Around 63% of Americans are stressed about the future of the nation, reports the American Psychological Association, and three out of four report feeling at least one symptom of stress in the previous month. Chronic and severe stress can have a major effect on human health and wellbeing, causing everything from cardiovascular disease to diabetes, stress and related mental conditions such as depression. If you wish to fight the stress of current life in a natural yet powerful way, embracing both physical activity and a healthy diet can help you achieve your aim.
Exercise vs Stress
Study after study has shown that physical activity can help battle stress, anxiety, and depression. In one study by researchers at the Southern Methodist University, results showed that exercise is no less than “a magic drug for many people with depression and anxiety disorders,” owing in no small part to its ability to bring down levels of stress hormone, cortisol. After just 25 minutes of exercise, said the scientists, the mood improves, cortisol levels jump down, and one feels more energetic. They recommended that all mental health providers recommend exercise to their patients as an effective way to reduce symptoms of common mental disorders.
Enhancing The Effects Of Exercise
To lower cortisol levels even further, consider exercising in a nature-filled area like a park, mountain trail or seaside. Research published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology showed that there are big benefits to be gained to mental and physical wellbeing by exercising in natural environments. Compared to indoor athletes, outdoor ones resulted in a greater feeling of revitalization, increased energy and positive engagement, and less tension, confusion, anger and depression. You can also make the most of your weekly routine by including cardiovascular, strength, and mindfulness exercises like yoga, Tai Chi, and meditation. Mindfulness activities help keep the mind ‘in the present moment’, enabling us to stay away from past regrets and future worries. For this reason, they are commonly used in typical settings in which stress is high – including cancer recovery, rehabilitation for substance abuse disorders, and other therapies for stress and PTSD. For a really powerful mindfulness boost, take your yoga or Tai Chi practise outdoors, taking time to hone techniques such as controlled (or abdominal) breathing, which you can utilize if a panic attack or other symptoms of anxiety arise.
Working On Tense Muscles
Anti-stress and mood-boosting workouts should not just hone cardiovascular fitness and strength. They should also be targeted at muscles which are tight and tense, in areas like the back, neck and shoulders. Many of these exercises can be performed while you are working at your desk. To strengthen your neck muscles, for instance, sit straight up and pull your chin forward until you feel a burn in your neck muscles. Keep it there for a few seconds, and then pull your chin backward towards your chest for a few seconds. Repeat this a few times. Additional exercises that can reduce neck pain and tension include side-to-side neck tilts, chin tucks, and back burn exercises.
If you don’t enjoy working out and sometimes feel like going out for a run or heading to the gym is a chore, try to find ways to motivate yourself. Research published in 2018 by the American College of Cardiology showed that people who exercise while listening to music tend to enjoy longer workouts. In the study, scientists conducted cardiac stress tests on participants, finding that upbeat music extended their workout time and made their workout seem quicker. Another study, published by academics from the American Osteopathic Association, showed that people who undertake group exercise (as opposed to exercising alone) reap significantly more mental, physical, and emotional benefits from physical activity. As stated by lead researcher, D. Yorks, “The communal benefits of coming together with friends and colleagues, and doing something difficult, while encouraging one another, pays dividends beyond exercising alone.”
A Stress-Busting Diet
In order to keep your blood sugar levels stable throughout the day, aim to consume a Mediterranean or a plant-based diet that prioritizes lean proteins, plenty of fruits and vegetables, pulses, nuts, and healthy Omega-3 fats. Mediterranean and plant-based diets both promote good gut health because they are high in fiber and they provide the structure that healthy bacteria need to grow and thrive. One study by the Flanders Institute for Biology found that specific types of bacteria are present at low levels in people with depression. Boosting levels of these useful bacteria can form part of a multifaceted approach used to battle depression. In a recent (November, 2020) study by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center scientists, it was found that the Mediterranean diet helps reduce the effect of stress. The researchers recommended that Americans consumed less animal protein, saturated fat, refined sugar and salt, so as to create a healthy environment for life-giving gut bacteria to grow.
Being Wary of Comfort Foods
When stress is getting you down, it is normal to lean towards comfort foods, which unfortunately can be high in calories. A team at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research has found, however, that watching what you eat when you are undergoing stress and tension, is particularly important. This is because a high-calorie diet, when combined with stress, results in more weight gain than when the same diet is consumed in a stress-free environment. The reason for the difference is a specific molecule that the brain products in response to stress, which stimulates the desire to eat. When this molecule was removed in lab studies, the weight gain during stress was the same as that experienced in a stress-free environment. You can make the process easier by taking time to shop wisely. Choose delicious yet healthy options such as fruits and vegetables. Chop them up and place them into separate containers, so that when you get hungry, you can quickly blend them together to make a salad or even consume them with your favorite low-calorie dip.
Stress can wrest from your quality of life and happiness, but it can also lead to serious disease and shorten one’s lifespan. It is important to tackle it daily through a combination of physical activity and a healthy diet that is high in fiber. Taking time to enjoy mindfulness activities can also help bring stress levels down, lift the mood, and enable you to enjoy better focus and concentration. Finally, it is also important to understand the connection between stress and lifestyle choices. For instance, when you are stressed, it is much more typical to reach for comfort foods which can result in significant weight gain. It is also important to find ways to motivate yourself to stay healthy during tough times. You can do so by joining part of an exercise group, though this may be impossible during the current health crisis. Music is another way to boost motivation. Take time to create an upbeat playlist that will help you last longer in your workouts. Anything that can make exercise seem like a pleasure instead of a chore will be ideal.