4 Easy Ways to Relax More, Stress Less, and Prevent Heart Disease

Chronic stress is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease1. That is because stress causes a hormonal response in the body that can lead to increased inflammation, high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and damage to the arteries that can cause plaque buildup on the arterial walls1. Controlling stress is one of our biggest defenses against heart disease, which remains the number one killer of men and women in the United States. Our day-to-day lives are filled with stressors, such as work, financial burdens, and personal responsibilities. Our modern-day world keeps us moving at a mile a minute and the pace can be extremely overwhelming if we never take the time to pause. Need a few ideas on how to make your life more stress-free? Here are 4 easy ways to manage stress and reduce cardiovascular disease risk.

  1. Practice Yoga. Yoga has been a growing health trend over the past few decades. It combines simple meditation and deep breathing exercises with specific stretches and strength poses. Studies have shown yoga to reduce stress and even improve sleep quality2, 3. There are a variety of yoga videos on the market for those who wish to practice at home, and an abundance of classes and yoga studios for those who prefer a little more personal interaction. Yoga comes in a wide range of styles and skill levels, so simply find a method that works for you and begin practicing today.
  1. Meditate. Mindful meditation is another great stress reliever. One study found mediation to reduce stress, burnout, depression, and anxiety4. Another showed it to reduce stress related tension headaches5. Meditation is an easy way to reduce stress without even leaving your home. Simply find a quiet spot, sit or lay in a comfortable position, and practice breathing deeply for 10-20 minutes. Light meditation music can help to further calm the mind, while guided meditation exercises can be found on YouTube for those who would prefer a bit more instruction. For more information on the benefits of meditation and tips on how to begin practicing, check out the links below.

https://leafykiwi.com/2016/08/05/meditation-matters-why-its-important-to-take-a-break-and-just-breathe/

http://healthfreakrn.com/2016/11/6-tips-to-meditate-naturally/

  1. Go Technology-Free. Take some time away from technology. Technology can be a distraction, as well as a mental and emotional drain. Let’s face it, most of us are guilty of overusing our smartphones, over-watching television, or gluing ourselves to our computer screens and tablets for far longer than we should. Technological devices have become so common place in our lives that often times we do not even realize we are using them to such excess. Reeling in our obsessive technological behavior is important for our health. Overuse of technology can lead to sleep disturbances, depression, and heightened psychological distress6, 7, 8, 9. Try going technology-free for at least an hour or two a day. The best time for most of us to turn everything off is before bedtime. This allows our minds to decompress and prepare for rest. Try reading a book or a magazine, chat with a loved one, or simply sit quietly with your own thoughts. Although this might seem difficult at first, your stress level will soon drop, and it will quickly become your new favorite part of the day.
  1. Exercise. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, exercise helps to improve sleep patterns, reduce overall stress, combat anxiety, and improve mood10. Exercise causes the body to release hormones, such as dopamine, that improve overall physical function and help us to feel good. It also increases HDL cholesterol levels, decreases blood pressure, and improves digestion and blood circulation. Our bodies were made to move, so it stands to reason that adding a little exercise to your week helps to keep everything functioning at its best. Be sure to include exercise in your weekly routine to help combat stress and improve overall cardiovascular health.

Mental wellness is an important part of overall wellbeing. Optimal health is about more than just eating right and exercising. It is about feeling strong, confident, and ready to take on the world. A body bogged down psychologically cannot operate at its best physically. So be sure to allow yourself a little time each day to relax, unwind, de-stress, and focus on your mental wellbeing. Happy heart health month!

 

 

References

  1. Lagraauw HM, Kuiper J, Bot I. Acute and chronic psychological stress as risk factors for cardiovascular disease: Insights gained from epidemiological, clinical and experimental studies. Brain Behav Immun. 2015;50:18-30.
  2. Kusaka M, Matsuzaki M, Shiraishi M, Haruna M. Immediate stress reduction effects of yoga during pregnancy: One group pre–post test. Women and Birth. 2016;29(5):e82-e88.
  3. Field T. Yoga research review. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. 2016;24:145-161.
  4. dos Santos TM, Kozasa EH, Carmagnani IS, Tanaka LH, Lacerda SS, Nogueira-Martins LA. Positive effects of a stress reduction program based on mindfulness meditation in brazilian nursing professionals: Qualitative and quantitative evaluation. EXPLORE: The Journal of Science and Healing. 2016;12(2):90-99.
  5. Azam MA, Katz J, Mohabir V, Ritvo P. Individuals with tension and migraine headaches exhibit increased heart rate variability during post-stress mindfulness meditation practice but a decrease during a post-stress control condition – A randomized, controlled experiment. International Journal of Psychophysiology. 2016;110:66-74.
  6. Lee Y, Chang C, Lin Y, Cheng Z. The dark side of smartphone usage: Psychological traits, compulsive behavior and technostress. Comput Hum Behav. 2014;31:373-383.
  7. Thomée, M. Eklöf, E. Gustafsson, R. Nilsson, M. Hagberg. Prevalence of perceived stress, symptoms of depression and sleep disturbances in relation to information and communication technology (ICT) use among young adults – an explorative prospective study. Computers in Human Behavior, 23 (3) (2007), pp. 1300–1321.
  8. Thomée, A. Härenstam, M. Hagberg. Mobile phone use and stress, sleep disturbances, and symptoms of depression among young adults – A prospective cohort study. BMC Public Health, 11 (1) (2011), pp. 66–76.
  9. Chesley. Blurring boundaries? Linking technology use, spillover, individual distress, and family satisfaction. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67 (5) (2005), pp. 1237–1248.
  10. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (N.D.) Physical Activity Reduces Stress. Retrieved February 15, 2017. https://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/stress/physical-activity-reduces-st

Meditation Matters: Why it’s Important to Take a Break and Just Breathe

In today’s technology laden world it seems as if our minds are destined to move a mile a minute. There are few moments out of the day that are ever dedicated to peaceful, quiet reflection. Instead, we tend to wake up and check our text messages and emails as we rush to get ready and hurry off to work. Our careers often keep us glued to a computer and the moment the work day is finished we check in on social media and head home to catch up on our favorite television programs. Of course, the office is never more than a click away, so we often spend part of our evenings catching up on work week tasks. A second of down time? You might as well check out that newest app you downloaded on your phone.

With so much to distract us, it is no wonder that our minds never stop racing, our attention spans are shrinking, and our stress levels are rising. These daily distractions have become so much a part of our lives that it can be difficult to take a step back and simply breathe. Yet when it comes to our mental health that might be exactly what we need to do.

Studies have shown that meditation can help combat everything from insomnia to back pain1. It can help decrease social anxiety, aggression, and depression2, 3. Medical imaging has even provided evidence showing that meditation promotes physiological changes in structure and function of the brain4. Although serious meditators enjoy lengthy meditation sessions, beginners are encouraged to start with just five minutes a day and work up to whatever length of meditation is comfortable. We recommend aiming for about twenty minutes.

Getting started is easy. Simply dress in comfortable clothing with your shoes off, and find a relatively quiet, peaceful location. Stretch slightly to loosen up and then begin by sitting in a comfortable position with your chest, head, and shoulders lifted and your weight balanced and supported by your spine. Arms should be relaxed and hands can either be placed loosely at your sides, or resting on your legs. Close your eyes, or allow them to remain open and unfocused. Next, simply focus on your breathing. Do not attempt to alter your breathing in any way, simply be aware of your breath as it moves in and out of your body.

Once you feel confident with this basic meditation technique you can extend the length of your practice or explore other meditation methods. If this basic exercise proves to be too much, simply begin by taking several calming breaths each day (we recommend doing so first thing in the morning and again before bed).

This process is less about perfection and more about allowing your body and mind to step away from the busyness of the day. Life can be fast paced and overwhelming and technology offers few breaks from all of the madness. It is important to give your mind a break and allow yourself a few quiet minutes each day. Wellness is about more than just exercise and nutrition. It is about mental and spiritual health as well. So take a step back, turn everything off, and just breathe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources
  1. Michalsen A, Kunz N, Jeitler M, et al. Effectiveness of focused meditation for patients with chronic low back pain—A randomized controlled clinical trial.Complement Ther Med. 2016;26:79-84.
  2. Gong H, Ni C, Liu Y, et al. Mindfulness meditation for insomnia: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.J Psychosom Res. 2016;89:1-6.
  3. Yoo Y, Lee D, Lee I, et al. The effects of mind subtraction meditation on depression, social anxiety, aggression, and salivary cortisol levels of elementary school children in south korea.J Pediatr Nurs. 2016;31(3):e185-e197.
  4. Annells S, Kho K, Bridge P. Meditate don’t medicate: How medical imaging evidence supports the role of meditation in the treatment of depression.Radiography. 2016;22(1):e54-e58.