April is National Stress Awareness Month, which coincides with tax season, a notoriously stressful time of year for many. That stress has also been multiplied with the global pandemic. While it’s obvious that feeling stressed is unpleasant, it is also important to understand the toll that stress takes on our bodies, especially as we age.
As we get older, our bodies have a harder time bouncing back from stress. We produce adrenaline and cortisol, which make our hearts beat faster and increase our blood pressure. If these stress responses are happening regularly, they can result in chronically high blood pressure and make us more vulnerable to illness and other health risks. It’s not all bad news, though, as simple exercises and healthy activities can have a dramatically positive effect on our stress management.
- Walking: Many people swear that walking or running is the best way to “clear their head.” When we set out for a walk, our blood gets pumping, we take in more oxygen, and utilize some of our largest muscle groups. It doesn’t take long for our mind to wander to a more blissed-out place. Researchers from Harvard recommend walking at least 30 minutes per day and breaking that time into five- to 10-minute increments if needed.
- Water aerobics or lap swimming: The weightlessness we feel when in water truly is a gift to our bodies. We can get in a good workout with virtually no impact on our joints. Side breathing while swimming laps forces us into a steady repetition akin to meditation.
- Yoga: Did you know yoga is essentially just structured stretching? Practicing yoga allows us to slow down, move intentionally, and be in the moment. You can take a class or look up no-cost resources online to get started. Natalie Nevins, DO, a board-certified osteopathic family physician, says on behalf of the American Osteopathic Association, “I focus a lot of my efforts on preventative medicine and practices, and in the body’s ability to heal itself. Yoga is a great tool for staying healthy because it’s based on similar principles.”
- Tai chi: The slow-moving art of tai chi packs all the same benefits of yoga, but focuses more on meditation, balance, and building strength. It can be done entirely standing or sitting, so is easily adaptable for all abilities.
All of the exercises mentioned above can be achieved at home, solo, or in pairs with those with whom you are self-isolating. The point is to get the body moving daily in order to channel routine stress into a healthful outlet. Not only will you feel more balanced emotionally, but you’ll also notice an increase in your overall physical health.