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 that they’ve felt stretched to the breaking point in the past month, according to a recent 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 sooo good today and reach deep into your body, flipping switches 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 with 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 a 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 the fraying, raising your risk for heart disease, diabetes and even cancer. Fortunately, further research reveals that there are a wide variety of do-it-yourself tension-tamers to 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 prescription instead of an indulgence! With stress-management techniques, exercise and great food choices, you can decelerate stress damage and slow the aging process. Here’s what you might try:
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. Check out sharecare.com for more detailed instructions.
2. Deep breathing.
When you breathe in through your nose (count to four) and out through your mouth (slowly, count to eight) 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. 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 that 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.
Lots of research shows listening to your favorite tunes 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 “staycation,” kick back for an hour with a glass of wine and a good book or go for a soak in the tub, plain old relaxation has big benefits. Vacations cut the 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.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Consult with your physician before making changes to your personal regimen.