De-Stress: Simple ways to improve your health

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September 1, 2009

3:09 AM

Deadlines, papers, exams, meetings — it’s enough to drive anyone insane. Even when doing what we love, stress can still take a toll on us. Once in a while we need to take time out and relax, regroup and restructure our lives. For some people, taking a walk through Colonial Williamsburg and sitting on a bench in front of the Governor’s Palace with a journal is the best way to relax. No matter what method you choose, de-stressing is a must at the College of William and Mary.

Stress, if it reaches a chronic level (even just a few hours of non-stop stressing) can lead to bodily deterioration. Stress increases cortisol levels, which stop your metabolism, increase food cravings and decrease your immune system, according to an article in Business Week Magazine called “Vander’s Human Physiology.” This response, which initially gave cavemen the quick burst of energy needed to run from a predator, can harmfully affect the body after a certain period of time. As a result, those with high levels of stress are more likely to contract illnesses, gain weight and have a higher risk of depression. Additionally, anxiety attacks, obesity and binging, decreased sexual performance, and even cancers in the long run are common side effects of stress.

One of the most effective ways to manage stress and cool down is to exercise. The Student Recreation Center offers a wide variety of activities, ranging from yogilates, Zumba, hip-hop and the climbing wall. While strengthening and conditioning may provide de-stressing benefits, for maximum health benefit cardiovascular exercises such as running, swimming and biking are most effective.

The releasing of mental stress physically through exercise has multiple other benefits. Exercise decreases the risk of depression and increases confidence, while the dilation of blood vessels and increase of blood flow has cardiovascular benefits such as a decrease in LDL cholesterol counts, an increase in good HDL cholesterol counts, a decrease in blood pressure and a decreased risk of heart disease according to the “Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology” by Robert S. Weinberg. Exercise helps boost your energy levels during the day, promotes better sleep and a better sex life.

Thirty minutes of exercise daily keeps stress levels at bay, gives you added health benefits and can help you from getting that dreaded freshman fifteen. Other daily behaviors to decrease stress levels include sleeping at least eight hours and eating the right foods. Tara Geise, a registered dietitian in Florida and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, stated that there are 10 main stress-relieving foods:
BEEF: (organic and low-fat) is filled with B vitamins, iron and zinc, all of which contribute to stabilizing mood. Great to eat for dinner the night before a big test day.

Cottage Cheese with Fruit: the natural sugars in fruit, combined with the protein and calcium in the cottage cheese, are a stress-fighting combination. The vitamin C in fruit is an antioxidant that fights the free radicals released during stress, which can be harmful to the heart.

Almonds: contain vitamins B2, E, zinc and magnesium. Vitamin E, also found in these nuts, fights free radicals. Grab a handful to snack on between classes.

Tuna: a low-fat protein, which contains vitamins B6 and B1. Canned tuna makes a cheap lunch after hitting the gym.

Blueberries: rich in antioxidants, contain vitamin C and are a low-calorie snack.

Milk: believe it or not, milk is high in antioxidants (the organic kind), contains essential vitamins B2 and B12, protein and calcium. A glass every morning goes a long way.

Cornflakes or Rice cereal: provides B vitamins and folic acid to provide serotonin.

Asparagus: high in folic acid and B vitamins (both are used to make serotonin — a mood stabilizer).

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