How To Relax And Feel Better

Dr. Mercola presents the latest health benefit news of relaxation and best methods of achieving it.

While 99 percent of Americans feel relaxation is important, most spend less than 5 percent of their day in pursuit of it, according to a survey commissioned by, fittingly, a major cruise line.  

 I assure you, once you get into the habit of daily relaxation, you won’t know how you did without it. And don’t feel guilty. Regular relaxation is every bit as important as proper diet, sleep, and exercise; it’s all a part of feeling your best, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Anxiety May Accelerate Aging, While Relaxing Slows It

Part of what makes relaxation so good for you is by tamping down the effects of stress and anxiety. For instance, a recent study revealed that anxiety disorders increase your risk of several aging-related conditions, which might be due to accelerated aging at the cellular level.

This cellular aging was reversible when the anxiety disorder went into remission, which suggests sound relaxation strategies may help you avoid this accelerated aging. In fact, you might be aware that your body has a stress response that kicks into gear when you’re facing a real (or perceived) threat.

The counterpart of the stress response is the relaxation response, which is a physical state of deep rest that changes physical and emotional responses to stress.

Previous research by Dr. Benson and colleagues also found that people who practice relaxation methods such as yoga and meditation long-term have more disease-fighting genes switched “on” and active, including genes that protect against pain, infertility, high blood pressure and rheumatoid arthritis.

The Many Health Benefits of Deep Relaxation

Once you get into the relaxation “zone,”  your body can benefit greatly.  For instance, a stress-management program has been shown to alter tumor-promoting processes at the molecular level in women with breast cancer.

Genes responsible for cancer progression (such as pro-inflammatory cytokines) were down-regulated while those associated with a healthy immune response were up-regulated.  In addition, relaxation may help:

  • Boost Immunity: Meditation is known to have a significant effect on immune cells,  and research shows relaxation exercises may boost natural killer cells in the elderly, leading to increased resistance to tumors and viruses.
  • Fertility: Research suggests women are more likely to conceive when they’re relaxed as opposed to when they’re stressed.
  • Heart Health: Relaxation via meditation (done once or twice daily for three months) significantly lowered their blood pressure and psychological distress, and also bolstered coping ability in people at increased risk of hypertension.
  • Mental Health: People who meditate note reductions in psychological distress, depression, and anxiety
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): When people with IBS practiced relaxation meditation twice daily, their symptoms (including bloating, belching, diarrhea, and constipation) improved significantly.

Money Is a Top Source of Stress for Americans

In case you were wondering, money tops the list of stressors to Americans, beating out work, family responsibilities and health concerns.  If you have trouble relaxing, perhaps you know this all too well.

Close to three-quarters of Americans (72 percent) said they feel stressed about money at least some of the time, and close to one-quarter (22 percent) said they experience extreme stress about money, according to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) latest “Stress in America” report.

What’s more, 32 percent of Americans said their lack of money prevents them from living a healthy lifestyle, while one in five have skipped (or considered skipping) needed doctor’s visits due to financial concerns.

Remember, it’s key to nip stress in the bud, because chronic stress – whatever the cause — disrupts your neuroendocrine and immune systems and appears to trigger a degenerative process in your brain that can result in Alzheimer’s disease.

In addition, when you’re stressed, your body releases stress hormones like cortisol, which prepare your body to fight or flee the stressful event.

When stress becomes chronic, however, your immune system becomes less sensitive to cortisol, and since inflammation is partly regulated by this hormone, this decreased sensitivity heightens the inflammatory response and allows inflammation to get out of control.

According to award-winning neurobiologist Dr. Robert Sapolsky, the following are the most common health conditions that are caused by or worsened by stress (which, theoretically, relaxation could help counter):

Cardiovascular disease Hypertension Depression
Anxiety Sexual dysfunction Infertility and irregular cycles
Frequent colds Insomnia and fatigue Trouble concentrating
Memory loss Appetite changes Digestive problems and dysbiosis

How to Evoke Your Body’s Relaxation Response

Click here to read Dr. Mercola’s entire article.

Article Summary

  • Anxiety increases your risk of aging-related conditions due to accelerated aging at the cellular level
  • Relaxation strategies may help you avoid this accelerated aging
  • People who practice relaxation methods have more disease-fighting genes switched “on,” including those that protect against pain, infertility, high blood pressure, and rheumatoid arthritis

photo credit: Flicker/Sarah McKagen

Effortless Healing: 9 Simple Ways to Sidestep Illness, Shed Excess Weight, and Help Your Body Fix Itself 

Hardcover – February 24, 2015

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