These little gestures don’t just feel good; they’re good for you. Smiling and laughing have been shown to reduce the amount of the stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline, dopac and growth hormone in your body. Stress is physically damaging to your body. In addition to fueling weight gain and acne, negative feelings actually have a negative effect on your immune system. Over time, prolonged stress is believed to play a role in a host of dangerous conditions, from stomach ulcers to heart disease. Smiling, even when you don’t feel happy, can do a lot to alleviate stress and negativity. And just one minute of laughter releases endorphins that can dramatically improve a person’s mood for hours.
So remember to share a smile with a stranger. Or give yourself permission to take a few moments for yourself and think about something pleasant. Your happiness is more than your state of mind — it’s your health.
Or skip. Or ride. Or run. The positive effects of exercise are irrefutable. But cardio doesn’t have to include a treadmill or a lot of time. Doctors recommend that you keep your heart rate in the cardiovascular range for a minimum of only 20-25 minutes a day. Did you know those minutes don’t have to be consecutive? A few minutes of physical activity here and there add up fast. You can pick up the pace when you’re vacuuming, power walk with the dog and fly up the stairs to work. A night out dancing can easily amount to an hour or two of cardiovascular exercise. A regular workout routine is an excellent habit, but when you can’t find the time, just dance!
You can improve your health and mood by improving something you already do thousands of times each day: breathing. As adults, we adapt the deep breaths we took instinctively as children to fit our hectic, anxiety-ridden lifestyles. The average person takes shallow, quick breaths that use only fractional lung capacity. Deep, slow breathing can relieve stress, increase blood flow and make your digestive system work more efficiently. It also has a major impact on the function of the lymph system, a major player in your immune system.
Try to take a few minutes out of each day when you know you will not be interrupted to concentrate on your breath. Sit or lie in a quiet place and consciously let the tension drain out of each part of your body. Begin by exhaling all of the air from your lungs. Then, through your nose, slowly inhale a deep, full breath. Let the air expand into your abdomen and your rib cage, and be careful not to lift your shoulders or let tension into your neck. When you have taken in as much oxygen-rich air as you can, hold it for one full count, then breathe out slowly through your mouth until you cannot exhale anymore. Repeat this ten times, or until you feel calm and refreshed.
Water is an amazing gift you can give your body. It can help you lose weight and keep your skin looking younger. It can cure a headache and an aching back. The human body needs a sufficient supply of water to support ample brain function.
Most of us don’t hydrate nearly enough. The recommended 6 to 8 glasses per day is only a baseline. Active people should drink even more, and if you consume alcohol, caffeine, or other dehydrating drugs, your water requirement goes up again. If you find it hard to guzzle that much in a day, find a way to make your water more palatable or more convenient. Bottled, sparkling, tepid or chilled, most people find they have a preference and can drink much more of their selected variety. You can also try enhancing water with refreshing flavors. Cucumber slices and lemon wedges are favorite additives at the spa, but almost any fruit can add a hint of zest to your beverage. Experiment with combinations of other fruits, like raspberries, strawberries or tangerines. And remember, water isn’t limited to its classic form. Eating a diet rich with water-containing fruits and natural fruit juices can boost your hydration ratio, too. Lastly, make sure water is always accessible. Stow a few bottles in your car, your gym bag and by your bed at night. During the day we’re not always thinking about our health, so plan ahead and make it easy to give your body what it needs.
People with solid support systems tend to cope more successfully with stress and are more likely to bounce back from catastrophic events and personal tragedies. Conversely, those without a network of friends and family are more likely to suffer from depression, alcoholism, hypertension and other stress-related illnesses. When you talk through anxieties with trusted friends, you are doing more venting steam; you are practicing an indispensable human survival skill.
When faced with stress, the body reacts by releasing oxytocin, the so-called “bonding hormone.” The same chemical that is released when cuddling with a loved one and when a woman breastfeeds her newborn, oxytocin drives us to seek social contact with others. Women, whose higher levels of estrogen react with oxytocin, are more sensitive to this impulse than men, which helps explains why they favor a “tend and befriend” action over the more male impulse to “flight or flight.” However, both sexes are susceptible to this response and can significantly reduce the levels of stress hormones simply by talking through the dilemma or spending time with others. Whether it’s calling a sympathetic friend or getting a game in with the guys, exercising your social skills can improve both your mental and physical health.