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Why To Exercise Today: To Beat Back The Toxic Stress Of Life

This article is more than 8 years old.

Apparently all manner of stress — whether it's bad morning traffic, or the death of someone you love — can harm your health in deep and profound ways. That's according to a soon-to-be published study by researchers at Oregon State University. But the key, as NPR reports, is how you manage your stress:

Chronic stress is hazardous to health and can lead to early death from heart disease, cancer and of other health problems. But it turns out it doesn't matter whether the stress comes from major events in life or from minor problems. Both can be deadly.

And it may be that it's not the stress from major life events like divorce, illness and job loss trickled down to everyday life that gets you; it's how you react to the smaller, everyday stress.

The most stressed-out people have the highest risk of premature death, according to one study that followed 1,293 men for years.

OK, so wouldn't it be great to take little pill for combatting all of this health-undermining stress; something that allowed you to just laugh at all the bad drivers in Boston rather than screaming obscenities and giving everyone the finger?

Well, apparently, there's something even better!

NPR quotes Dr. Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University, who offers what appears to be the closest thing to a secret, stress-busting heavy weapon: exercise.

"If you could give one magic pill that would improve physical health, mood, reduce weight," this would be it, Waldinger says. Federal health officials recommend 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every day.

When it comes to fighting stress, Waldinger says, that's enough. "When they do studies particularly of the mood benefit, they find that more than 30 minutes a day is not necessary — you don't get any boost. So if you think just in terms of stress relief and antidepressant effect, 30 minutes is enough."

Throw in a little deep breathing and your entire outlook may be transformed:

Another option would be to add meditation to your daily routine. For many people, that can make a big difference, Waldinger says, "because what you do is watch your mind spin out anxiously over trivia, and eventually it settles down and you begin to have more perspective."

Breathing may be the simplest and most immediate fix, Aldwin says. "Take a step back when you feel yourself getting upset, step back psychologically and even physically," she recommends. "And then watch your breathing; people who get upset a lot breathe very rapidly and shallowly, and it creates more anxiety." Breathing slowly from the abdomen helps slow the stress response, she says.

Rachel Zimmerman Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for WBUR. She is working on a memoir about rebuilding her family after her husband’s suicide. 



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