After what has clearly been one of the most stressful years in recent memory, you may ask yourself “what can I do de-stress?”; do I have to go on a vacation and how can I remain hopeful and keep my blood pressure down? I’ve received these questions from teenagers and senior citizens to everyone in between (it’s been unprecedented). Whether it’s been the presidential election, climate change, civil rights protests, international war, hate crimes, criminal justice reform, terrorism, or just every day work, children, and family problems, trust me I have heard it all this year. Well, my answer is to make your physical, emotional, and spiritual health a priority every single day.
Some of the best exercise “get-aways” that I love are yoga, biking, Tai Chi, kickboxing, Pilates, and team sports. Yoga I have preached about for years, as many of you who have followed my columns over the past decade can attest. Its benefits are boundless. It improves flexibility and breathing, promotes a sense of oneness between the body, the mind, and the spirit. It also improves our circulatory system, metabolism, and weight, and helps us prevent injury. Pictured with this article is a client practicing this 10,000-year-old exercise.
Biking is a wonderful exercise to do, even during the fall months. It provides us with a change of scenery and fresh air. It can be very cathartic in releasing stress, and is also easier on the knees and legs. It’s something you can do at any age, and can become quite useful for senior citizens.
Tai Chi is a series of self-paced, flowing body movements and breathing techniques. It’s rooted in martial arts, and the movements are meant to calm the mind and condition the body. It improves bone density, lowers blood pressure, boosts our immune system, and eases symptoms of fibromyalgia, arthritis, and heart failure. Tai Chi also reduces inflammation, reduces falls, provides better mood, and lowers levels of depression, stress, and anxiety.
Kickboxing is a fantastic way to reduce stress. It’s a series of controlled punching and kicking movements, executed with discipline. It improves balance, flexibility, and coordination. It relieves frustration, tones muscles, teaches valuable self-defense moves, burns calories and body fat, and leaves you feeling sexy and confident.
Pilates is another exercise that I have preached about several times over the years. It’s a series of controlled movements and mat exercises that build strength, flexibility, and endurance. It’s a fantastic stress reliever. It tones the body. It elongates and improves muscle elasticity, and joint mobility. The combination of these things significantly lowers chances of injury.
Team sports are good for the mind and the body. You can ramp up the stress relief by having fun in these sports with friends and family. Whether it is tennis, dodge ball, soft ball, football, or soccer, you can have a blast working up a sweat, burning calories, and releasing endorphins. Team sports also builds confidence, develops relationships and bonds, encourages families to play together, teaches respect, and for students it contributes to stronger academics.
Adversity and stress can be quite difficult, even on a good day. In times when it can bombard every facet of your life, it can be overwhelming. My experience with stress is that often it is not the stress that severely weakens us; it is our reaction to it. The reaction can literally go in opposite directions: one consistently negative and the other consistently positive.
Of course there are many ways to channel frustration. With politics it can be peaceful protest, creating social media blogs, or contacting your local congressmen and senators. For family problems, therapy or counseling can help. If it’s an overload of negative news on the internet and television, changing the stations and websites can give you a break from it. News is like death and taxes, it will always be there without end, just like the sun always rising in the east.
A client of mine took a week off from the news this year. She checked the weather through an app on her phone, and that was the only thing she checked regularly that week. She said it was almost the equivalent of going away to an island for a week of vacation. Sometimes news, social media, and the internet can take complete control of our lives. There are times when we really must take that control back.
Lee Iacocca, the legendary president of Ford and CEO of Chrysler, once said, “In times of great stress or adversity, it’s always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive.” Exercise is one of the best ways of channeling the frustration. In addition to the emotional and spiritual release, it is also healthy for the body. When you speak to most people who have lived long lives, even into their 100’s, they will tell you positively handling stress played a key role in their longevity.
I hope some of these ideas will serve you well this year and next year. Please contact me at www.michaelroyshaw.com if you have any questions or feedback.
(ITALIC) Michael Shaw is a certified fitness trainer, sports performance nutrition specialist, owner of Shaw LLC, a member of the Maryland Advisory Council on Physical Fitness, and a fitness and fashion model agent. He can be reached at www.michaelroyshaw.com.