Exercise and Other Ways to Lower Stress for Your Health
No matter what my schedule brings, I always make some time to exercise. It’s been a priority of mine for a long time. (I’ve competed in marathons, triathlons, even a few Ironman competitions.)
Not surprisingly, I strongly recommend exercise to most of my patients as exercise has many health benefits. It’s a reliable way to improve your management of diabetes, high blood pressure, erectile dysfunction and more. But it has the most immediate impact on one health issue that affects almost everyone: Stress.
From walking to yoga, biking to swimming (which includes paddling and splashing with the kids or grandkids), exercise can instantly melt away worry, untie that knot in your stomach, lift your mood short-term and reduce depression long-term. It may be the best stress reducer out there.
It’s also an underutilized approach. The American Psychological Association’s Stress in America Survey found that even though people say that exercise helps them feel good about themselves, boosts their mood and reduces their stress, not many people make time to do it. In fact, 37 percent of adults surveyed reported exercising less than once a week or not at all.
I’ve seen this firsthand, of course, at my family practice in Alexandria, Virginia. Fortunately for my non-exercising patients, there are other evidence-based ways to reduce stress. These are a few stress reduction techniques, and they couldn’t be any simpler.
Change the way you spend money. Retail therapy offers only a fleeting mood boost. (It can cause brief spikes in a mood-boosting chemical in your brain.) For deeper, long-term happiness, spend your money on an experience, whether that’s a road trip or a matinee.
Meditate. The practice can make you calmer and clear your head in a world of information overload. Here are two types of meditation techniques to reduce stress that you can try anytime, anywhere:
- Mantra meditation: Silently repeat a calming word or thought.
- Mindfulness meditation: Focus on your experience in the present moment, such as the sound of your breath or a physical sensation
Try coloring. Adult coloring books are a trend with a health perk. Some find them a welcome creative outlet and some find them a bit silly. Whatever your take, research shows the act of coloring images can lower anxiety and improve mood.
Step away from the screen. Stress and depression are different, but related. Stress can allow depression to take hold. Depression can affect your ability to cope with stress. To the best of your ability (and your lifestyle), try to limit triggers for both – including computer use and TV watching outside work or school. Research shows it’s a major risk factor for mood disorders among adults in the US.
This blog reflects the medical opinion of Dr. Bret Wohler, an MDVIP-affiliated, board-certified family practice physician, and not necessarily the opinion of all physicians in the MDVIP national network.