There is no debate, regular exercise is vital for maintaining health and wellness. Again and again, research confirms that everyone can benefit from physical activity. Want to live a long, healthy life? Your chances of doing so are far better if you regularly work your body. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, regular physical activity has been shown to reduce mortality rates of many chronic diseases. Additionally, many illnesses and health ailments can be improved, or even prevented, by engaging in a regular physical activity.
1. May Improve Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Symptoms
Chronic fatigue syndrome is characterized by endless fatigue that is not satisfied by sleep or rest. The disease is, by definition, very debilitating and some people suffer from symptoms for years. Most people do not find relief from pharmaceuticals, and even alternative remedies fall short. However, as part of a comprehensive approach, Fort Belvoir Community Hospital recommends exercise therapy for improving fatigue and secondary symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.
2. Puts Insomniacs to Bed
The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center found that exercise improved insomniac tendencies in persons with major depressive disorder. Which symptoms? Most of them. Participants in the study reported improvements in mood and sleep quality and researchers concluded that exercise therapy was a recommendation-worthy therapy.
3. Supports Healthy Pregnancy
Pregnancy is a very individual and personal experience; you should always consult with your healthcare provider before making any drastic lifestyle changes when you’re pregnant so take this as food for thought. Research has shown that pregnant women who participate in mild to moderate exercise have better heart and lung fitness, are less likely to experience urinary incontinence, have fewer symptoms of depression, gain less weight, and have a fewer incidence of gestational diabetes!
4. Softens Aging
Diet and a sedentary lifestyle are huge contributors to the steady, physical deterioration that is often associated with age. Don’t settle for it! Evidence repeatedly shows that improvement in physical fitness lessens the risk of age-related diseases, including mental diseases like dementia and Parkinson’s disease.
For a low-impact, easy-to-do routine, many older folks enjoy Tai Chi. The Tufts University School of Medicine reports that Tai Chi can help improve rheumatological conditions by enhancing fitness, strength, balance, and overall physical function. Those are just the physical effects. Mentally, Tai Chi has been cited a stress reliever, anxiety reducer, and quality of life improved.
5. Improves Mental Health
One of the largest, recurrent benefits of regular exercise is that it reduces stress and improves mood. This can be helpful for everyone, but especially persons with depression for whom pharmaceuticals do not work or are not preferred. The Department of Kinesiology at the University of Georgia confirms that people who maintain a healthy heart and lungs into and through their middle ages report less incidence of depression. However, it’s better to start early. Research conducted by the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Section at the University of Michigan found that adolescents who suffer from depression showed significant improvement after engaging in aerobic exercise.
The Netherlands’ Rudolf Magnus Institute of Neuroscience conducted a clinical trial to examine the effects of exercise on patients with schizophrenia and discovered that exercise therapy performed at least twice a week increased cardiovascular fitness and reduced symptoms of schizophrenia, including depression.
6. Fights Antidepressants’ Libido Depression
The University of Texas at Austin conducted a study involving 47 women who reported sexual arousal problems caused by antidepressants. Researchers had the women watch three erotic film clips during which time they measured genital arousal. Before two of the sessions, the women exercised. The results? Exercising prior increased genital arousal and sexual satisfaction.
7. May Help Menopausal Mood Swings
Hormonal changes and mood swings are often most severe during menopause. The University of Granada’s Faculty of Health Sciences recommends that menopausal women may benefit from physical exercise, which lessens the physical and psychological changes associated with menopause.
8. May Improve Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis is an inflammation and degeneration of the central nervous system. This will often affect physical activities (like walking) and cognitive functions like attention and memory. According to the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, because exercise combats inflammation and neurodegeneration, it may be therapy worth investigating for sufferers of multiple sclerosis.
9. Promotes Positive Recovery
Traumatic brain injuries often include a long and difficult recovery process. Unfortunately, depression can creep in. As part of an approach to dealing with the difficulties, Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center advises that exercise may be an appropriate method to boost the quality of life for persons who have sustained traumatic brain injuries.
We all have stress and stressors in our life. Although stress has a negative connotation, it’s actually not inherently bad. Stress challenges you. It makes you tougher and more resilient to adversity. It helps you grow stronger and, hopefully, provides an opportunity to learn. This is true of both psychological (mental) stress and physiological (physical) stress.
However, stress needs to be handled properly; when external stress becomes internal, it affects the body. Prolonged, uninterrupted exposure to stress gradually erodes the immune system, inhibits the body’s detoxification processes, and makes it difficult to experience good health. Even generalized stress, like worry that nags at the back of your mind, has the same hormonal, neural, and physical effects on the body.
When Psychological Stress Becomes Physiological
Stress produces a physiological response—your heart races, your face and body feel hot, you sweat, and your breathing may become shallow and fast. Inside your body, your muscles tense and prepare to act. Your blood pressure increases, your pupils dilate, and you become hyper aware of your surroundings. This phenomenon is called the fight-or-flight response, and it’s an evolutionary advancement that developed to help you survive when your life is at risk. Although the stressors of modern humans look less like wolves and more like an overstuffed agenda or an upset client, your body still responds to these situations as if they come with claws. When stress is excessive or constant, it pushes the fight-or-flight response to be on all the time; that overactive state can negatively affect your physical health.
How Stress Management Affects Your Health
Your mental state, mood, productivity, and health are all affected by routine exposure to excess stress and anxiety. It can lead to an imbalanced immune system and set the stage for the development of many chronic diseases. Thus, it stands to reason that when you find effective ways to manage stress, not only will you improve your standard of living, you’ll reduce the negative effects of stress on your health. Let’s look at a few of the health benefits of effective stress management.
Preserves DNA Integrity
Telomeres are the stretches of DNA that protect the ends of chromosomes from degradation—similar to the cap on the end of a shoelace. Effective stress management helps you maintain the length of your telomeres and protects the integrity of your DNA. Although telomere shortening is a normal part of aging, stress accelerates the process. People who are constantly stressed out, or who had stressful childhoods have even more exaggerated shortening. You might be 35, but an excessively stressful life could cause you to have the telomere length of someone much older.
Encourages a Healthy Diet and Lifestyle
When you’re not stressed out, you’re better able to plan for a healthy lifestyle and carry out those plans. For example, if all your mental energy is spent worrying about a house repair, it’s easy to forget to pack a healthy lunch and put yourself in a position where the only convenient option is unhealthy food. It doesn’t stop there; people who are chronically stressed tend to be more reactive than proactive and engage in unhealthy habits like overeating, drinking, smoking, avoiding physical activity, and not sleeping enough. The effects of unhealthy habits compound quickly and encourage even more stress.
Promotes Weight Maintenance
If you’re trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy body weight, stress management needs to be at the top of your mind. Cortisol levels rise with stress and increase insulin levels and cause blood sugar to drop. This is the catalyst that sets off your appetite and produces cravings for unhealthy food. Long-term stress often leads to weight gain since the more stressed you feel, the more likely you are to overeat.
Benefits Cardiovascular Health
Effective stress management has the potential to impact cardiovascular health in two ways. First, many activities that reduce your physical response to stress—such as exercise—are, in their own right, an important part of maintaining heart and blood vessel health. Additionally, stress can elevate blood pressure and heart rate; this degrades cardiovascular health in such a way that stroke or heart attack become real possibilities. Managing stress can help you avoid some of those risks.
Supports Digestive Health
Maintaining a calm nervous system is essential for proper digestion. When the fight-or-flight response activates, it halts all nonessential, energy-intensive processes, including the rest-and-digest response. Not only is digestion one of these processes, acid reflux, ulcers, diarrhea, and constipation is common effects of stress on the digestive system.
Promotes Normal Immune System Health
Stress puts the immune system on high alert. When the immune system is on edge, its normal operation is disrupted and it’s unable to fully focus where it’s needed most. Studies related to wound healing reveal that psychological stress impedes the body’s ability to repair itself.
How to Manage Stress
It may be possible to reduce the amount of stress in your life, but it’s really difficult to eliminate stress entirely; that’s why regularly managing stress is so important. Different stress management techniques work differently for different people. For you, it may mean making time to do the things you enjoy, exercising, getting enough sleep, or taking regular breaks. Let’s look at a few of the most effective ways you can manage or circumvent stress before it starts.
With good time management skills, there’s a lot you can accomplish in a day. But, be mindful of your capabilities. A jam-packed schedule may look ambitious but if completion isn’t realistic, you’re only setting yourself up for failure and disappointment. When you’re planning and prioritizing, give yourself realistic time frames and plan breaks to collect your thoughts and prepare for your next commitment. Add a buffer to your plans so unexpected setbacks don’t derail your schedule.
Take a Break
Working lunches have become the norm in offices everywhere. Although the effort to stay productive is well-intentioned, sometimes it’s better to step away. Your brain needs an occasional break and trying to power through mental exhaustion only hurts performance. Taking a break to refocus and recharge is key to dealing with life’s daily stresses.
Exercise is the most underutilized stress reliever. Many people complain about not having time to exercise, but what they usually mean is that they’re too exhausted to exercise. Ironically, working out helps you feel more energized because it releases feel-good neurotransmitters like norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine. Not only will regular exercise provide an amazing outlet to “burn stress” like it’s extra calories, but it’ll also help you sleep better.
Meditation has been practiced in the East for millennia and offers real, measurable benefits. Comparing MRIs and PET scans of people who meditate regularly to people who don’t show a remarkable difference in their brains. Meditators have more gray matter in the hippocampus—the area of the brain that controls the autonomic nervous system. Many meditation techniques relieve stress, help you control your emotions and thoughts, tune out distractions, and improve your memory and ability to think. It’s also my favorite way to relieve stress. Try it!
Deep Breathing Exercises
Feeling stressed can lead to shallow breathing. Not only does shallow breathing restrict you of the very oxygen you need most, but it also feeds the stress response and makes it worse. Deep breathing exercises are an excellent way to hit the reset button on your breathing and relieve feelings of anxiety. When you’re feeling stressed, take a deep breath, inhaling through your nose. At the top of your inhale, leave your throat open and continue to inhale just a little deeper for a second or two. Then, slowly exhale to the count of eight. Repeat this nine times, elongating the duration of your inhales and exhales as you continue.
Cultivate a Healthy Gut
Some probiotics help regulate the response to fear and anxiety. In fact, people who have a healthy, diverse gut microbiota appear to be more resistant to some of the negative health consequences of stress. You can cultivate a strong, robust community of bacteria by incorporating fermented, probiotic-rich food, such as kombucha, into your diet. Alternately, a daily probiotic supplement can provide a steady supply of probiotics—think of it as a multivitamin for your gut. I recommend FloraTrex™. It features a diverse range of health-boosting probiotics to help keep your gut in balance.
Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is essential to cognitive function. Too little sleep worsens stress by affecting memory and the ability to focus. There’s really no question about it—a good night’s rest is the best way to reduce the feelings and physical toll of stress. To fall asleep more easily, wind down a few hours before bed. Put your devices away and turn off the television. Treat yourself to an herbal tea and meditate to ready your mind and body for a good night’s rest. Sometimes, despite best efforts, sleepless nights happen. When I’m feeling a little short on sleep, I find that NeuroFuzion® helps keep me alert and in good spirits.
Take a Mental Health Day
Taking a day to rejuvenate your mental and physical well-being can be instrumental in achieving mental and emotional balance. Sometimes a recharge is all you need to be a better, more productive person. Schedule and plan for longer vacations, too. If you can, consider leaving the country and experiencing other parts of the world; one study found that vacationers who traveled abroad came back happier.
How to Curate a Tranquil Environment
Performing stress management techniques in a tranquil environment of your own can amplify their benefits. There are many ways to curate a comfortable, soothing space. Here are my top recommendations:
- Let in as much natural light as possible. Harsh, inadequate, or irritating lighting can exacerbate stress levels.
- Surround yourself with plants, even a simple succulent or lucky bamboo on your desk will do. Adding a little greenery to your surroundings helps relieve stress.
- If noise is an issue, get a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to shut it out. Play relaxing music or white noise to de-stress.
- Aromatherapy is an effective means of reducing mental stress. Add a few drops of essential oil of bergamot, lemon balm, lavender, or sage to your humidifier. If you don’t have a humidifier, rub a drop between your hands and inhale.
Sustainable Changes for Stress Management
Incorporate stress management techniques into your day, every day; view it with the same importance as eating. Don’t wait until things pile up and you feel overwhelmed. One of the best ways to be proactive is to identify a few areas for change and commit yourself to improving. If you don’t get enough sleep, be honest with yourself about what’s standing in your way and change it. If you don’t get any exercise, start by taking an evening walk in your neighborhood. Do a little every day to build the momentum that will serve you well over the long-term.
Life sometimes seems to throw a lot at us. From an unexpected illness to political uncertainty, tension and anxiety can accumulate quickly. And whether temporary or ongoing, too many stressors can eventually send us into a tailspin. When we feel overwhelmed, our minds race and soon we begin to feel the physical manifestations of stress like back pain, headaches, heartburn, digestive upset, poor sleep, and changes in appetite. Maybe our composure begins to crumble or we turn to numb-out habits or prescription medications to feel better, furthering our stress by beating ourselves up after the fact. But it’s important to remember that stress can be managed. It is not the stress itself that can be so dangerous to our health, it is our reaction to it. there’s no need to let everyday stress take us down that path. A little self-care can go a long way.
Take a Walk Amongst the Green
When we are stressed out and busy, our commitment to exercise often falls to the wayside, however, physical activity is a great way to channel those stress hormones. Track your movement, set goals, and stick with it. If possible and weather permits, exercise outside. Studies show even greater benefit when walking or biking in nature. And speaking of nature, keep green plants in your office, put nature images on your computer’s screen saver, hang landscape photos/pictures on the wall, use a full spectrum bulb for your desk light, and if possible, position your desk near a window. Research supports common sense: that surrounding you with images and light that represent what is present in nature will have a calming effect on your nervous system toward relaxation.
Watch the carbs!
When we are stressed, it is natural to crave sugary foods that provide quick energy. This is your fight or flight response at work. You must resist the urge to binge on cookies, donuts, candy, and sugary (and/or caffeinated) drinks. Plan ahead. Keep some trail mix or healthy food bars in your purse or backpack. Pack an apple, crackers, cheese, banana or a small bag of grapes for an afternoon snack. And instead of loading up on coffee, soda or even black tea, try some of these herbal allies.
Sip Some Sweet Lemon Balm Tea
At the first sign of feeling overwhelmed I reach for lemon balm tea to help me relax. It’s pleasing aroma and sweet taste are inviting, and its effects are instantly soothing, yet don’t knock me out. Lemon balm, Melissa officinalis, is a member of the mint family that can reduce anxiety, relieve insomnia, and calm the stomach. This gentle herb is well supported by scientific studies and centuries of use.
Release Tension with Chamomile
The pretty little flowers of the chamomile plant also make a wonderfully relaxing tea. After a rough day or when preparing for sleep, there’s nothing better than wrapping your hands around a warm cup and taking in the floral aroma of chamomile. The University of Pennsylvania conducted several studies that found chamomile is highly effective for relieving anxiety and even had some beneficial effects on depression. Traditional Medicinals Organic Chamomile and Cup of Calm are two of my favorite ways to take chamomile. I helped formulate the Mega Food Kid’s Daily B-Centered product that contains food based B-vitamins along with lemon balm, chamomile, bacopa, and L-theanine. Bacopa is a herb that has been found to help concentration and L-theanine, an amino acid found in green tea, is widely used as a calmative. This is a great product for both kids and adults to help manage daily stress and maintain healthy focus. Chamomile is relatively easy to grow, so if you tend your own garden, give it a try. Even if you don’t make tea, you’ll have a bunch of tiny daisy-like flowers adding a pretty touch to your garden bed.
Try Skullcap Glycerite for Nerves
When nervous before a big event and dealing with anticipatory anxiety, I turn to the powerful medicinal called skullcap. Noted for its ability to treat several nervous system conditions including from anxiety to epilepsy, this herbal remedy is wonderful for soothing a troubled mind and frayed nerves. I love to keep skullcap on hand as a glycerite – a non-alcoholic tincture that’s safe for children and recommended for those with alcohol sensitivities. While glycerites of skullcap are available in natural pharmacies, it’s easy to make your own at home. Simply fill a pint mason jar mason jar half full of dried skullcap (or chamomile or lemon balm) and then add 12 ounces of vegetable glycerine and 4 ounces distilled water. Shake the jar every day or so and after 2-4 weeks, strain out the herb. Take a couple of dropper full 1-3 times per day as needed. Glycerites last for about 2 years, and are quite economical, alcohol-free, and taste good. Note: Purchase your bulk herbs from a reliable source. I recommend Mountain Rose Herbs.
Keep Calm and Drink Kava Kava
A drink hailing from the western Pacific, where it’s been consumed as a social beverage and medicine for centuries, kava is now becoming more popular in the US. The kavalactones in the root act as natural muscle relaxants, so this herb is especially useful for the physical tension we hold on our shoulders and backs. Two of my favorite kava products are Kava Stress Relief Tea by Yogi Teas – which has a nicely balanced flavor profile; and Taki Mai, a prepared drink that comes in several tropical flavors. Kava should not be used during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. Taki Mai is great for travel or when you don’t have the luxury of making a cup of hot tea.
Lovely Lavender for Aromatherapy
Let’s not forget the power of essential oils for a relaxation help, too. My go-to is lavender. Just a slow inhalation from an open bottle of lavender oil is often all the aromatherapy I need to begin to relax, but there are many other ways to enjoy the benefits of essential oils. Essential oil diffusers are handy to add a calming scent to a whole room. Wearable diffusers like necklaces can be a handy way to bring a relaxing fragrance with you wherever you go. You can make a lavender mist by putting 12 drops of lavender essential oil in one ounce of water in a bottle with a sprayer. Mist it over your pillows and bed before crawling in for a good night’s sleep or at work for a little office chill. Note: Lavender oil is also available to be taken orally. The product Silexan has been shown in numerous clinical trials to be a safe and effective remedy for anxiety. Nature’s Way Calm Aid contains the lavender oil used in the clinical trials.
Be Prepared, Girl Scout Style
From teas to tinctures to oils, herbal allies for relaxation come in many forms. It’s best to be prepared ahead of time though because when stress starts building the last thing you need is to add another errand to the to-do list. Stock your tea cupboard and your medicine cabinet well so you can ward off tension, begin to relax, and get plenty of sleep.
At Day’s End
Every night I read a passage from Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakenings. It helps quiet and centers me. Then I take my journal and write a few sentences about my day, focusing on those things that were good: a loved one who sent a text or called, when the lady at the grocery store smiled at me, or my beautiful Shepherds coming to greet me with tails wagging and love on their faces. And I give thanks for this precious gift that is my life.
May 1 is one of four cross-quarter days, midway between an equinox and a solstice. It stems from the ancient festival of Beltane, which relates to the waxing power of the sun at this time of year. Wrapping a Maypole is its most recognized tradition.
Maybe there really was a time when America was more innocent.
Back when May Basket Day was a thing, perhaps.
The curious custom — still practiced in discrete pockets of the country — went something like this: As the month of April rolled to an end, people would begin gathering flowers and candies and other goodies to put in May baskets to hang on the doors of friends, neighbors and loved ones on May 1.
In some communities, hanging a May basket on someone’s door was a chance to express romantic interest. If a basket hanger was espied by the recipient, the recipient would give chase and try to steal a kiss from the basket hanger.
Perhaps considered quaint now, in decades past May Basket Day — like the ancient act of dancing around the maypole — was a widespread rite of spring in the United States.
May Basket Tales
Through the 19th and 20th centuries, May Basket Day celebrations took place all across the nation:
A reporter in the Sterling, Ill., Gazette in 1871 explained the seasonal ritual this way: “A May-basket is — well, I hardly know how to describe it; but ’tis something to be hung on a door. Made of paper generally, it contains almost anything, by way of small presents you have in mind to put in it, together with your respects, best wishes — love, perhaps. It is hung after dark at the door of anybody the hanger fancies. — Which done, the said hanger knocks and scampers.”
The writer went on to say, in the spirit of the times, that if a boy hangs a May basket on a girl’s door and the girl catches him, “it’s a great disgrace.” If a girl is the hanger, “it disgraces the boy again not to catch her.”
In St. Joseph, Mich., the Herald reported on May 6, 1886, “little folks observed May Basket Day custom in hanging pretty baskets to door knobs.”
The Taunton, Mass., Gazette in May 1889 told the story of a young man who got up very early and walked a mile and a half to hang a basket on his sweetheart’s door, only to find another basket from another beau already hanging there.
“With the young, in rural communities especially,” the St. Louis Republic reported on May 1, 1900 — in archaic speak, “it is May Basket Day — when the youthful fancy manifests its turn to thoughts of love by surreptitiously leaving baskets of spring flowers on the stoop appertaining to the home of the one adored.”
Two bold children hung May baskets on the White House front door on May Day 1925. The Indiana, Pa., Gazette reported that first lady Grace Coolidge found her admirers and gave them flowers she had picked.
In Dunkirk, N.Y., the Evening Observer observed on April 30, 1932, that young people were collecting samples from wallpaper dealers and “creating baskets of all sorts and varieties as to size, shape, and color, and will hang them on the doors of their friends at dusk on May Day.”
Writing in the Humboldt, Iowa, Independent in May 1976, the local extension home economist reminisced: “What a gallant occasion Mother made of May baskets. Lists were made and rewritten. It became almost as exciting as Christmas.” Her family used old milk cartons for containers and they made popcorn and Boston cremes for each basket. People in her community returned May baskets to their owners at Halloween.
Here and there you can find recollections of May Basket Days past. Marci Matson, director of the historical society in Edina, Minn., writes: “The practice has a long history, stemming from the European pagan festival of spring, Beltane. The more raucous elements were toned down after the continent became Christianized, but the May pole dance and May baskets survived in a more G-rated form.”
She points to other reminiscences: Joan Gage in A Rolling Crone remembers making baskets as a child in Milwaukee and leaving them for old folks in the neighborhood, just for the kindness of it.
From Alcott’s story: “Such a twanging of bells and rapping of knockers; such a scampering of feet in the dark; such droll collisions as boys came racing round corners, or girls ran into one another’s arms as they crept up and down steps on the sly; such laughing, whistling, flying about of flowers and friendly feeling—it was almost a pity that May-day did not come oftener.”
Eventually, May Basket Day — like the spring flowers arranged in the baskets — began to wilt and droop. Though vestiges of the sincere ceremony still pop up on the Internet, the in-real-life event has pretty much evanesced.
Observing May Day traditions on May 1, 1963, an Associated Press reporter in Providence, R.I., wrote that there were only a “few May baskets hanging from door knobs” that year.
“Remember May Basket Day?” a syndicated columnist asked in the spring of 1963.
So what happened? Maybe the ritual receded because of a national fall from innocence. Or an increased desire for get-off-my-lawn privacy. Maybe modern innovation overwhelmed the May basket tradition: A household-hint adviser suggested “May Baskets from plastic bottles” in the Belleville, Kan., Telescope in 1976.
Whatever the case, Madonna Dries Christensen, a writer in Florida, is not totally sure she wants the habitual ritual to flourish again. “I harbor a fear that some major company will rediscover May Basket Day and mar its simplicity with commercial baskets, cards and trinkets,” she writes in her 2012 memoir, In Her Shoes: Step By Step. “To ward off that calamity, please do not share this … with anyone who might be in cahoots with such a manufacturer.”