Stress raises your heart rate and blood pressure, making your heart work harder. In the short term, these changes may help you handle a crisis. Over the long term, they may damage your blood vessels and contribute to heart disease. Chemical changes in the body due to stress are linked with high cholesterol and weight gain.
Coping with stress in unhealthy ways, like smoking or overeating, can increase your risk for variety of health problems. Instead, manage stress by adopting healthy habits such as a balanced diet, exercise and making sure you build “down” time into your routine.
Give yoga a try
Yoga is an ancient Eastern form of exercise for both the body and mind. It combines specific movements and postures, controlled breathing, and quiet meditation. And experts say it can offer short- and long-term health benefits.
Yoga can calm your mind, help you relax, and reduce stress. Its physical benefits include improving balance, muscle strength and flexibility. Yoga also can ease the symptoms of a variety of medical conditions such as asthma, high blood pressure, carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain and arthritis. It offers benefits for people with cardiovascular disease, too.
There are as many as 2,000 yoga poses, or “asanas,” with a variety of vertical and horizontal postures. Each pose has a specific goal. For example, some exercises strengthen abdominal muscles; others focus on the back, shoulders, arms, or legs.
The basic yoga breathing exercise encourages deep, rhythmic breathing. Try this by sitting either cross-legged on the floor or in a chair with your feet flat on the ground:
- Close your eyes, inhale deeply, and feel your diaphragm move downwards toward your abdomen. Exhale slowly, contracting your abdominal muscles. Focus on each breath as you lengthen your spine. Repeat several times.
For a warm-up stretch, try shoulder rolls. These help reduce tension in your neck, shoulders, and upper back:
- Stand up straight with your arms at your sides, and breathe normally. Lift both shoulders up, roll them forward, down, and back up toward your ears. Repeat in the opposite direction. Perform three to five times each way. Relax your arms afterwards by shaking them out.
Some people do yoga sessions every day; others practice yoga several times a week. But you can reap the benefits of yoga by practicing only 10 minutes a day. Experts recommend that you perform yoga in addition to your regular aerobic workout.