REDMOND, Wash. — April 6, 2009 — Stress is a fact of life. However, with the declining economy and the looming tax deadline, many Americans may feel more stressed than ever and some are looking for solutions on how to cope. To help provide some answers, MSN, in honor of Stress Awareness Month, is offering people free and healthy tips and tools on how to help manage and reduce their stress levels.
According to an American Psychological Association report “Stress in America,” nearly half of Americans report that their stress level has increased over the past year, with as many as 30 percent rating their average stress level as extreme.* Specifically, eight out of 10 Americans listed money and the economy — 81 percent and 80 percent, respectively — as the main source of their stress.
Although Americans employ a variety of stress-management techniques, not all methods are particularly healthy. In fact, 72 percent of Americans say they either overeat, drink alcohol, smoke or gamble as a way to manage their stress.*
“Unhealthy coping techniques like a fast-food binge or stiff drink (or two) may temporarily de-stress you, but will make you feel worse in the long run,” said Martica Heaner, an MSN Health & Fitness expert and a co-author of “Lean Mommy.” “Anyone can take a positive, empowering approach to tackling stress by moving more and eating more nutritiously. If someone is not sure where to start, Fit Zone, a new fitness tool at http://health.msn.com, provides easy workouts to follow, with step-by-step exercises.”
Fit Zone was designed by Heaner for MSN and reviewed by Disa Hatfield, Ph.D, formerly based at the renowned Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. It can be used by anyone, from beginning to advanced exercisers, and provides detailed instructions for more than 100 exercises and workouts. Other features offered on MSN that can help combat stress include these:
Stress Level Calculator. The place to start. A self-assessment tool that gauges stress level based on the number of recent life changes a person has experienced. The score shows a rough estimate of a person’s current stress level and the likelihood that he or she will have health problems due to stress in the next 12 to 18 months. If the level is high, that is an indicator that a person needs to be proactive now in taking little steps to make his or her life a little easier.
Train by Type. An interactive feature that helps people find a personalized workout for their activity level and personality type. People take a short quiz and are presented with a series of six workout videos, motivational articles and tips tailored for each type.
My Wellness Center. A personalized tool that helps set weight-loss and fitness goals. People are able to track their daily progress and create custom meal and fitness plans unique to the user’s interests and goals.
Weight Loss Calculators. Three calculators that provide the tools to assess a person’s current body-shape status, and to help develop a sound strategy for keeping weight in check. These tools include a body mass index calculator, a metabolic calculator and a weight loss calculator.
Healthy Diet, Fit Body Blog. Written by Dr. Mark Dedomenico, medical director of the 20/20 Lifestyles clinic at PRO Sports Club, this blog focuses on the latest diet and fitness tips and trends.
Daily Dose Blog. Written by MSN Health & Fitness staff, this blog focuses on fast-twitch health news-of-the-day topics.
To de-stress during tense times, combine MSN.com fitness tools with Heaner’s top stress-fighting tips:
Listen to your belly and breathing. Whether it is office politics, screaming children or a quarrel with a friend or partner, the body takes a whack every time it encounters a stressful situation. A person may feel a tightening of the chest or stomach, or may get hot inside or feel like his or her blood pressure is rising. Do not ignore these signals. Do what is needed to lessen the pains of stress overload.
Bust a move. Anyone can get near-immediate relief from tension by simply starting to move their body. Exercise can be as powerful as anti-anxiety drugs (and healthier, of course). Continuous, whole-body movement such as walking, running, dancing or any cardio machine will be the most powerful. People should choose an activity suitable for their level of fitness, then start slowly to try to move for at least 10 to 15 minutes. If a person is super-stressed, waves of tension may release as soon as five minutes into the movement.
Get more sleep than usual. The first sign that life is turbulent is when the tossing and turning in bed begins. Stressful sleep sucks people into a cycle that is hard to escape, as they get more tired, the stress feels magnified. People are less capable of coping with problems if they are fatigued, so they need to coddle themselves and get more sleep. So, turn off the TV and clock more hours in bed (even if a few of them are still tossing). Find a time of day for even a 20 to 30 minute nap. If extra sleep is simply not an option, then take 5 to 10 minutes to meditate.
Eat to energize. A person might be feeling overweight, but may not have the time to diet or make drastic life changes. Instead of engaging in a mental tug-of-war over food choice, do not worry about calories, fat or being “good.” Instead, ask before every meal and snack, “Is this food zapping my energy and health, or is it making me stronger?” Choose nutritious substitutions whenever possible — nuts instead of candy, olives instead of crackers, brown rice or whole-wheat pasta over refined — and eat more fruit. Order reduced meat and add more veggies such as tomatoes and bell peppers to fast-food orders such as pizza, burgers and Mexican food. All the food that people eat gives the body vital nutrients that will help strengthen them from the inside out.
More tips, tools and daily active inspiration on how to manage and reduce stress are available at http://health.msn.com.
About Martica Heaner
MSN Health & Fitness expert Martica Heaner, M.A., M.Ed. writes a weekly column for MSN that focuses on keeping fit and losing weight. Heaner is a well-known exercise physiologist and nutritionist, an award-winning fitness instructor and a health writer. In addition to the MSN column, Heaner writes for a variety of publications such as Prevention, Shape, More, The New York Times, Glamour, Redbook and Men’s Health. Heaner is also the author of eight books published internationally, including her most recent, “Lean Mommy,” co-authored with Lisa Druxman, M.A., about eating more healthfully and getting in shape after having a baby. Heaner has a bachelor of arts in English and exercise science from Smith College and two master’s degrees, an M.A. in applied physiology and an M.Ed in nutrition, from Columbia University. Martica currently is completing her Ph.D. in behavioral nutrition and physical activity at Columbia University in New York City.
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* American Psychological Association, “Stress in America,” October 2008
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