Exercise for stress relief

Exercise: A Healthy Stress Reliever

Survey findings show that Americans spend much of their time engaged in sedentary activities — often more than three hours a day watching TV or going online. Many report turning to these activities to manage their stress. Yet people who engage in these activities to manage stress are less likely to say that the technique is effective, compared with those who engage in more physically active stress management strategies.

On average, adults report that they spend 3.9 hours a day watching TV, 3.7 hours a day going online and 3.4 hours a day sitting at a desk.

Forty-two percent of adults report going online to help manage stress and 40 percent say they watch TV or movies for more than two hours a day.

Only 29 percent of those who go online to manage stress and 33 percent of those who watch TV or movies to manage stress say these techniques are very or extremely effective. In contrast, among adults who exercise to manage stress (43 percent), 62 percent tout its effectiveness.

Adults who report the highest levels of stress in the past month (eight, nine or 10 on a 10-point scale) are less likely to say they exercise each week and more likely to say they have skipped exercise due to stress in the past month. Adults who report experiencing high stress are also more likely than adults who report experiencing low stress (one, two or three on the 10-point scale) to engage in sedentary activities for stress management.

Adults reporting high stress levels are less likely than those reporting low stress levels to say they exercise at least once weekly (54 percent vs. 64 percent). Furthermore, those who exercise less than once a week or not at all report stress levels in the past month higher than those of adults who exercise once a week or more (5.3 vs. 4.9).

Adults reporting high stress are more than four times as likely as adults reporting low stress to say they have skipped exercise in the past month due to stress (64 percent vs. 15 percent).

Adults reporting high stress are more likely to say they engage in sedentary activities to manage stress. More than half report managing their stress by going online (53 percent vs. 31 percent of those reporting low stress) and watching TV or movies for more than two hours a day (51 percent vs. 27 percent of those reporting low stress).

Adults reporting high stress levels say they spend an average of 4.4 hours a day online, compared with 3.4 hours a day for adults reporting low stress levels.

Despite the fact that they report exercising less frequently than those with low stress, adults with high stress appear to be more aware of the effect that exercise has on their stress level. Among those who exercise, 33 percent of high-stress adults said they feel less stressed after exercising, compared with 18 percent of low-stress adults.

Teens also report spending much of their time engaged in sedentary activities, yet say that exercise offers more stress relief than other techniques they use to manage stress.

Teens report spending an average of 3.4 hours a day sitting at a desk, 2.8 hours a day watching TV and 2.7 hours a day going online.

More teens than adults say their sedentary stress management techniques are effective, but they still report exercise as the most effective stress management approach. Sixty-eight percent of teens who exercise or engage in physical activity to manage stress (37 percent) say it is extremely or very effective. Comparatively, 59 percent of teens who report playing video games to manage stress, 41 percent who report going online to manage stress and 39 percent who report watching TV or movies for more than two hours a day to manage stress say these are very or extremely effective stress management techniques.

Teens who report exercising at least once weekly report an average stress level in the past month of 4.4 on a 10-point scale, compared with 5.1 among teens who report exercising less than once a week or not at all.

Even more important, teens who report exercising at least once weekly report lower average stress levels during the past school year than teens who report exercising less than once a week or not at all (5.6 vs. 6.4 on a 10-point scale).

Teens who report high stress during the past school year also report spending an average of 3.2 hours online a day, compared with two hours among those with low reported stress levels during the past school year.

Despite their fitness goals, Millennials report spending more time engaging in sedentary activities than other generations. They also spend the most time engaged in screen time to help manage stress.

Millennials report spending an average of five hours a day online, compared with 3.7 hours for Gen Xers, 3.1 hours for Boomers and 2.5 hours for Matures.

Sixty-eight percent of Millennials say they engage in screen time (including going online, watching TV or movies for more than two hours a day, playing video games and sounding off on social media) to help manage stress, compared with 64 percent of Gen Xers, 59 percent of Boomers and 54 percent of Matures.

Millennials are more likely than other generations to say they nap or sleep to relieve stress — 41 percent of Millennials report this, compared with 33 percent of Gen Xers, 29 percent of Boomers and 20 percent of Matures.

8 Stress Relief Exercises You Can Do From Your Desk

With any job comes a certain amount of stress, no matter the industry. Failing to manage and alleviate stress properly takes a toll on your body, mind and happiness. It can be challenging to find ways to relax during the workday especially if you sit behind a desk for the majority of the day. In addition to stress, studies show that sitting for long periods of time also has a negative impact on health.

The good news is you can do something about it. Here are 8 stress relief exercises you can do from your desk to improve your overall health and well-being.

1. Meditation
Meditation in the workplace is powerful and requires period of calm and quiet where you can reflect on your thoughts to better understand them. Some individuals can meditate on their own while others prefer guided meditations that walk you through the steps and keep you focused.

2. Stretching
There is an endless number of stretches you can do at a desk that relieve tension, increase circulation, and awaken your senses. A few you may want to try are the seated twist, head rolls, or leg hugs according to WebMD.

3. Healthy Power Snacks
There is a lot of truth in the saying “you are what you eat.” Make sure you are eating healthy snacks full of protein and healthy fats instead of junk food that can make you feel sluggish and increase your stress level.

4. Deep Breathing
The practice of controlled inhaling and exhaling induces a relaxed feeling. When you inhale deeply, you increase the amount of oxygen your brain receives which makes you feel calm and focused.

5. Listen to Calming Music
Music is a powerful way to overcome stress. When you listen to music you enjoy, it makes you happy which helps reduce stress and anxiety.

6. Visualization Exercises
Visualization is often used by leaders. It’s the idea of picturing yourself where you want to be. When you are stressed, you can close your eyes and picture yourself in a place that calms you, such as the beach or by the pool. It’s more than just thinking about the location. Visualization works because you actually feel the same thoughts you would if you were physically in your happy place.

7. Practice Affirmations
Write down a few goals you have for yourself. What would make you feel successful or happy? For example, “It is Friday at 5 p.m., and I feel accomplished” or “It is Saturday, and I have zero regrets about my work week.” Read these out loud during your breaks. The more you read them, the more you’ll believe them. Once you believe, you will make better decisions that improve your happiness and relieve stress.

8. Smile or Laugh
Sometimes, a smile is all it takes to break the tensions and minimize stress. If you find yourself stressed mid-afternoon pull our family or pet photos that make you smile or watch a funny video for a good laugh and mental break.

Stress is a Killer, and the Office is a Battlefield

A lot of research has told us that sitting, slouching, and craning over our keyboards can significantly add to the harmful effects of stress in the workplace. But don’t panic—you don’t have to be a yogi mystic to get rid of stress.

All you need are a few minutes and these 5 stress reducing exercises to feel the weight of the world lift off your shoulders until quitting time.

1. Get Up: Stand Up to Stress

The most effective way to eliminate stress in the workplace is to move around. A “runner’s high” is more than just a catchy phrase. When you move, your body releases endorphins which make you feel more alert, energized, and simultaneously relaxed.

What’s even more exciting is that you don’t have to run a marathon to get your juices flowing.

Just standing up from your desk a couple times a day and move around. Even brief exercise can increase your metabolism and release endorphins, both of which make you far less susceptible to cardiovascular and heart disease.

A simple way to keep you on your toes is to wear a FitBit or other smartwatch that tracks your steps and alerts you when it’s time to get up and go for a stroll.

One study found that men who routinely spend more than 2 consecutive hours sitting had a 125% increased likelihood of cardiovascular disease, an another University of Texas study says, “Sitting around can mean letting stress accumulate in your body.”

The simple truth is, when your move, you’re healthier.

2. Shrug It Off: Shoulder Shrugs & Neck Rolls

If you’re glued to your seat, the most effective exercise you can do at your desk is shrugging.

We carry a lot of stress in our neck and shoulders, and this stress can build up over time to the point where we don’t even realize how rigid and tight our shoulders can become:

● Take a deep breath, and raise your shoulders to your ears
● Hold them there for a few seconds, then release your breath and lower your shoulders
● Repeat and you’re on your way to a less stressful day.

Want to make your shrugs more hardcore? WebMD recommends “asking yourself silly questions” while you shrug.

Shaking your head slowly either “yes” or “no” to, “Is your boss wearing that dumb tie again?” will further reduce stress since, “Shedding tension is as much mental as physical.”

3. Give it a Twist: Torso Twists

This is one of our favorite exercises because of how it gets your whole body involved. To correctly perform a torso twist:

● Plant your feet shoulder width apart in front of you
● Take a deep breath, then exhale as you slowly twist to your right
● Grab the back of your chair with your right hand and the right armrest with your left hand
● Keep your eyes level as you use your grip to twist farther to the right
● Hold the twist, rotating your head around as well
● Release and return to the starting position
● Now twist to the left

If you can only do one exercise, make it the torso twist. It blasts away any stress you have in your lower back, and loosens you up enough to handle those late afternoon marketing emails with a smile.

4. Rotation is Key: Wrist Circles

If you use a keyboard and mouse, you’re at risk for carpal tunnel. Take care of the stress build up in your forearms and elbows with a few quick wrist circles:

● Loosely clench your hands into fists and hold them out in front of you at shoulder height
● Rotate each wrist inward for 10 seconds. Pause.
● Rotate each wrist outward for 10 seconds.

Now shake it out and get back to work.

5. Get Your Legs Involved: Leg Extensions

We tend to neglect our legs, especially when we sit. It’s one thing to do the occasional calf lift or ankle stretch, but to really reduce stress you have to get the whole body involved, and that includes the large quad and hamstring muscles:

● Grab the seat of your chair, making sure you’re balanced
● Lift both legs straight out in front of you, parallel with the floor
● Hold them there for 5 seconds
● Point your toes straight out, flexing up and down
● Lower your legs and repeat

The best part about leg extensions is that it activates your core. When people ask how you got your killer beach body this summer, you can tell them it was from filling out your T.P.S. reports.

Final Stress Reducing Tips

Don’t Eat at Your Desk

Craning over your desk is a terrible way to spend your lunch our. Get up and get out. Take a walk down to Nanoosh for a well-deserved break and one of our delicious Mediterranean Power Food Plates.

Eat Healthy Snacks

Don’t pack your body with harmful sugars and salts that will only make your crash in a few short hours. Beat the afternoon slump with a handmade granola bar and keep your energy levels up longer than a double espresso ever can.

Get a Smartwatch or FitBit

Setting “fitness alerts” or break timers on a smartwatch (or even just your phone!) is a great way to keep you accountable and track your progress. We all like to feel like we’re accomplishing something, and watching your step count climb is a surprisingly effective way to stay fit at the office.

Take a Walk Instead of Sending that Email

Your co-worker is just down the hall, and you haven’t talked in ages. Bonus: If they know a good joke, a hearty belly laugh is a great way to eliminate stress.

For the lucky few, stress isn’t a factor at work. However, the rest of us need to combat the harmful effects of stress that can build up in our bodies over time. Use these few simple exercises, eat a healthy diet of organically sourced food, and keep a positive outlook, and you’ll be stress free in no time.

If none of that works, you can always pick up this custom foot hammock for your desk and pretend you’re in the Caribbean. That works too.

10 Easy Desk Stretches to Help You De-Stress at Work

Bevi / November, 16, 2017 Blog / Wellness

By Jaclyn Hoffman

Unless you’re part of the 1% who has a standing desk, you’re likely shifting in your office chair for 40+ hours a week. An uncomfortable chair, coupled with the everyday stress of getting your work done, is likely putting tension in your back, your shoulders, your neck… It’s time to take a deep breath. Give yourself a few minutes to try some of the following easy desk stretches below to help you ease that tension.

Desk Stretch #1: Seated Cat and Cow

Incorporate some yoga into your work day with a seated version of the Cat and Cow poses. Seated with your hands on your knees, arch your back, pull your shoulders towards each other behind you, and lift your chin (cow pose). Hold the position for a few seconds, then transition to the cat pose by rounding the spine, pulling your shoulders towards each other in front of you, and curling your chin into your chest. Repeat the cycle 8-10 times to open up your torso and stretch your back, neck, and shoulders.

Desk Stretch #2: Neck Swings

Relieve the tension in your neck by relaxing your muscles and leaning your chin forward. Roll your head gently from shoulder to shoulder. Repeat 3-5 times.

Desk Stretch #3: Head Tilts

Avoid headaches by taking the time to release the tension in your neck and upper back. Sitting up straight, place your hand on your head and gently pull your head towards your shoulder until you feel a gentle stretch. Hold this position for 10-15 seconds before releasing. Repeat on the other side.

Alternatively, grip the side your chair with your right hand and gently pull as you tilt the head to your left. You should feel a stretch down the right side of your neck and shoulder. Hold for 10-30 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.

Desk Stretch #4: Overhead Stretch and Reach

You probably already do overhead stretches without realizing it! Interlock your fingers over your head and press upwards, holding for a few seconds before releasing.

To add a reach to stretch out your sides, sit straight in your in chair and stretch your right arm over your head. Gently lean to the left until you feel a stretch in your right side. Hold the position for 10-30 seconds and repeat with the left arm over your head.

Desk Stretch #5: Spinal Twist

This exercise is an easy way to reduce lower back pain, and it’s one that you might already do without realizing it. Sitting tall with both feet on the floor, use your right hand to reach behind you for the back of the chair. Gently rotate the torso to the right, keeping your back straight and your hips square to the front. Hold for 10-30 seconds and repeat to the left.

Desk Stretch #6: Chest Stretch

Unless you have perfect posture, you’re probably reading this hunched forward. This exercise is a great way to straighten that back and stretch it out. In a seated or standing position, extend your arms behind you, clasping your hands together if possible. Stretch the arms and gently lift them until you feel a stretch in your chest. Hold for 10-30 seconds. This exercise does put strain on your shoulders, so avoid it if you have any shoulder issues.

Desk Stretch #7: Hamstring Stretches

Get the feeling back into your numb legs by extending them forward until they’re stretched. Flex your feet and relax forward, reaching for your toes. You should feel a deep stretch behind your legs in your hamstrings, plus the position will help stretch out your back.

For a stretch that gets you up and out of your chair, stand a few feet away from your desk or chair and lean forward until your torso is parallel to the floor, using the back of your chair or your desk for support. If that’s still not enough for you, relax all the way forward and put your hands on the floor or on your feet.

Desk Stretch #8: Seated Hip Stretch

Relieve the tension in your hips and glutes with this seated exercise. Sitting straight in your chair with your left foot on the ground, cross your right ankle on top of your left knee. Keeping your back straight, gently lean forward until you feel a stretch in your hip and glute. For a deeper hip stretch, gently press down on your right knee. Hold for 10-30 seconds and reverse the exercise.

Desk Stretch #9: Wrist and Forearm Stretch

Typing all day can leave you with tense wrists and forearms, but they’re easy muscles to forget about. Extend your right arm forward with your wrist facing up, extending your fingertips downwards. Use your left hand to gently pull your hand back towards you. Try it standing by placing your palms on your desk with your fingertips facing you. Lean forward for a deeper stretch and feel all that tension release.

Desk Stretch #10: Hip Flexor Stretch

Being seated all day forces your hip flexors to tighten. While we all hate lunges at the gym, they’re actually a great way to bring your hip flexors some relief while also getting you up and moving. (They’re also a good excuse to wear leggings to work!) While standing, step your right leg behind you and bend both knees until you feel a stretch at the front of your right hip. Hold for 10-30 seconds and repeat on the other side.

For more health and wellness tips, check out these 8 ways to stay healthy and motivated at the office.

Six relaxation techniques to reduce stress

Practicing even a few minutes per day can provide a reserve of inner calm

Updated: September 10, 2019Published: September, 2016

We all face stressful situations throughout our lives, ranging from minor annoyances like traffic jams to more serious worries, such as a loved one’s grave illness. No matter what the cause, stress floods your body with hormones. Your heart pounds, your breathing speeds up, and your muscles tense.

This so-called “stress response” is a normal reaction to threatening situations, honed in our prehistory to help us survive threats like an animal attack or a flood. Today, we rarely face these physical dangers, but challenging situations in daily life can set off the stress response. We can’t avoid all sources of stress in our lives, nor would we want to. But we can develop healthier ways of responding to them.

One way is to invoke the “relaxation response,” through a technique first developed in the 1970s at Harvard Medical School by cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson, editor of the Harvard Medical School Special Health Report Stress Management: Approaches for preventing and reducing stress. The relaxation response is the opposite of the stress response. It’s a state of profound rest that can be elicited in many ways. With regular practice, you create a well of calm to dip into as the need arises.

Following are six relaxation techniques that can help you evoke the relaxation response and reduce stress.

1. Breath focus. In this simple, powerful technique, you take long, slow, deep breaths (also known as abdominal or belly breathing). As you breathe, you gently disengage your mind from distracting thoughts and sensations. Breath focus can be especially helpful for people with eating disorders to help them focus on their bodies in a more positive way. However, this technique may not be appropriate for those with health problems that make breathing difficult, such as respiratory ailments or heart failure.

2. Body scan. This technique blends breath focus with progressive muscle relaxation. After a few minutes of deep breathing, you focus on one part of the body or group of muscles at a time and mentally releasing any physical tension you feel there. A body scan can help boost your awareness of the mind-body connection. If you have had a recent surgery that affects your body image or other difficulties with body image, this technique may be less helpful for you.

3. Guided imagery. For this technique, you conjure up soothing scenes, places, or experiences in your mind to help you relax and focus. You can find free apps and online recordings of calming scenes—just make sure to choose imagery you find soothing and that has personal significance. Guided imagery may help you reinforce a positive vision of yourself, but it can be difficult for those who have intrusive thoughts or find it hard to conjure up mental images.

4. Mindfulness meditation. This practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing, and bringing your mind’s attention to the present moment without drifting into concerns about the past or the future. This form of meditation has enjoyed increasing popularity in recent years. Research suggests it may be helpful for people with anxiety, depression, and pain.

5. Yoga, tai chi, and qigong. These three ancient arts combine rhythmic breathing with a series of postures or flowing movements. The physical aspects of these practices offer a mental focus that can help distract you from racing thoughts. They can also enhance your flexibility and balance. But if you are not normally active, have health problems, or a painful or disabling condition, these relaxation techniques might be too challenging. Check with your doctor before starting them.

6. Repetitive prayer. For this technique, you silently repeat a short prayer or phrase from a prayer while practicing breath focus. This method may be especially appealing if religion or spirituality is meaningful to you.

Rather than choosing just one technique, experts recommend sampling several to see which one works best for you. Try to practice for at least 20 minutes a day, although even just a few minutes can help. But the longer and the more often you practice these relaxation techniques, the greater the benefits and the more you can reduce stress.

– By Julie Corliss
Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Image: © Robert Kneschke | Dreamstime.com

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