6 Ways Relaxation Benefits Your Physical Health
Stress is a normal part of life. Practically everyone has had some sort of stressor in their life, including relationship stressors, job stressors, and financial stressors. While we can, “white knuckle it” through life’s stressors, it may be easier to practice relaxation exercises so that the perception of stress is less.
Relaxation exercises promote relaxation that has positive effects on the mind and body. Some ways that relaxation can benefit your physical health include the following:
- Relaxation is protective for your heart. Relaxation naturally decreases your heart rate, blood pressure, and the stress on the heart. Excesses of stress can do the opposite. Too much stress can increase the risk of heart disease by increasing blood pressure and heart rate, making the heart prone to heart attacks and other heart disorders. When you allow yourself to relax, you can actually protect your heart from diseases that are promoted by excess stress. No one knows exactly how stress damages your heart but things like increased blood pressure, increased catecholamine’s, and increased heart rate are believed to be the major culprits. Even stressors that are considered positive stressors, like getting married or having a baby, can increase the amount of catecholamines in the body, resulting in damage to the heart. This is why it pays to practice relaxation exercises on a regular basis.
- Relaxation decreases your risk of viral infections. Research out of the Carnegie Mellon University has studied stress for the last 3 decades. They found that people who are under chronic stress have an increased risk of viral infections, particularly the common cold. During the research studies, the scientists found that chronic stress (stress lasting at least a month) increased the risk of catching the common cold by 100 percent. This means you have twice the risk of coming down with a viral infection when under stress. Since then, the researchers have found that inflammation appears to be the reason why we are so susceptible to viral infections in the presence of stress. Stress seems to interfere with the body’s ability to counteract inflammation so that the immune system is less sensitive to the hormones that decrease the level of inflammation in the body.
- Relaxation increases your ability to memorize things. Studies have been done in mice under chronic stress and found that chronic stress interfered with the functioning of the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is that part of the brain we use to engage in cognition, abstract thought, and recognizing social cues. Other research in mice showed that brief episodes of stress blocked those parts of the brain responsible for learning and the ability to memorize things. In these studies, mice were exposed to stress and were placed in mazes. Those mice under the most stress did more poorly than mice who were not under stress. While this was a study in mice, there is every reason to believe that humans under stress would have the same reaction. Relaxation can counteract this negative effect of stress and can help you memorize things to a greater degree. Human studies on stress have indicated that the proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease are increased in the face of stress. This means that stress could be one reason why people develop the disease or why the disease progresses so rapidly in people who already have the disease.
- Relaxation decreases the risk of stroke. A study out of the University of Cambridge in 2007 showed that people who had an increased ability to cope with stress had a risk of stroke that was about 25 percent less than those people who were under stress and couldn’t cope with their stressors. Another study from 2011 showed that stress related to one’s work increased the risk of stroke by 10 percent. Relaxation and relaxation exercises might be able to counteract the effects of stress on the body’s risk of developing a stroke.
- Relaxation has a positive effect on your weight. Increased stress naturally leads people toward eating a poor diet that is high in calories, fat, and sugar. This increases one’s weight and adversely affects one’s self-esteem. Relaxation leads to better food choices and eating a diet that lends itself toward having a normal weight.
- Relaxation can curb cravings. People under stress release cortisol, which increases cravings and ultimately can increase your weight. Cortisol is released under situations of excess stress and the foods we choose while under stress tend to be higher in fat and sugar. Cortisol is believed to bind to those receptors in the brain that regulate the amount and type of food we crave. Those people who already are overweight may be more prone to increased cravings while under stress.