Research has shown that meditation helps reduce stress and improve mental focus. In recent studies at Harvard, scientists showed volunteers how to meditate 30 minutes a day using focused attention on sensations like deep breathing.
After eight weeks, the meditating volunteers showed larger volumes of grey matter in their brains’ hippocampus (the memory-control region). Other studies show that meditation improves mental focus and attention and often improves feelings of well-being — all of which help reduce chronic stress.
Unfortunately, some people find it difficult to sit still and meditate. They prefer relaxation exercises that incorporate physical movements.
One popular option is any form of yoga that integrates sequences of poses and breathing exercises to foster relaxation while improving balance and flexibility.
Another stress-reducing physical and mental exercise technique is the Chinese martial art called Tai Chi, which is a great type of exercise for older people who may be prone to injury, because it does not put stress on the joints. In addition, Tai Chi has been found to reduce stress, fatigue, and pain, and improve sleep.
Studies from the Chinese University in Hong Kong reported that volunteers who practice Tai Chi had improved memory abilities compared to subjects who simply did stretching and toning exercises.
Cardiovascular conditioning has also been shown to be tremendously effective for stress reduction. Just 20 minutes of brisk exercise each day can elevate hormones called endorphins, which act as a natural antidepressant and painkiller. This produces the “runner’s high” that many
Almost all forms of exercise provide the same benefit to your brain, whether it’s tennis, basketball, walking, or swimming. Even if you have a busy day and can’t get to the fitness center or park, try to make some kind of exercise part of your daily routine.
Simply walking briskly between meetings at work, or taking the stairs to get your heart pumping oxygen and nutrients to your brain cells will actually help reduce everyday stress.
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