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Fit in the OV: Easy ways to reduce your stress

November 1, 2017

I’m sure we’ve all started noticing the signs of the impending holiday season: our mutual disbelief at how early Christmas decorations are going up, the television’s not-so-subtle reminders that diamonds and cars are the only presents worthy of our attention and that feeling of inevitability that soon—very soon—you and the rest of your family will hopefully adhere to the “no politics” rule established the last couple years at your holiday get-togethers. Just reading those sentences may have triggered stress for some of you.

While some stress is a fundamental part of life, it is especially exacerbated during this time of year. Chronic stress has led to heart attacks, infertility, diabetes and depression. It seems like every time we turn around, there’s another article (like this one) telling us just how bad chronic stress is, and the long-term effects stress hormones have on the body.

While that sounds like dire news, there is a silver lining to the dark cloud. Everything you need to combat the hijacking of your health by stress hormones can be found right here in Oro Valley. The reality of the matter is that de-stressing your life doesn’t have to be hard, it doesn’t have to take a lot of time and it doesn’t even have to cost money.

Right now in South Dakota, doctors are prescribing a literal “walk in the park” to some of their patients, as part of a national health initiative called Parks Rx. Many studies have proven that simply getting out in nature will lower stress hormones in the body, and even more studies are showing other positive effects to health regarding being outside. These studies are so plentiful that some Japanese companies are now having employees go “tree bathing” on company time, paying employees to simply be among the trees as they eat or rest. This has actually lowered insurance claims and resulted in higher productivity.

Lucky for us, there are plenty of opportunities for hiking and nature paths right here in Oro Valley. There are petroglyhps to find, cool pools of water, peaks to master and countless trails that are just waiting for you to discover. If hiking isn’t your thing, there are several parks to meet your nature needs. You don’t need a prescription from your doctor to enjoy a picnic at Riverfront Park.

Exercise is the king of countering the effects of stress on the body. While some people may enjoy a hike, many studies have proven that lifting weights, playing sports and taking recreation/fitness classes can be a valuable addition to your healthy lifestyle. Endorphins start pumping as we exercise, and our bodies literally burn away the stress hormones. However you choose to exercise, simply doing it will pay dividends throughout your health journey. Check out your Oro Valley Community Center or local gym for classes that sound interesting to you. Hit the weights; start small and make it a habit throughout the month. Keep track of your progress, and before you know it, you’ll impress yourself with how far you’ve come. Group classes are great for motivation, since the social bonds you create will help you get out on those days you feel like staying in.

While exercising and being out in nature are readily available and cost efficient, there’s still an easier way we can lower stress levels in our body: sleep. More than a third of Americans are not getting enough sleep at night. Studies show that getting 7-9 hours of sleep is necessary for cognitive function, and overall body health. Simply getting one more hour of sleep each night can have dramatic health benefits on the chronically stressed. Distractions like smart phones, iPads, television and laptops can be a major disruption to sleep. Experts say that those who have a hard time falling asleep should avoid those glowing screens (and social media) one hour before bedtime. Giving your eyes, and brain, a break from screen glow has been shown to help people fall asleep faster. This additional hour can lead to more energy, better memory function and lower stress hormones. 

Since we are in the season of gift-giving and thankfulness, make sure to give yourself the gift of better health this year. Chronic stress can lead to many health issues, that with just a little bit of effort, and even some fun, can be avoided. Your body will thank you later.

By Kevin Marts, Oro Valley Community Center manager - Explorer Newspaper, 11/1/17