I used to be a stress skeptic, always putting exercise and nutrition at the top of the list. However, after many years of seeing elite athletes and extremely fit type A corporate executives face conditions like heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, depression and anxiety, I've come to the conclusion that body composition is not a great marker for overall health.
In fact, my “overfit and underfat” patients who are obsessed with their waistline and body fat percentages at the cost of brutal workouts, insufficient rest/sleep, and minimal social connections and hobbies due to workaholic tendencies have lately become the patients I worry about as much as my sedentary, overweight patients.
I've covered stress in various prior blog posts, but thought I would organize some of this content in this post so you have some of my favorite resources in one place. I've also added some newer Youtube videos on my channel here and plan to add more on stress and other health topics, so do subscribe if you'd like the latest.
Breathing and Heart Rate
I cannot overemphasize how effective proper breathing is for regulating stress. The simple act of controlling your breathing automatically calms your sympathetic nervous system (aka “stress response system”) which allows you to be so much more centered in the midst of even the most challenging conditions.
Remember, stress management isn't the act of avoiding or eliminating external stressors.
Stress management is the practice of conditioning your mind and body to be able to handle inevitable stress with the least amount of physiological damage.
In other words, someone who is conditioned to handle stress through specific practices like breathing will have a lesser increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol (stress hormone), which means reduced damage to your heart, brain, immune system, digestive system and other vital functions. Speaking of blood pressure, I highlight how I use breathing to reduce blood pressure in this post, along with additional tips on reducing blood pressure naturally.
My patients with blood sugar issues like prediabetes and diabetes, often do not see complete normalization of their blood glucose until they have gotten their stress under control. Same with many of my patients, especially women, who struggle with weight loss. Instead of spending more hours in the gym trying to torture their body into losing those last pounds of body fat, they often do better when they initiate calming practices that reduce their overall cortisol levels. Remember, one of cortisol's many effects is to promote increased fat storage and this effect is especially pronounced in women.
Replacing a few of your boot camps with breathing, yoga and gentler forms of movement and activity often yield far greater mental and physical benefits in the long run.
Below are some of my videos explaining how to use various tools to teach you better breathing with and without heart rate monitoring. Some involve using the Apple watch while others can be performed with just your smartphone. Keep in mind that there are a growing number of Apps that might do similar things, so use whatever App you enjoy and that keeps you practicing regularly.
If you have neither a smartwatch or a smartphone, consider yourself lucky and just use the teaching points in these videos to sit quietly and breathe while watching your thoughts come and go like waves. You can monitor your pulse if you'd like before and after the old fashion way with your finger on your wrist, or on the side of your neck. In fact, for those of you with all the smart gadgets, eventually doing these practices without any devices as often as possible will feel completely liberating.
Below are some of my tutorials on the tools and to learn more about heart rate and heart rate variability (HRV), I updated my prior post a bit which you can find here. Also, the RID Family Program has a dedicated module on stress reduction for adults and kids.
A Few of My Past Talks to Review and Share
Below are some of the posts that I continue to get positive feedback on. For those of you with a male in your life who just isn't paying enough attention to their mental or physical health, have them read the very popular men's health post below.