Spring is finally here, and many families are enjoying the warmer weather by planning their gardens. The fresh produce from gardens certainly improves our diets. As a bonus, gardening helps us be active! The Centers for Disease Control considers gardening a moderate intensity activity. Gardening helps get us the recommended 2 1/2 hours of activity we need each week. Working in a garden allows us to get vitamin D from the sun. It helps relieve stress. It might even lower our risk of dementia!
Does just thinking about getting more exercise stress you out? It may help you to remember that once you do start a physical activity regularly, you will be melting your stress away.
“Exercise produces a relaxation response that serves as a positive distraction,” says Cedric Bryant, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. Getting enough physical activity can counteract the effects of stress. It strengthens your immune system. It helps ward off fatigue and illnesses. A 20-minute walk may energize you more than an afternoon nap!
Too much stress is bad for your mental and physical health. Stress is your body’s reaction to real or perceived threats. This “fight or fight” response releases chemicals that affect many areas of your physical health, including your immune system.
Chronic stress can lead to the following:
Frequent muscle aches, headaches, or changes in sleep habits
Greater frequency of colds and fu
Increased sadness, anxiety, anger, or irritability
Reduced concentration and forgetfulness
Overeating or loss of appetite
The good news is that there are ways you can help lower chronic stress like eating well, moving more, and getting enough sleep. If you believe you are suffering from stress symptoms, check out one of these free publications from the ISU Extension Store, store.extension.iastate.edu, to help you cope. If you think you may need counseling to help you cope with your stress, contact the Iowa Concern Hotline, www.extension.iastate.edu/iowaconcern/, at 1-800-447-1985.
If you’re looking for a way to reduce stress, consider tai chi (tie-chee). Often described as meditation in motion, tai chi promotes serenity through gentle, flowing movements. Practicing tai chi helps to improve balance and stability in older people and in those with Parkinson’s disease. It reduces back pain and improves quality of life in people with heart disease, cancer, and other chronic illnesses.
Although you can rent or buy videos and books about tai chi, consider seeking guidance from a qualified tai chi instructor to gain the full benefits and learn proper techniques. To find a class near you, contact local fitness centers, health clubs, and senior centers.