Controlling stress can help you stay healthy
An exercise physiologist suggests three ways to increase your resiliency
By Jenny Evans
STAYING HEALTHY IS PROBABLY TOP OF MIND for you right now. You’re no doubt more stressed than usual, too, juggling work and kids and worrying about the family’s finances as you deal with the effects of the pandemic in your life. Aren’t we all feeling overstressed, overworked and … well, just plain over it by now?
“Studies have shown that people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus.”
— Jenny Evans, exercise physiologist
Unfortunately, stress releases the hormone cortisol, which weakens our long-term immunity, decreases lymphocytes (white blood cells that fight off infection) and increases inflammation. Stress isn’t something that only happens in our heads: It’s a biological event that radically changes our chemistry and physiology. But there are things you can do to control it.
Here are three strategies that have helped me — I hope they help you manage your stress and stay healthy now and in the future, when you’re back to dealing with the more ordinary challenges of everyday life.
1. Work it out. Exercise is one of the best-known ways to decrease cortisol, and it improves immune response. Exercise also increases circulation, which improves the ability of your cells, nutrients and illness-fighting substances to move through your body and do their jobs.
Don’t feel like you have the time? Don’t get stressed! Just do some interval training — it’s efficient and effective. Any activity can work as interval training: Just increase the intensity for up to five minutes, decrease the intensity for the same or half the amount of time, and repeat these intervals for as much time as you have.
2. Get quality sleep. Lack of sleep increases your cortisol levels, which decreases your immunity. In fact, studies have shown that people who don’t get quality sleep, or enough sleep, are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus. Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick. Exercise not only helps to get rid of cortisol; research has shown that people who exercise fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly. So get moving, aim for seven to nine hours of sleep, and be diligent about going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day.
3. Follow these simple nutrition tips. Going too long without eating also triggers the release of cortisol, which can decrease your immunity and increase your stress. By eating approximately every three to four hours, you can reduce the release of cortisol and keep your cells fueled for optimum function. Try alternating moderately sized meals and snacks of 100 to 150 calories throughout the day. Cutting back on sugar can also help. Increased sugar intake inhibits the immune system cells that attack bacteria and viruses. And don’t forget to eat more vitamin- and antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. The more brightly colored and varied the better.
The founder and CEO of PowerHouse Performance, Jenny Evans is a bestselling author, motivational speaker and exercise physiologist.