Stress Management


Okay…I knew it was yesterday.  How could you miss the hype?  You’d have to be bound and gagged and locked in a room shut off from any communication to not know.  You may have guessed, I’m not a football fan—nor am I a fan of Super Bowl parties.  Yes, I could sit in a room full of shouting and cheering people eating and drinking themselves into Super Bowl heaven, or I could go out for a run.  I live in beautiful Southern California—I decided to run.

It was 72 degrees and the sun was shining.  A gentle breeze was blowing over the Back Bay in Newport Beach.  I laced up my Asics Gel-Cumulus shoes, set my IPod Nano to my favorite song list and started out at a slow jog—to work out the kinks.  Stairway to Heaven drifted into my ears as I gazed at the deep blue bay.  Flocks of birds peppered the sky. 

I picked up the pace as I turned the corner and passed a woman pushing her baby in a stroller.  She smiled and waved.  I guess she didn’t care about missing Beyoncé’s highly touted, “live” half-time performance.  I pushed on as I wiped the sweat from my left eye and took a long drink from my water bottle. 

I ran along Pacific Coast Highway and over the bridge as I turned around and back toward the Back Bay.  Two bicyclers flew by from behind.  I cruised along the straightaway—effortlessly.  I was free and light.  Chariots of Fire floated into my ears.  I made the final push up the hill to the lookout point on Eastbluff.  I made it—10 miles. 

I took a deep breath and walked a bit to cool down.  I always love the way I feel after a run—peaceful, happy.  Isn’t that what running is really about?  I hope it was a good game—for those who stayed indoors to watch it. Maybe I’ll catch the Super Bowl next year. 

 

Note:    My book, Breaking Barriers, will be published in 2013.  Email me at dolores@breakingbarriersblog.com if you are interested in being included on the email list.  “No, sheer effort is not the key to getting what we want.  It’s much easier than that.  Yes—easier.”

Happy New Year!  I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and didn’t get sick.  I did!  I got a bad case of the flu.  I’m an avid runner—isn’t that supposed to keep me healthy?  I just heard on the news that we are having the worst flu season in years and to get your flu shot ASAP.  I, for one, do not believe in flu shots.  I got one back when I worked in public accounting in the 1970’s and then got the flu.  Oh yes, I heard that the shots are different now, but I haven’t complied and the last time I got the flu was about 25 years ago—that is until this last Christmas.

I took a trip back home, to freezing Wichita, Kansas and to temps in the 30’s.  That is not comfortable for anyone but especially a lightweight from Southern California.  My parents hosted Christmas dinner to 25 people.  It was wonderful until later that night when I started throwing up at about the same time my son started throwing up.  Then I heard my sisters’ family was all throwing up.  Then a couple of days later my parents got sick and then my sister got sick.  About half of the dinner attendees got the flu.  Yuck!

I have always prided myself on being healthy.  I take various vitamins and herbs and I exercise frequently.  I am surprised that my immune system would allow me to get the flu.  But the fact is, the strength of our immune systems depends on many factors such as stress, what we eat, how much we sleep, and how we exercise.

Let’s focus on how we exercise.  I did some research on running and the immune system, since I run.  But it makes sense that you could expand this information to other forms of aerobic exercise.  It appears that 30 to 40 minutes of moderate daily exercise will strengthen the immune system while longer runs will weaken it temporarily.  The longer and more intense you work out, the more cortisol levels increase and this can weaken the immune system for up to three days.   The good news is that if you allow your body to recover, then your immune system will adapt and get stronger.  That is why rest is very important, especially after an intense workout like a long distance run or speed work.    

It was also interesting to learn that long slow distance can weaken your immune system more than a shorter intense workout.  Why?  Long slow distance uses slow-twitch muscle fibers which feed on simple sugars—the same as the immune system.  So it’s important to not increase volume and intensity at the same time.  Keep your intense workouts short.  Here is a great link on how to keep your immune system strong.  http://www.runnersworld.com/health/immune-it-all

If you want to read about studies conducted on running and the immune system, try this link.  http://www.pfitzinger.com/labreports/immune.shtml

So, I’m thinking, yes, I have been training hard the last two months to get my running speed and mileage up to where it was before I quit running and just did yoga for two months.  I have increased volume and intensity at the same time and stressed my immune system.  My body is telling me to relax and slow down.  The moral of this story is to listen to your body.  I survived the Kansas weather and the flu and hope to not have to experience the flu again for at least another 25 years.  Run smart and stay healthy this winter. 

Note:    My book, Breaking Barriers, will be published in 2013.  Email me at dolores@breakingbarriersblog.com if you are interested in being included on the email list.  “No, sheer effort is not the key to getting what we want.  It’s much easier than that.  Yes—easier.”

Stress is something that is hard to define.  It affects us in different ways.  But we all agree that stress wreaks havoc on the body and the mind.  The effects of stress are ugly indeed and range from depression, anxiety, heart attacks, stroke, immune system disturbances, rashes, gastrointestinal problems, insomnia and the list goes on.

At the age of 57, I have learned to manage my stress through exercise and I also use self-hypnosis (see Premium Content).  As a result, I am highly fit and mentally healthy (I think).  I learned my lesson the hard way.  When I was in my twenties I had a nervous breakdown.  I did not know how to relax, I perceived my job in a big eight CPA firm as overwhelming and I suffered from insomnia.  It got so bad, that I checked myself into the hospital—terrified of facing one more day. But it was this very difficult experience that introduced me to the relaxation technique of self-hypnosis.  A couple of years later, I discovered exercise, specifically running, and that was when my health dramatically improved.

Does running reduce stress?  Of course.  Using myself as an example, I have faced many difficult life challenges since my twenties and I used running to help me through all of them.  Running is a great way to work off anger and anxiety.  I ran my way through a divorce, business dissolution, emotionally abusive relationship and this last devastating recession.  Yes, I’m an executive recruiter and I’m still standing–but that’s another story.  I emerged from my life challenges—healthy and strong.

Besides the anti-aging benefits (see October 23rd blog entry) and the ability to burn approximately 100 calories an hour, running lowers blood pressure and decreases bone and muscle loss.  Besides feeling better about your slimmed down body, there are additional psychological benefits to running.  Running can be a way to spend quality time with yourself or to socialize.  Running releases endorphins, the “feel good” hormone.  Endorphins reduce pain, enhance the immune system and relaxation.  As an avid runner, I appreciate the feel-good effects of running.  If I go a couple of days without running, I start to feel agitated.  Yes, running can feel good!

But it is not only running that produces all of these benefits, any form of aroebic exercise will work.  Walking is a great way to start if you are not accustomed to exercise.  Of course there is bicycling, skiing, tennis, swimming—to name a few.  The point is the get out there and move.  It’s not too late to start experiencing increased energy and vitality–at any age.

 

 

 

I am living proof of the anti-aging benefits of running.  After running for over 30 years and completing 14 marathons to date, I am in the best shape of my life.  This is evidenced by my personal record in the marathon last May at the age of 57.  My time of 3:53:23 qualified me to run the Boston Marathon for the second time in my life (qualifying for the first time at the age of 54).

I can also say that I am the happiest I’ve ever been—more at peace.  I always relied on running to carry me through the various challenges of my life.  Yes, life always looked better after a run.  Due to a long-term study by the Stanford University Medical Center, there is now evidence to support my over-the-top long-term marathon habit.  Maybe I’m not so crazy after all…

This study followed 500 runners, all 50 years and older, over 20 years and produced some very interesting and enlightening results.  Long-term running produces numerous benefits as we age.

Runners enjoy a longer life and quality of life.  Nineteen years into the study, 15% of the runners had died compared to 35% of non-runners.  In addition, runners lived 16 years longer without the incidence of disability as compared to non-runners.  Even better news was uncovered for runners who ran into their 80’s.  Their incidence of cancer, neurological disease and other infections decreased even further.

Running improves neurogenesis in the brain.  Running creates new neurons and encourages connections between brain cells enhancing overall brain function as we age.  This wards off Dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Running reduces stress and increases well-being.  It is well known that running releases endorphins and serotonin, but it also increases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that affects the reward and motivation areas of the brain.  While stress kills brain cells, running improves brain performance and enhances well-being and encourages an active life-style as we age.

Runners are healthier.  Running decreases the risk of death by 50% as compared to non-runners by improving the heart and immune system, lowering resting blood pressure.  Running increases blood flow which reduces hardening of brain arteries and encourages the body’s production of anti-bodies and lymphocytes or T-cells that fight off cancer and infections.

So what is the best workout program to stay young?  According to John Ratey, M.D., start well-before your senior years and do some form of aerobic activity six days a week for 45 minutes to an hour.  This should include two sessions a week for strength training with weights and 2 sessions a week of balance and flexibility exercises like yoga, dance or martial arts.  Dr. Ratey recommends running the most since it benefits the heart, the immune system, increases brain neurogenesis and emotional well-being.

If you are a senior and aren’t accustomed to exercise, Dr. Ratey recommends seeing a doctor first.  Walking is a good low intensity aerobic activity to start until you are ready to increase the intensity.  The benefits are great even when starting an exercise routine later in life.

When I am not training for a marathon, my weekly work-out routine includes four days of running five to seven miles (including one speed workout), one long run of 10 to 11 miles, two days of weight training (including one circuit-training workout) and one day of yoga.  The weight training is key in keeping my bones strong and maintaining upper body strength and the yoga is key in maintaining what little flexibility I have and will allow me to run for many years to come.

So there you have it.  The evidence is quite clear—exercise.  Even if it isn’t running, do something aerobic and improve the length and quality of your life.  Life is a wonderful gift—get out there and enjoy it!

 

 

Stress will make you old.  There are very few people who will disagree with that comment.  Just look at a recent picture of President Obama and compare it to when he was running for office…  Most of us will also agree that being President of the US is a stressful job so the connection between stress and aging seems real.  Now, however, a scientific study has linked chronic stress to cellular disintegration.  It is always nice to have scientific evidence of something we already know is true.

‘Stress’ is a word that conjures up so much stuff in us.  What does it mean anyway?  Is it a disease, a condition…a state of mind?  Whenever something feels bad, we call it stress.  But what is stressful to me may or may not be stressful to you and certainly not to the same degree.   For instance I feel some stress before I speak before a group but I know a couple of deep breaths will calm me down,  while someone else’s experience of public speaking is much worse and they make themselves sick thinking about it—to the point of not speaking at all.

The term “stress” was coined by Hans Selye back in 1936 who defined it as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.”  Selye made the connection that most diseases were not caused by specific pathogens (like Tuberculosis is due to tubercle bacillus), but instead that many different insults could cause the same disease.  We all feel stress on an individual basis and it manifests differently in all of us.  I get sinus infections and someone else has a heart attack.

So the key, it seems is to manage our stress.  There is also scientific evidence to support that exercise is a great way to manage stress.  First of all it can release pent up emotions (anger) and it decreases ‘stress hormones’ like cortisol and increases endorphins.  Exercise increases our physiological reactivity toward stress.  I feel more relaxed and at peace after a run or workout.

I have a close friend who is athletic and regularly exercises.  However, over the past two months, he has allowed other factors in his life to take priority like work, kids, and issues with his ex-wife.  He has tough issues to deal with right now and has not exercised on a consistent basis.  I have seen his demeanor change and I think he might blow up.  Think about it, have you ever made a wise decision when your thoughts are racing?

There are many ways to manage stress but I have found exercise to be a major factor in my ability to stay healthy and centered.  It was not until I started running in my mid-twenties that I began to better manage my life.  I had a nervous breakdown in my early 20’s and suffered from anxiety attacks (see My Story).  I still deal with ‘crisis’ in my life like the ability to make a living during the recession and a dysfunctional love relationship, but I assure you, I can manage myself though these situations and come out a better person on the other end.  After all ‘crisis’ or ‘stress’ is a state of mind.  One advantage of getting older and wiser is that we realize it really isn’t worth worrying about.  Tomorrow is a new day and a new beginning.