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The following is an excerpt from the book The Longevity Bible
by Gary Small, M.D. with Gigi Vorgan
Published by Hyperion; June 2006;$23.95US/$32.95CAN;
Copyright © 2006 Gary Small, M.D. with Gigi Vorgan

More Proven Stress Busters

There are a variety of other approaches that not only reduce stress, but also improve fitness, balance, and mental clarity. The following list includes a few examples.

  • Yoga. This ancient Indian practice promotes health and relaxation through a sequence of physical poses and breathing exercises that build strength, balance, and flexibility. It is effective in reducing stress and increasing mental clarity. Yoga has also been found to lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and a recent scientific study found that yoga combined with meditation in a six-week stress-reduction program led to significant improvements in cardiac health.
  • Tai chi. Pronounced "tie-chee," this Chinese form of exercise can reduce stress, increase strength, improve balance, and help prevent falls in seniors. Many of the movements, originally derived from martial arts, are performed slowly and gracefully, and emphasize deep breathing and relaxation. Scientists recently found that tai chi can improve heart and lung function. Researchers at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA reported that fifteen weeks of tai chi helped protect older adults against the shingles virus (the same virus that causes chickenpox), suggesting that the practice may boost immune function. Chi gong (pronounced "chee-gong") is a related ancient Chinese practice that shares many similar exercises that improve mental focus, movement, and breathing.
  • Self-hypnosis. This method generally combines relaxation techniques with visualization and imagery to induce a hypnotic state, which is essentially a very deep form of relaxation. Self-hypnosis has been found to lower stress levels, reduce pain, and alleviate some allergy symptoms. It can also improve concentration and memory ability.
  • Massage. Besides reducing stress, massage therapy has been used to relieve symptoms of various conditions, including migraine headache, back and neck pain, and fibromyalgia. Some experts speculate that massage may do more than just provide temporary pain relief and may actually activate the body's immune system. The National Institutes of Health has a Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine that is pursuing systematic studies on the health benefits of massage, and initial results are encouraging.
  • Get active and social. Physical activity not only improves health and strength, but helps us relax -- partly due to the hormone endorphin -- the natural antidepressant our bodies secrete during aerobic exercise. Enjoying a game of tennis or a brisk walk with a friend may reduce stress through the emotional benefits of social interaction.
  • Control clutter. Many people are unaware that a disorganized, overly cluttered home, work space, kitchen, closet, or any other place in which we spend time can lead to stress and heightened levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Reducing the clutter around us is a lifelong challenge that is best handled on a daily basis -- by putting things where they belong and tossing anything we don't need -- before clutter gets out of hand (see Essential 5).
  • Open up. One of the most effective ways to reduce stress is to talk about feelings with someone you trust. Whether it's your spouse, a best friend, or a professional, getting things off your chest can often help put problems into perspective and detoxify a stressful situation.
  • Plan ahead. Sometimes we know about or can anticipate a stressful situation before it occurs. It may be an upcoming holiday dinner at the home of a relative who always insults you, or having to show up at work Monday morning and report to an underling who got your promotion. Try looking at these situations as advance notices -- opportunities to arm ourselves emotionally to cope with the stress, and possibly avoid repeating mistakes we've made in similar situations when we didn't have time to prepare. Of course, whenever feasible, simply steering clear of a stressful situation altogether is a good longevity choice, but in many cases it just isn't possible.

Because everyone will respond differently to the various stress-reduction techniques available, it's a good idea to try several approaches until you find one or more that works best. Documented evidence shows that many of these techniques not only help you relax, but will benefit your health and longevity as well.

Excerpted from THE LONGEVITY BIBLE by Gary Small, M.D. Copyright (c) 2006 Gary Small, M.D. All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold.