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STRATEGY FOR STRESS HAS HEALTH BENEFITS

Your blood pressure will go up when you're under major stress, or even over everyday things like somebody getting crazy in traffic. So try these YOU Docs strategies for helping you stress less and stay healthier:

1. Lose it. We mean weight. The more body fat you pack, the more trouble your body will have getting your blood pressure down after stress.

2. Work it. Build some muscle. Your blood pressure returns to normal more quickly after a stressful event if your blood vessels are toned. And the stress of building muscle (that's good stress) through physical activity tones your blood vessels.

3. Leave it behind. When college students recalled an injustice that had been done to them, their blood pressure went up. And it stayed elevated longer in those who couldn't muster up any forgiveness for what happened. Forgiveness is a simple way to make yourself seriously healthier without a prescription.

Get healthy faster

Visiting a hospital and watching all the activity (even if you are just visiting someone else) can feel as calming as double-coupon Fridays at the grocery store. All the noise, light, smells and hustle and bustle can stress you and, if you're the patient, slow the healing process.

Someday, a typical hospital recovery may include walking in a garden, listing to a concerto or even spending time with your pet (this is already happening in some places). But until that's standard, there are certain things - in addition to following your doctor's orders - that promote peace of mind and possibly faster healing:

See green. Patients who rest up by a window with a natural view use less pain medication and have quicker recoveries than patients who stare at blank walls. Not gonna happen? Then bring nature inside with plants or flowers.

Fill up on music. Listening to music before or after a medical procedure relaxes you as much as sex does (in general), and decreases pain. It's not clear whether music (or sex) is a mere distraction from pain, or whether listening causes physiological changes such as lower blood pressure. Either way, turn it on.

Following your doctor's orders religiously is the ultimate way to get better quickly. But don't forget about your mental well-being. The mind-body connection is strong, and finding ways to soothe your psyche is just as essential in healing.

Buying healthy? What to look for

You don't have to spend your life savings or all your free time in the grocery store just to come home with foods that make you younger, healthier and thinner. Use these tricks to navigate store aisles faster and smarter:

Look for less. Generally, fewer ingredients equal better foods. Natural foods that come directly from the ground don't require labels. (Ever seen a marshmallow bush?) Buying in-season produce - and experimenting with veggies you might have passed by previously - is cheaper than buying the extra-fancy imported berries from the other side of the world (and more eco-friendly, too).

Turn the package. Ignore what's on the front of the package. Go directly to the nutrition label and ingredients list. The product might say "fat free!" on the front, but be loaded with sugar. If it has more than 4 grams of sugar per serving, do not buy it. And just because something "contains whole grains" doesn't mean it's made entirely - or even mostly - with them, like it should be (it should be 100 percent whole grains). And, of course, leave products with saturated fat or trans fat on the shelves.

Top tips for weight loss

1. Automate the process. Strip away thinking about eating that can pull you off track. Eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch and snacks, and only change up your options for dinner.

2. Stop beating yourself up. That's why almost all diets fail. You slip up? Make a YOU turn. In other words, get back on your plan right away.

3. Have a contingency plan. One of the ways you can avoid an all-out chocolate fest is to activate your contingency plans. These are the ready-made meals and snacks (nuts, carrots, apples) you can turn to instead of the vending machine or the candy aisle at the quick mart.

4. Eat to stay full, not to hit a specific calorie count. Fill up on the right foods, let your body tell you when you're satisfied and not stuffed, and you shouldn't have to worry much about calories. Can't hear your body? Try this: For a couple of weeks, rate your hunger on a scale from 0 ("Feels like I haven't eaten since high school") to 6 (Thanksgiving full) -3/4 full is a 3. Ideally, your tank should always be 3/4 full - that is, satisfied, not hungry and definitely not filled to the brim.

The YOU Docs are authors of "YOU: Being Beautiful - The Owner's Manual to Inner and Outer Beauty."

Eating to win

Want to win the account or the golf or tennis match? Buy your opponent lunch, and make it a nice big burger and fries.

If people's bodies react at all like rats' do (and we know they do in certain ways), your rival will bungle the presentation or be listless at the game while you're still going strong. Here's what happened in a recent study, when rats that spent just nine days eating a diet that got 55 percent of its calories from fat: They ran 35 percent less far on a treadmill and did worse on a cognitive test (a maze, not a crossword puzzle) than rats that got a little more than 7 percent of their calories from fat.

Think you can get away with just one fatty meal? Check this out: Volunteer college students who ate a single fatty meal right before they underwent tests designed to stress them out (including mental arithmetic and holding one hand under icy water) had sluggish blood vessel reactions to that stress. That indicates less ability to respond to an energy-demanding situation.

Your body, too, reacts like the rats' and the college students'. That's not good, because a cardiovascular system that cannot counteract stress means the stress is inhibiting your ability to be your best, whether you're responding to questions at a presentation or to the challenge of hitting a ball. So leave those stress-augmenting saturated and trans fats for your competition, and maybe even offer to treat them to an extra order of fries.

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