Saturday, September 27, 2008

Stress Makes Us Fat, Part II

I mentioned yesterday that stress causes cortisol levels to rise. Increased cortisol levels result in more accumulation of fat around the middle. That is the most damaging location for excess fat (hence the reason Dr. Oz says it is more important to reduce your waist measurement than a specific number on the scale.)

There are numerous ways to reduce stress. Yoga is one. A gentle form of exercise that combines stretching and deep breathing, yoga's benefits include calming the mind and increasing flexibility and strength in the body.

Meditation, as I mentioned yesterday, is a good stress reducer. While it is possible for some to meditate for hours, most of us don't have that kind of time, or focus. The good news is that even 10-15 minutes helps reduce our stress levels. No "spiritual awakening" is required. Focusing on our breath going in and out, or a simple repetitive sound, or repeating a single syllable are all tools to calm the mind.

Walking and other gentle exercises also reduce stress. Getting out in the fresh air and in nature tends to bring calm and joy to us. Exercise while you are appreciating your surroundings and you are doing more than exercising your body--you are nourishing your soul.

By focusing on our breathing and the pleasurable things found out in nature, we can turn a walk into a "walking meditation." This is not the time to problem-solve or make a "to do" list. Be present and aware of your body and the surroundings--the sun sparkling on water, the pattern of the fall leaves, the flowers in the yards you walk past, the clouds in the blue sky.

If negative thoughts or tasks come to mind, say "not helpful" or "thank you, this is not the time" and get back to focusing on something positive--the sun warming your back, the cool fresh air on your face, the singing birds...

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