Stress Reduction and Effects on Health
It should be strongly noted that treating stress cannot cure medical problems. Any stress management program is not a substitute for standard medical treatments, but it can be a very important component in a medical regimen. Some studies have reported the following:
A 2001 study reported that treatments that reduce psychological distress after a Heart Attack appeared to improve long-term outlook. Some evidence exists that stress management programs may reduce the risk of heart events (eg, Heart Attack) by up to 75% in people with Heart disease. One study found that stress management programs are more effective than exercise in reducing heart risks (although exercise is also protective).
A 2001 study reported that stress management techniques along with methods for coping with anger were associated with lower blood pressure.
In one 2001 study, patients with chronic daily tension headache who were given tricyclics reported greater improvement after a month than those who were taught stress management techniques. The combination of the two approaches worked even better. And at six months, stress management was as effective as the antidepressants in improving headaches.
What are some specific Stress reduction methods?
Healthy Diet. A healthy lifestyle is an essential companion to any stress-reduction program. General health and stress resistance can be enhanced by a regular exercise, a diet rich in a variety of whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, and by avoiding excessive alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco.
Exercise. Exercise in combination with stress management techniques is extremely important for many reasons:
- Exercise is an effective distraction from stressful events.
- Employees who follow an active lifestyle need fewer sick and disability days than sedentary workers.
- And most importantly, stress itself poses significantly less danger to overall health in the physically active individual. The heart and circulation are able to work harder for longer stretches of time, and the muscles, ligaments, bones, and joints become stronger and more flexible.
Usually, a varied exercise regime is more interesting, and thus easier to stick to. Start slowly. Strenuous exercise in people who are not used to it can be very dangerous and any exercise program should be discussed with a physician. In addition, half of all people who begin a vigorous training regime drop out within a year. The key is to find activities that are exciting, challenging, and satisfying. The following are some suggestions:
- Sign up for aerobics classes at a gym.
- Brisk walking is an excellent aerobic exercise that is free and available to nearly anyone. Even short brisk walks can relieve bouts of stress.
- Swimming is an ideal exercise for many people including pregnant women, individuals with musculoskeletal problems, and those who suffer exercise-induced Asthma.
- Yoga or Tai Chi can be very effective, combining many of the benefits of breathing, muscle relaxation, and meditation while toning and stretching the muscles. The benefits of yoga may be considerable. Numerous studies have found it beneficial for many conditions in which stress is an important factor, such as anxiety, headaches, high blood pressure, and Asthma. It also elevates mood and improves concentration and ability to focus.
As in other areas of stress management, making a plan and executing it successfully develops feelings of mastery and control, which are very beneficial in and of themselves. Start small. Just 10 minutes of exercise three times a week can build a good base for novices. Gradually build up the length of these every-other-day sessions to 30 minutes or more.
Revision date: July 8, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD