You wake up early and rush to get ready for work. You sit in the car and drive through heavy traffic to get to work. You arrive already stressed and tired. Once at work you sit at your desk all day. You drink too much coffee to stay awake. The air in the office is stale. You feel sleepy and irritable.
You leave the office at the end of the day for the long commute through more busy traffic and many other stressed, tired drivers, all anxious to get home. Too tired to cook, you get take-out, or eat out. You barely have a chance to unwind and then you must fall back into bed. You wake up the next morning having had a bad night, only to have to repeat the routine all over again.
Does any of this sound familiar? Does your health suffer as a result? Of course it does. Even sitting on a daily basis for long periods affects our posture and can cause aches and pains we would not have with a more active lifestyle.
What You Can Do To Keep Healthy When You Think You Are Too Busy
Even though you might think you do not have the time, the truth is there is a lot you can do to maintain health and wellness, even in the crazy busy lives we lead these days.
Stress depletes our B vitamin stores and snacking on nuts helps replenish them. B vitamins keep our neurotransmitters in their happy place and help us handle the fight-or-flight stress response. The potassium in nuts is also key: Penn State researchers found that a couple servings of potassium-packed pistachios a day can lower blood pressure and reduce the strain stress puts on our heart.
While oranges get all of the vitamin C hype, red pepper have about twice as much (95 vs. 50 mg per 1/2 cup serving). In a study in Psychopharmacology, people who took high doses of C before engaging in stress-inducing activities (oral presentation followed by solving math problems aloud) had lower blood pressure and recovered faster from the cortisol surge than those who got a placebo. It seems diets loaded with vitamin-C rich foods lower cortisol and help people cope.
To keep your wits about you when life gets hairy, you need omega-3's, especially DHA. In a study in Brain, Behavior and Immunity, people who took a daily omega-3 supplement (containing DHA and EPA) for 12 weeks reduced their anxiety by 20% compared to the placebo group. You won't get the same mood boost from the omega-3's (ALA) in flax, walnuts and soy, though, so shoot for about 2 servings a week of wild salmon or other oily fish and/or talk to your doctor about DHA supplements.
This leafy, green veggie is rich in stress-busting magnesium. People with low magnesium levels (most of us, actually) are more likely to have elevated C-reactive protein levels - and research shows people with high CRP levels are more stressed and at a greater risk for depression. Magnesium has been shown to help regulate cortisol and blood pressure too. And since magnesium gets flushed out of the body when you're stressed, it's crucial to get enough. Other solid magnesium sources include beans and brown rice.
This warm and comforting food also help your brain generate the de-stressing neurotransmitter serotonin. Research in the Archives of Internal Medicine shows carb-eaters felt calmer than those who shunned carbs. The carb-avoiders reported feeling more stressed. Any carb won't do, however. Refined carbs (white bread and pasta) digest faster and spike blood sugar, messing with moods and stress. Complex carbs like oatmeal are digested more slowly and don't spike blood sugar.
If you crave chocolate when you're on edge, have some. Research in the Journal of Proteome Research showed people who ate the equivalent of an average-size candy bar (about 1.4 ounces) daily for two weeks had lower cortisol and fight-or-flight hormone levels. To reap the feel-better rewards, choose chocolate that's at least 70 percent cocoa. And remember: dark chocolate is a high-calorie food, so mind your portions.
A study from University College London discovered that tea drinkers de-stressed faster and had lower cortisol levels than those who drank a placebo. Although (caffeinated) black tea was used in the study, caffeine revs the stress response in many people, so stick to decaf and herbal teas. Drinking herbal teals like chamomile, peppermint or ginger can be wonderfully soothing to the digestive tract which can help with stress by calming the nervous system in your gut.
Studies have found that these options can help contribute to a healthy mental state, bugger against the harmful physical effects of stress and dial up your serenity level. Eat your way to Zen.
It's true that the side effects may include off-color or odd-smelling urine, but it's a small price to pay for all the folate they deliver. The B vitamin is essential in helping you keep your cool when stress rears its ugly head. Steam some spears and add to salads or stir-fries; they're also tasty broiled and seasoned.
Besides being an excellent source of healthy fat, these creamy green fruits (yes, fruits), can stress-proof your body. They're rich in glutathione, a substance that blocks intestinal absorption of certain fats that cause oxidative damage (the process that creates free radicals, the harmful compounds responsible for aging). Avocados also contain more folate than any other fruit. Try to stick to a single serving (about one-quarter of an avocado). Thinly sliced, it can go a long way on salads or replace mayo on sandwiches or burgers.
All berries, including blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries, are rich in vitamin C, which has been shown to be helpful in combating stress. German researchers tested this by asking 120 people to give a speech and then do hard math problems. Those who had been given vitamin C had lower blood pressure and lower levels of cortisol after the stressfest. Add a handful of berries to salad, yogurt, or oatmeal, or try nibbling on them frozen.
Another vitamin C powerhouse, oranges have an added benefit: that tough skin keeps them protected while they're bouncing around in your purse or backpack, so you can tote them anywhere. Try some other varieties, like clementines, tangelos, or mineolas.
You probably heard about them being a "sexy" food but they have earned they place as a mother lode of zinc. Six oysters, what you would typically be served in a restaurant as an appetizer, have more than half the recommended daily allowance for this important calming mineral. They're an acquired taste, for sure, but fans love them with cocktail sauce, horseradish, or mignonette. Purists favor a simple squeeze of lemon.
Research has proven that these shelled marvels provide more than one kind of cognitive edge. They contain alpha-linolenic acid, an essential omega-3 fatty acid, and other polyphenols that have been shown to help prevent memory loss. And studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health found that omega-3 fatty acids in walnuts keep the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline in check. To bring out their flavor, toast them for 10 minutes, then chop and add to salads
Andrea Stewart Roa, M.S.
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