Time is of the essence and so many of us now feel time poor to the extend that it impacts on our everyday lives, creating additional stress in an already stressful world. Managing your time effectively is vital to your health and wellbeing as is managing stress levels whatever their cause.

There are some simple steps you can take towards controlling stress and limiting its effect on your health. Living North talks to Tony Douglass of Bodyguards Personal Training to gain an expert insight into how to reduce stress and learn to manage everyday stressful situations through exercise and diet.

‘The first thing to remember about stress is that it is everywhere. Stress is necessary for us to evolve, adapt and overcome. However, balancing stress levels is important because excess stress is detrimental to health.’ explains Tony. ‘Over stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system i.e. the release of excessive adrenaline, leads to you bouncing from crisis to crisis, constantly being on edge: the Fight or Flight Syndrome, and the release of catabolic hormones like Cortisol, which breakdown muscles and bone, inhibit growth and repair can eventually lead to illness.

It is well documented that a prolonged period of stress will lead to weight gain. If the fight or flight response is activated under acute stress it will usually cause a temporary loss of appetite. However, when this response is going on day after day out due to constant stress, it results in an increase in appetite and this constant stress response leads the body to increase or ‘store’ abdominal fat deposits. This same storage mechanism helped our ancestors survive during times of stress caused by lack of food or other threatening conditions.

Constant stress causes weight gain by depositing ‘visceral fat’ around the waistline in particular. These fat cells lie deep within the abdomen and have been linked to an increase in both diabetes and heart disease. The fuel our muscles need during fight or flight is sugar which is why in particular we crave high glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates during times of stress. The increased consumption of high GI carbohydrates requires high levels of insulin. When sugar and insulin levels rise rapidly this signals the body to store body fat. Cortisol is the hormone in particular that steers us towards high GI carbohydrates.

Managing Stress

As our society becomes more health-conscious, there has been an increased focus on the importance of exercise control weight and get in better physical condition, to become more healthy or physically attractive, but exercise and stress management are also closely linked.’

According to a New York Times article, the cost of stress to business in the US in absenteeism, lost productivity, turnover and illness is somewhere between $200 and $300 billion a year. In the hard economic times that we now live in, business and individuals alike cannot afford this loss.

It has become essential for us to recognise the stay fighting fit with stress-busting ways we can manage negative stress. Diet, hydration levels, sleep, rest, relaxation and activity levels can all have a hugely positive effect on stress levels.

Diet

Basically you are what you eat. You only get out of your body what you put into it. If you eat well you can expect to have :

  • More energy and general positivity with less energy slumps, less yawning.
  • Better concentration, keeps you alert
  • Fewer mood swings, emotional stability
  • Greater productivity through out the day
  • A stringer immune system, thus less absence from work

By trying to follow some of these simple guidelines your diet should improve dramatically

  • Only fill your cupboards and fridge with quality foods
  • Try to eat at least 5 fresh seasonal vegetables a day
  • Look for organic options
  • Avoid all processed food
  • If you can't read and understand the ingredients, don't buy it !
  • Avoid HYDROGENATED and TRANS FATS
  • Minimise your usage of sugar, salt and flour
  • It is also important to know when you eat

Breakfast is still by far the most important meal of the day

A bad breakfast or no breakfast can lead to snacking, caffeine or sugar cravings. Worse still it can cause the body to look for nutrients within itself and breakdown muscle and bone to provide protein and calcium to the blood. (Catabolic state)

This excessive nutritional stress has a highly detrimental effect on the function of the the systems of the body.

  • You should eat more whilst you metabolism is high (morning)
  • Eat less as your metabolism decreases (evening)
  • Regular Exercise and an Active Lifestyle

Taking frequent effective exercise is one of the best stress-reduction techniques available. Exercise note only improves your health and reduces physical stress created from being unfit, it also relaxes tense muscles and helps you to sleep.

Exercise has a number of other positive benefits you may not be aware of:

  • It improves blood flow to your brain, bringing additional sugars and oxygen that may be needed when you are thinking intensely.
  • When you think hard, the neurons of your brain function more intensely. As they do this, they can build up toxic waste products that can cause foggy thinking (you may have experienced the feeling that you brain has "turned to cotton wool"). By exercising, you speed the flow of blood through your brain, moving these waste products faster.
  • Exercise can cause release of chemicals called endorphins into your blood stream. These give you a feeling of happiness and positively affect your overall sense of well-being
  • There is also good evidence that physically fit people have less extreme physiological responses when under pressure than those who are not. This means that fit people are more able to handle the long-term effects of stress, without suffering ill health or burnout.

There are many wrong approaches to exercise. Some traditionally recommended forms of exercise actually damage your body over the medium- or long term. Your doctor is a good starting point for recommending good forms of exercise.

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