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Reduce stress with yoga, tai chi, meditation

Published May 20, 2013

We all can recognize feelings of stress overload, and they are not pleasant. A tightening of muscles, headaches, anxiety, sleeplessness, a racing heartbeat and blood pressure that feels way too high. With overloaded schedules, deadlines and everyday hassles, stress seems inevitable. Approximately 77 percent of all adults suffer from the adverse effects of stress, and one in four cope with long-term stress by indulging in "comfort eating," which adds more stress.

The good and the bad

When you encounter a threat, whether it is emotional or physical, the autonomic nervous system will respond by releasing stress hormones — adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol — to prepare the body for a quick reaction. This could be a good thing when you are dealing with pending danger in emergency situations, giving presentations or playing competitive sports. A certain amount of stress helps to keep you focused and to perform at the top of your game. This type of stress (acute stress) is short-lived. However, when stress keeps hanging around and is all consuming, it can develop into chronic stress and negatively impact most every system in the body, including suppressing the immune system.

Exercise and stress relief

Exercise in almost any form helps in the production of the brain's neurotransmitters, known as the "feel-good" endorphins. For stress release, it is very important to select an activity you enjoy doing and to make it a priority, including it into your lifestyle three to five times a week. And don't forget, if you can't find 30 minutes at one time, break it up into unstructured groups of 10 minutes.

Suggested activities

• Cardio and strength training burn off stress hormones that have been accumulated and release muscle tension.

• Yoga offers a way to calm your mind and body as you work through breathing, strength and flexibility exercises. Yoga offers many different intensities. As a beginner, you might enjoy a class that emphasizes gentle poses, deep relaxation and meditation.

• Tai chi helps reduce stress while toning muscles, increasing flexibility and improving balance. There are variations in style, some focusing on martial arts and others focusing on low-impact movements that flow smoothly, one into another, without pausing. The movements will be coordinated with breathing exercises that encourage you to live in the moment.

• Meditation helps you clear out all information overload with a basic technique that involves sitting in a relaxed comfortable position in a quiet environment, ignoring any thoughts that may be drifting in and out.

• Relaxation breathing is to breathe deeply from the abdomen not the chest. You will be inhaling more oxygen, and the more oxygen you have, the less tense you will feel. Breathe in through your nose and exhale through the mouth.

• Laugh a lot to reduce stress hormones, to release feel-good endorphins and to just feel good.

If you are 50 and older and have not been exercising, check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program. Trainer Sally Anderson can be reached at slafit@tampabay.com.

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