#297 Relieving Stress

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Sometimes when people are under stress, they hate to think
and it's the time they need most to think.

Bill Clinton

10 Tips for Stress Relief

By Steve Edwards

Stressed OutStress is a part of everyone's life. And, as the tabloids remind us, even the most successful, fit, got-it-made-in-the-shade celebrities are not immune to it. It disrupts our ability to function at work. It affects our moods. It upstages the things around us which we should be grateful for. Stress distracts our attention and, when it does, it gains power in what becomes a vicious cycle of reacting to stress, and building on it. But even though we're all susceptible to its evils, we're also in control of how we let it affect us. Let's take a look at a few ways to keep our daily stress to a minimum.

As you might imagine, your lifestyle plays a huge part in how stress affects you. What you may not be aware of is just how important your diet is for how well your body can cope with it. It seems obvious that just eating better would help you deal with stress more effectively. Sure, but there are dissenting opinions over how if affects your body.

According to the American Dietetic Association: "It's a common myth that our bodies use more nutrients when we're under mental stress. Although pressures at home or work sometimes cause people to neglect eating well, we do not use any more or fewer essential nutrients while under stress."

InsomniaSince everything the body does alters its use of nutrients, this statement seems suspicious. According to Leo Galland, M.D., author of Power Healing (Random House, 1997), it's just plain wrong. "Chronic stress is not just harmful to the heart, it depletes the body's essential supply of magnesium, the nutrient most important for handling stress and contributing to sound sleep; relaxed, healthy muscles; and staying calm."

He goes on to add, "The fight-or-flight syndrome causes magnesium to pour out of the cells, which makes you more vulnerable to anxiety's negative effects. What's more, the substances we often reach for when we're tense—caffeine, sugar, high-fat foods and alcohol—leech even more magnesium from the body. Leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, on the other hand, are full of this nutrient. Load up on these foods if you're under a lot of stress. And it's not a bad idea to consider taking a magnesium supplement."

Choosing VegetablesJudith Wurtman, Ph.D., a research scientist at MIT, adds, "Complex carbohydrates are champion stress-fighters, too, because they boost the brain's level of the mood-enhancing chemical serotonin. These include an array of vegetables (broccoli, leafy greens, potatoes, corn, cabbage, spinach), whole-grain breads and pastas, muffins, crackers, and cereals. Make them a part of your regular diet. Bananas also help quell anxiety."

Is someone right or wrong here? It's hard to say, exactly, but we can make an educated guess. History shows that western science is usually slow to embrace ideas which are intangible or which lack scientific study, which probably explains the ADA's position. Common sense, however, makes a good argument for a nutrient-rich diet, regardless, since it would have many benefits beyond pure stress reduction. And, it must be noted, many of these unarguable effects, such as health, weight management, and fitness level, have the potential to reduce stress levels. Regardless, some caution should be used before embarking on a "de-stressor" diet of crackers and muffins.

The safe assumption is that if you eat healthier and pay closer attention to the details of eating, the level of stress in your lifestyle will most certainly decline. And if you feel more run down or sluggish as a result of stress, it can only help you to get back on your feet by making sure to get the proper nutrition from food and supplements. Here are a few ways to reduce the amount of stress in your daily life.

  1. MeditationTake some time for yourself. Even if it's only a few minutes a few times throughout the day, claiming some of your busy schedule for yourself in order to focus inward and relax can do wonders for your stress level. Of course, the more time you have the better, but the real key here is not time, but focus. Concentrate on yourself during this time and let those day-to-day troubles fall by the wayside.

  2. Exercise. Since you're reading this, chances are that you have already committed to exercise, but no study on stress ever leaves out its importance. Exercise makes your engine run smoother, removes toxins from the body, lowers anxiety, and makes you feel good about yourself. Nothing puts the brakes on a stressful day like a long walk, run, bike ride, or even a hardcore dose of P90X®.

  3. WaterDrink water. We can't stress (pun intended) the importance of drinking water. Water hydrates and cleanses your system, removes toxins, and makes you less hungry. Forcing yourself to drink a glass of water a few times a day is the simplest body regulator there is.

  4. Eat breakfast. Take time out for a healthful breakfast before your day starts. It will help you get going for your busy day and will keep you from feeling hungry just when you need to be gaining momentum. Keep in mind that breakfast doesn't mean "Trucker's Special." A grapefruit, banana, or protein shake are much better options.

  5. TeaDrink tea. With zero calories and a host of antioxidants—which are basically stress-combatants—tea provides rationale behind the historical significance of "tea time." This afternoon ritual was created with de-stressing on its agenda. Turns out this was a nutritionally sound practice as well. Just hold the scones with clotted cream.

  6. Stop and breathe. Not everyone has time (or interest) to work on meditation, but there is no doubt that more meditation would lead to a less-stressed world. Mini-meditation sessions focused on breathing can be stress reducers. It's as simple as taking a minute from time to time and just concentrating on your breathing. Sitting or standing quietly, take a deep breath, filling your belly up with air as you inhale. As you exhale, silently count "one" to yourself and empty your belly of air. Continue inhaling and exhaling until you reach the count of 10; repeat as often as you wish. It works.

  7. Soy SnackSnack well. Don't binge or just grab whatever is in sight once you get hungry. By taking some time to plan your snacks, you keep your blood sugar constant; nothing adds to daily stress more than a sugar crash. If food has ever altered your mood or made you feel sluggish, you know what we're talking about, and if it hasn't, you're probably not reading this anyway.

  8. Stretch. You don't need a full-blown yoga session to alleviate your stress (though that will certainly help). Finding a few minutes to stretch each day will both center your mind and elongate muscles that tend to contract as you become stressed. Starting each morning with 2 or 3 minutes of light stretching as soon as you get out of bed can do wonders for your outlook on the day. Remember, however, that in the morning you aren't warmed up, and when we say light stretching, we mean light. You aren't trying to exercise; just get your blood moving and muscles warmed up.

  9. YogaDo yoga. If you do have the time, try adding some yoga into your life. There's a reason it's the fastest-rising exercise in the western world. Yoga is a full-on assault against the daily onset of stress. It's a whole-body workout that combines body and mind to enable you to focus.

  10. Supplement your diet. But not just with magnesium, as Dr. Galland suggests—though magnesium is good. Ensuring you have enough vitamins and, especially, minerals will help you ward off stress. Two other supplements that are particularly useful are fish oil and antioxidants—these are two areas in which our diets are often deficient.

Related Articles
"7 Ways to Beat Holiday Stress"
"Your Brain on Exercise"
"Lower Your Expectations—Be Happier!"

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Steve EdwardsCheck out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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7 Ways to Slim Down the Irish Way

By Joe Wilkes

IrelandFor hundreds of years, the Irish have been stereotyped as beer-swilling, potato-eating louts, but in a 2005 survey by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development, Ireland's obesity rate clocked in at 13 percent, less than half the rate of the reigning obesity champ, the U.S. of A., still holding strong at 30 percent. (And that survey excluded leprechauns, who always bring the averages down.) So maybe there is something to the Irish diet and lifestyle that we could learn from. Sure, bar-fighting can burn between 800 and 1,200 calories per hour, but it turns out there are a number of other things the Irish are doing better than the Americans to keep off the pounds. Here are a few.

  1. BreakfastEat your breakfast. Like most northern European countries, the Irish tend to top-load their daily menu. A traditional Irish breakfast can include eggs, sausage, Irish bacon (which is much leaner than American bacon; similar in texture to Canadian bacon), potatoes, beans, black pudding (a blood sausage), white pudding (a pork sausage without blood and usually mixed with oatmeal or bread), and fried tomatoes, among other items. I grant you, just reading the list is enough to make me reach for the defibrillator, but the principle is sound.

    Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. When we wake up in the morning, our metabolism is still in sleep mode. If we skip breakfast, we stay in that slow-burning metabolism mode. Plus, if we have a decent breakfast, we won't be so hungry later that we'll binge at lunch or dinner. As opposed to Americans who eat their big meal in the evening and go to bed on an absurdly full stomach, the Irish tend to have their big meal at lunchtime, and in the evening just a light sandwich. A 2003 study at Harvard Medical School found that people who ate breakfast every day were 33 percent less likely to be obese than those who didn't. Growing evidence also supports that the benefits of not skipping breakfast can help prevent diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

    We're not recommending eating a full traditional Irish breakfast every day (the Irish don't either, at least not the thin ones). While delicious, all those sausages and puddings aren't going to get anyone on the road to weight loss, not to mention all the delicious butter (Irish butter also has a higher butterfat content than American, which is why it's so amazing) often used in the preparation. But having a big breakfast with whole grains, fruits, vegetables (those tomatoes and baked beans sound pretty good), lean meats, and egg whites is a great way to get your metabolism going each day and avoid late-afternoon/evening bingeing. And making your evening meal more of a snack than a banquet will also help keep the pounds at bay.

  2. Boiled MeatBoil your meat. The Irish and English are often mocked for their tendency to boil their meats and veggies until all flavor is leached out, but while we're deep-frying our chicken wings and Thanksgiving turkey, they'll be having the last laugh at the doctor's office. Boiling or poaching food doesn't have to be a ticket to Blandsville. Try poaching a chicken breast or fish fillet in wine or a flavored broth with garlic, onions, and your favorite vegetables. The seasoning of the boiling liquid is only limited to the chef's imagination, and can make for meltingly tender meat filled with flavor instead of fat calories from oil. There is a fear that boiling causes vegetables to lose their nutrients, but oftentimes the body has an easier time absorbing the nutrients from cooked vegetables. The best advice for vegetables is to eat a variety, prepared in a variety of ways, to maximize your nutrient absorption. For example, cooked tomatoes provide a much higher amount of lycopene than raw tomatoes—a perfect, healthy ingredient for your Irish stew. Click here to read some more ideas for one-pot meals.

  3. CabbageGo for the green. It's no news flash that cabbage is a staple in Irish cuisine. But not just cabbage; other leafy greens like kale are also popular. Cabbage has high levels of: iron; calcium; potassium; vitamins C, B1, B2, B3, and D; and lots of fiber. A study by the University of Utah School of Medicine found that eaters of cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables had a lower incidence of colon cancer. Cabbage and leafy greens are also very low in calories. If you're not crazy about cabbage on its own, you might try the Irish dish colcannon, in which cabbage or kale is mashed together with potatoes and other ingredients like white or green onions, garlic, or leeks. Traditional versions also include butter or cream, but chicken broth could easily be substituted to keep it on the light side.

  4. CarrotsGet back to your roots. In addition to greens, Irish cuisine also features a lot of root vegetables—and not just potatoes. Other roots favored on the Emerald Isle include carrots, parsnips, turnips, and rutabagas. They contain tons of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, while still being pretty low in calories. They're also pretty tasty, whether boiled, roasted, or mashed, or in some cases, eaten raw. They're great on their own or can add complex flavor and color to stews and soups. And they last a lot longer in storage than other vegetables—more than two weeks if refrigerated. Try replacing some of the potatoes in your favorite mash, gratin, or stew recipe with some turnips or rutabagas. It will zest up the dish, add extra nutrients, and bring down the calorie count.

  5. SalmonThink pink. As an island nation, Ireland has access to vast quantities of seafood, especially salmon, rich in omega-3 fatty acids which protect the heart. Salmon is also a great source of protein and other nutrients, while low in calories and fat. And the health benefits keep on coming. As recently as this week, a study was released wherein scientists have associated higher consumption of omega-3 fatty acids with increased grey matter in the parts of the brain that affect behavior and mood. So feeling blue? Have some fish and you'll be in the pink!

  6. GuinnessDrink Guinness. While this popular hearty stout has been referred to as a meal in a glass, it's actually not as high in calories as one might think. A pint has about 200 calories, not considerably more than regular beer. It also contains less alcohol than other beers. Guinness has 4.2 percent compared to Budweiser and Heineken which have 5 percent. It also contains a lot of B vitamins, which is helpful as alcohol often depletes them—so you at least can get a little closer to breaking even. It also contains a lot of flavonoids, antioxidants that help give it its dark color, and help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Some researchers have even found that Guinness, when not consumed in excess, has reduced cataracts—quite the opposite of getting "blind drunk." NNone of these benefits make up for the problems caused by alcohol drunk in excess though, and if you drink more than one or two Guinnesses a day, you'll be seeing it in your belly (read about the "Beer Belly Blues" here). Click here to read more about the health benefits of beer . . . and wine, too!

  7. Family WalkTake a walk. This is where Ireland and most countries in the world really have it over America. They walk. Aside from our propensity for super-sizing our meals and processing our food with any number of bad-for-us ingredients, Americans are really losing the battle of the bulge because of our sedentary lifestyle. Walking for 30 to 60 minutes a day speeds up your metabolism, burns fat, and builds muscle. If you don't have time to walk for an hour, even adding short jaunts to the office or the grocery store to your daily routine can have massive health benefits and greatly contribute to weight loss.

Related Articles:
"6 Survival Tips for Eating in Bars"
"6 Tips to Slim Down the German Way"
"Hungover for the Holidays"

Joe WilkesIf you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Test Your Spring Vegetable IQ!

By Joe Wilkes

Spring is here and some of the tastiest vegetables are back in season. How well do you know your spring veggies?

  1. AsparagusWhich two vitamins is asparagus especially rich in? Vitamins C and K. One cup of asparagus supplies you with the recommended daily allowance of vitamin K and a third of vitamin C. It is also a rich source of folate, B vitamins, and fiber. Asparagus is also a good diuretic. In fact, it was initially cultivated as a medicinal herb to help treat arthritis and rheumatism.

  2. Who were the first people to cultivate broccoli? The ancient Etruscans were the first known civilization to cultivate broccoli. It has been a popular vegetable in Europe for about 2,000 years. It is considered to be a cancer fighter; studies have shown that broccoli enthusiasts have lower incidences of colon, breast, bladder, prostate, and lung cancer. It contains high levels of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant. And the florets contain eight times as much beta-carotene as the stalks.

  3. RadishesWhat veggie comes in several varieties including Red Globe, Black, and California Mammoth White? The radish, a member of the mustard family, has many varieties of different colors and shapes. While radishes are often simply used as a garnish, they are rich in vitamin C, potassium, and folic acid. And one cup only has 20 calories (a great crunchy snack). Another bit of radish trivia—in Denmark, the comic strip Peanuts is called Radishes.

  4. Which vegetable was formerly cultivated medicinally to induce vomiting? Rhubarb. This extremely tart vegetable, a relative of buckwheat, was cultivated in various regions of China to help ailing patients throw up. Nowadays, it is known as the "pie plant" as when the stalks are cooked with sugar, they make a tasty pie.

  5. SpinachWho did a consortium of spinach growers erect a statue of in 1937? Popeye the Sailor Man. It has been mistakenly asserted that spinach is a good source of iron. It has some, but a 19th century study with a misplaced decimal point led many to believe it had 10 times more iron than it actually did. It is a rich source of calcium, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, E, and K.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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