a movie, the soundtrack can make you feel like you’re right in the middle of the action.

You may be surprised to learn that there are many health benefits to enjoying music. Here are 12 ways music can help you live a healthier, more balanced life:

Lower your blood pressure
Listening to relaxing music may help people with high blood pressure lower it and keep it that way. To experience results, research recipients played relaxing music every morning and every evening.

Reduce pain
Music has been found to help with pain management for both chronic pain and post-operative pain. Music therapy is being used in hospitals to reduce the need for medication during childbirth, to complement anesthesia in surgery and for lessening pain after surgery.

Improve your workout
Listening to music during exercise can give you a better workout. It may help you increase your endurance, distract you from feeling discomfort and elevate your mood while you workout.

Boost immunity
Stress can cause your body to produce the stress-related hormone cortisol and decrease your immune response. Music, on the other hand, can create positive emotions that cause you to secrete immune-boosting hormones. Listening to music or singing can actually boost your immunity and reduce the factors that can make you more prone to getting sick.

Relieve chronic headaches
If you experience chronic headaches or migraines, music may help you reduce the frequency, severity and length of your headaches.

Enhance your IQ
Research has shown that listening to music can actually help you learn more effectively, in essence making you smarter and enhancing your overall level of intelligence.

Step up your coordination
Music may have the power to improve your coordination. It can reduce muscle tension and improve your body movement. Music may even help improve recovery after a stroke or provide relief from other movement disorders.

Improve your focus
Believe it or not, music may help you concentrate better and improve your focus. I guess I shouldn’t tell my kids to turn off the radio while they are doing their homework.

Strengthen your heart
Music is good for your heart health. It seems that upbeat, happy music can improve the flow of blood through blood vessels. It can also help you relax, which is always good for your heart.

Boost your memory
For people suffering from memory loss, listening to music may help these patients remember things associated with their past. We process music in an area of our brain that is located next to memory. That’s why a song or certain tune can trigger intense memories of an event that may have happened decades ago.

Lower your stress level
We’ve already touched on the fact that music helps relieve anxiety. Your favorite music can be soothing and helping you relax. Music is good for the mind, body and soul.

Sleep better
Mom singing you a lullaby can actually help you sleep. Music can even help people with chronic insomnia get a better night’s sleep. If you experience chronic pain or have recently had surgery, music can promote sedation for a more deep and restful sleep.

Is there a type of music that’s best for receiving all of these healthy benefits? It really depends on the person and the situation. You may want fast-tempo, upbeat music for exercising, and then slower-paced music to de-stress and relax. Playing old favorites can boost your mood, while playing new songs may stimulate your brain.

Music tastes are unique to each of us. Go with your instincts and listen to what makes you happy. What types of music make you feel good?