2016 October 16 by Dr. Randy
Life has many stresses, and often we are juggling tasks, rushing to activities, and putting out fires in a busy schedule. All of these activities stimulate the sympathetic nervous system. They keep us in a mode of constantly handling emergencies.
The sympathetic nervous system is the fire fighter that responds to demands and perceived threats. This is a very useful function for keeping us safe and alive in dangerous situations. We respond almost instantaneously to a threat. Our foot hits the brake before we think about it, our hand recoils from a hot pan without our conscious intent. People who can handle a barrage of daily crises are often seen as efficient. But persistent stimulation and vigilance creates tension, and that tension can take its toll on bodily functions, resulting in high blood pressure, headaches, inflammation, heart disease, and anxiety.
The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) calms the mind and body. It provides a counterbalance to the many distractions and calamities of the day. It is exceedingly simple to activate the PNS through a whole range of nurturing activities: meditation, deep breathing, yoga, and even just being in nature. These relaxing activities cause a release of tension and its harmful effects. If we incorporate these activities into our daily routine the result will be a sense of ease, comfort, and increased happiness.
Just doing deep breathing will cause a shift from tension to relaxation. Deep abdominal breathing is a simple technique that can be done at a desk several times a day, at a red light in traffic, or during any short break in a hectic schedule. Sit for one minute and just focus on the in and out of breathing. Make this a habit through the day to relieve stress.
More formal meditation sessions in the morning and evening provide a powerful tool for activating the PNS, resulting in long-term benefit for muscular tension, anxiety, and adrenal stress. It will help keep blood pressure under control and calm the mind to become more efficient with a relaxed and less frenetic pace. Many guided meditations are available online. Those from Insight Meditation Centers are especially helpful and easy to access.
For those who prefer a more active form of relaxation practice, yoga or tai chi may be a better fit. Yoga provides the benefits of meditation with a stretching and energetic practice. Tai Chi and Qi Gong are moving forms of meditation. These will require regular classes, but the popularity of yoga has created many opportunities and choices through yoga studios and classes at fitness centers in most communities. Tai Chi and Qi Gong are often offered as a series through local recreation centers. They are especially suitable for older patients who need gentle movement forms.
Getting out into nature has been documented in countless studies to counteract stress. Any form of exposure through hikes, walks outdoors, the ocean, or the forest will benefit physiological functions and relieve tension. Similarly, exposure to animals is beneficial whether they are pets, wild birds, or squirrels. Take breaks from work and get outdoors. Take children to the park. It’s good for them too. Put these activities into your calendar and make time to just enjoy the trees and clouds.
2015 September 3 by Dr. Randy
Here are my five tips to maintain your good health and stay young.
Keep moving. Avoid sitting. If you must sit for your job or school, take frequent breaks to walk and stretch. Climb stairs instead of using an elevator. Schedule exercise at the gym and go for walks or runs on other days. Remember, your metabolism slows down by ten percent every decade after you reach 40 and you need to step up your activity to compensate. Regular exercise will improve your mood and prevent gradual weight gain.
Unless you are a serious athlete, avoid eating starches. Cut down on baked products and grains that slow metabolism and contribute to weight problems. Your diet should be primarily fruits, vegetables, and protein sources from dairy, eggs, meats, nuts, and beans. Eat whole foods and avoid processed food in packages. And try to eat as clean as you can, avoiding produce treated with pesticides and meats from animals fed hormones and antibiotics.
Get out into nature. Exposure to trees and the outdoors improves bodily functions, lowers blood pressure, and improves your mood. Go for a walk in the evening. Go for hikes in the forest on the weekend. Breathe the fresh air. Studies have shown that even putting a picture of the ocean, the mountains, or a forest at your work station has a positive effect on your health.
Maintain a spiritual practice. Meditate or practice relaxation techniques with deep abdominal breathing. Go to a yoga class. Your spiritual life will help to balance the inevitable stress that accompanies your busy daily schedule. Take a break and focus on your breath. It will help to slow things down and maintain a positive outlook.
Your daily supplement program should be tailored to your individual needs, but most everyone will benefit from taking vitamin D, probiotics, and omega 3 fats from fish oil. Anyone over 50 should also consider taking antioxidants that prevent inflammation and the changes that accompany aging. Supplements like resveratrol, astaxanthin, n-acetyl cysteine, and L-carnitine are all powerhouse anti-aging antioxidants.