5 Stress Busters With a Huge Health Bonus

5 Stress Busters With a Huge Health Bonus

Feeling tense? You’re not alone. Thanks to too many bills, too much to do, relationship conflicts and health problems, one in four Americans say they’ve felt stretched to the breaking point in the past month, according to a nationwide survey. And half of us have faced one of life’s major stress-boosters in the past year: a birth or death, marriage or divorce, or buying or selling a home.

Life’s ups and downs don’t have to take a long-term health toll. True, chronic stress increases your risk for all kinds of health problems and can make taking care of the ones you have more difficult. But tension-taming strategies can make you feel good, flipping switches in your body to create better health for the long run.

Case in point: Researchers from Canada’s University of Calgary discovered that breast cancer survivors who practiced a simple daily meditation had longer “caps” on the ends of their DNA compared to survivors who didn’t take these stress-busting mental breaks. These “caps” are called telomeres. They work like the plastic bit at the end of shoelace, keeping everything intact and allowing chromosomes to reproduce so they can repair and replace other cells that are injured.

Telomeres naturally get shorter as we age, but research indicates that stress accelerates their fraying, raising your risk for heart disease, diabetes and even cancer. Fortunately, further research reveals that a wide variety of do-it-yourself tension-tamers help keep that from happening. They melt anxiety while pampering your heart and reducing pain, which keeps your cells young and gives you more energy.

These do-it-yourself tension-tamers are good for everyone at any age—whether you enjoy hanging out with friends, meditating or soaking in a hot tub. Hint: If you’re the super-busy type who has trouble taking a little ‘me’ time, think of relaxing as a health Rx instead of an indulgence. With good stress management techniques, exercise and solid food choices, you can decelerate stress damage and slow the aging process. So try these stress-relieving tactics:

  1. Consider meditation. Mindfulness meditation can help your body process blood sugar better, help curb overeating, and improve blood pressure, too. Try it: Look for a mindfulness meditation class in your community or simply sit comfortably with your eyes closed and pay attention to your breathing. Gently refocus your attention on your breath whenever your mind wanders.
  2. Focus on deep breathing. When you breathe in through your nose (count to 4) and out through your mouth (slowly, count to 8) that sends beneficial nitric oxide into your lungs—encouraging your airways to expand. You’ll instantly increase the oxygen level in your blood by up to 3 percent. Not bad!
  3. Spend time with friends. Getting together to watch the big game, going to a Friday night movie, or however else you do it, spending time with supportive friends and family feels great and makes you healthier. Studies show social support calms blood pressure, lowers stress hormone levels, and can slow your heart rate. So give your BFF a call today and get together with someone you like (or love) this week.
  4. Turn up the tunes. Lots of research shows listening to your favorite music can knock a few points off your blood pressure, soothe stress hormone levels and reduce pain.  
  5. Just chill—at home or away. Whether you take a vacation, a “stay-cation” or just kick back for an hour with your favorite hobby, a glass of wine and a good book, or go for a soak in the tub, plain old relaxation has big benefits. Vacations cut risk for heart attacks and heart-disease-related deaths in two big studies of men and women. And in one recent study, men who took time every day to relax actually lengthened their telomeres. Simply put, chilling out keeps you younger longer and gives you a younger RealAge. 
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