We live in a high paced, high stressed world.
Most of us suffer from some sort of stress, myself included.
Busy busy busy all of the time.
Not even enough time to stop and take a deep breath and relax for a moment.
Everyone working full time, longing for each day to be over so you can go home a rest, maybe with a glass of wine or a beer.
Financial worries, work problems and family and social issues seem to get the better of a lot of people in the world today and understandably they struggle to cope. High levels of stress can lead to a whole host of serious health problems.
What Type of Stress is Worst?
Ok, I have a little story about some research which was carried out on our poor little friends, the rats!
This study was trying to find out which type of stress is the worst? Physical stress, environmental stress, or emotional stress.
This is what they did…
The first poor rat was put into a tank of water, where he had to swim or drown, every time the rat was close to going under water the experimenter would take it out of the water, let the rat rest for a moment and then put it back in and repeat the process. This represented a physical stress.
The second rat was subjected to environmental stress. It was put in a cage on the roof of the building in the winter, each time the rat was close to freezing to death, the experimenter took the rat inside and let it warm up a little and then placed the rat back up on the cold rooftop.
The third and unluckiest of rats, was subjected to emotional stress. They placed the rat inside a cage with a hungry cat. The cat was on a lead which didn’t reach far enough for the cat to eat the rat, if the rat stayed in one place.
Who thinks of these experiments!? In the interest of science and all that…..
The scientists measured the rats responses to the different types of stress and took samples from each of the animals, recording all the data.
Which type of stress do you think was the worst? Have a guess…Physical – Environmental – Emotional
This is what they found…
The stress response was the SAME in all three tests.
What does this mean to you and I?
It means in a nutshell that you should not use a stress to reduce stress. Let me explain. I see so many stressed out people turn to exercise as a stress reliever.
If you have emotional stress, let’s say from a job you hate or a bad relationship, and you then decide to go to the gym and train hard after work to make yourself feel better. You will leave the gym with an “exercise high” from the endorphins and feel great, temporarily.
Fast forward this scenario on a few months and you’re still feeling no better. You haven’t lost much if any weight, and you feel even more tired than you did before you started.
What happened? If you train moderate to hard (circuits, high intensity classes, cross fit, personal training sessions, boxercise, tabata, TRX) then the exercise actually becomes a stress. So you have effectively DOUBLED your stress levels, and put your stress hormone (cortisol) levels even higher.
So it is important that we get our stress levels down, but other than winning the lottery how do we do it?
Well in this article I am going to give you the best exercise to reduce stress as well as two types of food which have similar effects!
Research proves that regular exercise can offer many psychological and physiological benefits.
As I mentioned, things such as a bad day at work, an argument with your partner, financial issues etc. can lead to increased levels of stress.
The best exercise for de-stressing is actually something I have given lots of stick in the past – slow (boring) cardio!
Slow cardio may not be the best for fat loss compared to high intensity interval training(HIIT) but for stress relief, it is the best solution. I recommend aiming to exercise outdoors rather than on a treadmill in the gym, being outdoors on a nice day exercising works wonders for your mood, you get more oxygenated and maybe some bonus Vitamin D.
So how does light exercise reduce stress?
- Relaxes the muscles
- Utilises the stress hormones(lowers the levels)
- Stimulates Sweating
- Reduces pent up frustration
- Has a cathartic/meditative effect taking your mind off problems
- Reduce the impact of illness
- Improve your resiliency to stress
When you exercise the production of endorphins is increased. Endorphins are the brain’s very own feel good neurotransmitters. You will often get this when running or during cardio, it is known as a runner’s or exercise high.
According to a study published in the journal of Psychophysiology aerobic training reduces the heart rate response to psychological stress more than any other form of training.
When you are stressed and angry the most obvious choice of exercise would probably be boxercise or weights to act as a stress buster. As I have said, I wouldn’t advise this, exercise can be perceived by the body as a stressor, so to add this to an all ready stressed body wouldn’t be advised which is why a less vigorous cardio workout is much better.
Walking, cycling swimming or slow jogging are all great.
Exercise can help move your concentration away from the day’s worries and you can soon forget about what you were worried about as you carry on with your exercise, I’m not saying that it takes away all of your stress but cardio exercise is a good way of giving yourself a break and reducing stress levels and increasing the happy hormones.
Exercise helps to lower the levels of adrenaline and cortisol which helps to regulate the heart rate, blood vessels and blood pressure which effectively calms you down after exercise.
Other stress relief activities you can try on top of cardio exercise are:
- Meditation & Deep breathing exercises – just taking a few seconds in a stressful situation to breathe can help. Deep breathing increases the lungs capacity to deliver oxygen to your blood, this creates a more relaxing effect.
- Progressive muscle relaxation – By tensing and releasing certain muscle groups the body can relax more, in turn reducing stress.
- Just try laughing – Laughter is a great way of dealing with stress, just try and see the funny side of some things and this can make you feel so much better.
So there is the exercise part covered, now as promised are two foods to help reduce stress.
The first food is OFFAL.
I mentioned offal in an article a few weeks back, I myself have been unable to find a good quality source of organic offal nearby(I have been recommended Slade Farm organics in Vale of Glamorgan for organic meat and offal), not many people eat this and miss out on all of the great benefits that this meat offers. I have told you before I take a supplement called Super Brain Talk from Phil Richards Performance.
Offal meat comes from the part of the animal which is used as food but isn’t skeletal muscle. Offal meat can include the heart, liver, brain, tongue and lungs.
The thought of eating internal organ meat may sound quite off putting and not too appetising which is why not many people eat it. Offal offers a variety of different tastes, flavours and textures depending on the animal and what part of the animal.
Offal is a wonderful source of protein and offer great nutritional value when eaten. In Britain people used to have no qualms about eating offal but the consumption of offal has steadily declined over the last 50 years.
Unsurprisingly you will find offal in most processed meat products on the shelves in our supermarkets today. At least it does contain some things with valuable nutritional content (along with all the nasties)!
Offal contains high levels of phospholipids which are fatty acids which are found in every cell throughout the body. Also the active ingredient in offal known as phosphatidylserine (PS) can help to reduce levels of cortisol in the body. Cortisol is a stress hormone, when the body gets stressed cortisol levels elevate which can lead to health problems and weight gain.
Liver is probably one of the most popularly eaten forms of offal. Liver is high in protein and contains loads of Vitamin A and B as well as being a great source of folic acid iron and copper. Be careful though with liver that you get it from a good source, bad sources of liver can be highly toxic as this is the area where animals, just like people store most of their toxins.
The high vitamin B content contained in offal helps to reduce stress and promote a healthy blood and nervous system.
One other mineral which is regarded as “natures Valium” is magnesium. Magnesium is essential in helping your muscles relax and is a potent stress buster. Research studies on Magnesium have been shown to help high blood pressure, migraines, insomnia and depression.
Magnesium deficiency has been linked directly to insomnia.
Magnesium has helped me to be calmer and more relaxed. I supplement with Magnesium Relax if I feel I need to.
You can find high levels of magnesium in nuts, especially Brazil nuts, almonds, cashew and pine nuts. Pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds are all high in magnesium.
Our UK (western) diet is deficient in both these nutrients – offal(PS) and magnesium. Either introduce them to your diet or supplement.
To recap, to reduce stress do slow gentle cardio outside and eat a more balanced diet containing magnesium and offal.
When you feel things getting on top of you, you should now be better equipped to dealing with things.
What I have mentioned is a lot more effective than drinking, drugs, binge eating and smoking which is what the majority of people will do in times of stress.
Let me know what methods you use to deal with stress below.
PS – I can’t leave this out as I wouldn’t be doing you justice. If you drink coffee and suffer with stress or anxiety, do yourself a favour and pack it in. I used to get anxiety feelings in my stomach and used to sweat just sitting down talking. When I cut out the six cups of strong coffee I was drinking, surprise surprise it disappeared. Coffee, stress and anxiety are closely linked.