Here’s yet another reason to look for ways to relax and unwind: New research shows that being chronically stressed is just as dangerous as smoking five cigarettes a day. Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center reported that people who often feel anxious or overwhelmed were 27 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack.
The research, published this month in American Journal of Cardiology, pooled data from earlier studies of nearly 120,000 people, whose health was tracked for 14 years. The key takeaway, reports study author Safiya Richardson, is that “anything [people] cam do to reduce stress may improve their heart health in the future.”
Here’s a look at some simple, natural ways to curb stress that you probably haven’t tried before.
The scent of warm garlic bread is amazingly soothing, boosting positive family interactions by 68 percent, according to a study of family meals by Dr. Alan Hirsch, neurological director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. Eating garlic bread increased pleasant communication by a whopping 99 percent, compared to the same families’ interactions when they dined on a different day without garlic garlic bread.
To forget your troubles, try this simple trick: Leave the room. A 2011 Notre Dame University study reported that, “Entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an ‘event boundary’ in the mind, which separates episodes of activity and files them away.”
Step out the front door—and walk away from your woes: Research shows that a 20-to-30-minute walk can be as calming as a mild tranquilizer. Motivate yourself to move more—and stress less--by clipping on a pedometer, such as Fitbug Air, a pocket-sized activity tracker that streams your steps in real time to your mobile, tablet or desktop and provides a personalized fitness goals to work towards.
If the very thought of this stresses you out, consider the benefits found in a small study by researchers from the University of California, Irvine, and the U.S. Army. Researchers asked one group of office workers to take a five-day vacation from email while others continued to use email. The difference? The ones on the email “vacation” were less stressed and more productive than their co-workers. True, you probably couldn’t do without email at work for five days, but try switching it off for a few hours to see if you’re less tense and get more done.
Money really can buy happiness, if you give it to charity. Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton recently reported at the TED conference that in nearly every country, studies show that people who donate to charity are more joyful and relaxed than those who only spend on themselves. A worthy cause to consider is Music & Memory, a charity that uses iPods with personalized playlists to improve quality of life for nursing-home patients with dementia.
Exercise is a terrific stress reliever—and according to a study by the American Council on Exercise, hula hooping torches 210 calories in 30 minutes, while offering similar cardiovascular benefits to step aerobics, cardio kickboxing, and boot-camp classes. The rhythmic movements are relaxing—“almost meditative”--while enhancing flexibility in an effective full-body workout, the researchers found, adding, “Hooping is fun.”
People who held hands with their partner, followed by a 20-second hug, before a stressful task (giving a speech about an upsetting experience) had significantly lower blood pressure and levels of stress hormones than those who sat in a quiet room alone, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study found. In another study, the researchers reported that women who received frequent hugs from their partner had higher levels of oxytocin. Known as the “cuddle chemical,” this hormone enhances social bonding and cardiovascular health.
Go to YouTube for another look at the silly video that always cracks you up. Your heart will rejoice! According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter releases feel-good endorphins and relaxes you physically and mentally. Other research shows that laughter expands blood vessels and increases blood flow to the heart. Laughter yoga, which combines deep yogic breathing and self-triggered mirth, is another great way to relax and recharge.
When your tension level is spiraling out of control, focusing on what’s really important quells anxiety, a UCLA study reported. Eighty-five undergraduate students filled out a questionnaire ranking their values from what matters most to what matters least. Half the students were then asked to gave a five-minute talk about what mattered most to them in front of a hostile, heckling audience; the other half spoke about what matters least. Blood tests taken before and after the speech showed that those who affirmed their values had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
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