Carl Bourhenne's Fitness and Long Life Manual
Youthful and Attractive
The importance of Rest and Relaxation for Long Life is so profound that expressing its value adequately requires great effort. Indeed, understanding the importance of Rest and Relaxation for a healthy long life takes a deep understanding of the devastating enemy which we call "stress".
The following presentation on stress is intended to be an important lead-in to the section on Rest and Relaxation.
To avoid confusion this section will use the two words stressor, and stress, as follows:
Knowledge in the subject of stress as a health factor was greatly advanced by the well known stress researcher Hans Selye, a physiologist at the University of Montreal. Selye showed that stressors can come from outside of us, or from inside of us (our imagination, etc.). He also showed that a person's response to stress can have both mental and physical components, and that the mental and physical reactions can even interact with each other.
Selye showed that stress is a demand on us to adapt - either to a negative event such as an argument - or to a positive event such as love-making; so stress is not all bad. He showed too that extreme positive stress can be harmful, just as can extreme negative stress.
So, it is not the fact of a stressful event that is harmful to us, or even whether it is a positive (a new job) or a negative event; but, rather the harm comes when the stress is extreme or prolonged.
The determination of whether or not stress is harmful to us relates to the three stages of stress, as described by Selye.
THE THREE STAGES OF STRESS ARE:
Alarm, Resistance, and Exhaustion
In the first stage of stress, the Alarm stage, the body adapts to the stressor by activating the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine system. Adrenaline, noradrenaline, and corticosteroids are poured into the bloodstream. The heart rate and blood pressure are increased, as are the amount of oxygen, glucose, cholesterol, and some free fatty acids in the blood. The basal metabolic rate is raised, blood is shifted from the gastrointestinal tract toward the head and extremities, the number of one type of white blood cell (eosinophils) is decreased in the blood, and the brain's electrical activity is altered. We might not even notice these changes, depending on the severity of the stressor and on our awareness of our responses. At first we are upset and alarmed by these stressors, but we adapt and get used to them.
In the second stage of stress, the Resistance stage, we begin to use all of the forces which we marshaled during the Alarm stage, to resist the stressor. How long this goes on depends on the type and intensity of the stressor. Obviously, the longer it goes on, the more we are depleting and taxing the abilities, energies, and resources we activated during the Alarm stage.
If the stressor continues until we exhaust the abilities, energies, and resources activated in the Alarm stage and used up in the Resistance stage then,
The third stage of stress, the Exhaustion stage, sets in. The body's adaptation resources are used up and the person begins to suffer damage, and eventually dies, if the stressor is severe enough and continues long enough.
Autopsies on Selye's experimental rats who died of stress, showed the ravages of stress taken to the Exhaustion stage: Enlarged adrenal glands, atrophied lymph nodes and thymus glands, and gastrointestinal ulcers.
We might not be aware of the harmful effects of situations to which we think we have become accustomed, such as strenuous labor in extreme heat or cold, a frustrating romantic relationship, eyesight irritants, or relational conflicts; but repeated or continual exposure to stressors may be doing us more harm than we know.
We may become emotionally accustomed to the stressor, but the physical component will continue, breaking down the heart, blood vessels, hormones in the blood, nervous system functioning, and other organs and systems. In time, the final effect can be death from the accumulated damage.
In fact, stress has been associated by researchers with a wide variety of diseases, both mental and physical. Research has shown decidedly that stress can be a contributing cause of heart attacks, cancer, ulcers, diabetes, leukemia, infections, and even sudden death.
People experiencing stress have also been shown to have more accidents, athletic injuries, display neurotic symptoms, attempt suicide, and be hospitalized for depression and schizophrenia.
Stressors generate different levels of stress response, and each person responds to stressors in his or her own way and in varying degrees of stress reaction. What might cause an extremely stressful response in one person might be no stress at all for another person.
One of the reasons for the different effect which a given stressor can have on different people is that people perceive events in different ways. One employee might see a call from the boss as a threat of criticism, and another employee might see it as an opportunity to shine. Another reason for the different effect of a stressor on different people is the degree of impact the stressor might have. If a family man is turned down for a raise, the impact on his lifestyle can be significant, but a single man might not be as effected.
It is important to be aware of the fact that, since a stressor can be anything that calls on us to make any adaptation of any kind, stressors can be negative or positive events. Damage only occurs when the demand and response of adaptation continues into the Exhaustion stage. Thus, losing one's job can be a stressful event, but so can getting married and going on vacation, because they all call for some sort of adaptation, or adjustment.
If we adapt to these events in a smooth and timely way, we might suffer no harmful effects of stress. But if we do not adapt smoothly and in a timely way to such an event, we might suffer some degree of damage as a result of having to contend with the adaptation into Exhaustion.
Such major changes in people's lives as those mentioned - changes for better or for worse - are among the most significant stressors in regard to a healthy Long Life.
Two of the best known researchers who have tried to measure the stressful effects of various life changes on people are Dr. Thomas H. Holmes of the University of Washington, Seattle, and Dr. Richard H. Rahe of the San Diego Naval Health Research Center. They listed 43 typical life events, and after some research they assigned a stress value to each life event.
They call it The Social Readjustment Rating Scale, with each event having a rating in Life Change Units (LCU's) of 1 to 100, with 100 being the most stressful.
The items range from minor violations of the law = 11 LCU's, and vacation = 13 LCU's, through trouble with the boss = 23 LCU's and retirement = 45 LCU's, to divorce = 73 LCU's, and death of a spouse = 100 LCU's (the highest score).
Another major type of stressor is environmental stressors. Air pollution, excessive noise, extreme heat or cold, inadequate light, excessive sunlight, etc., can all have a negative impact on us.
So, now that we are aware of the possible dangers of stress, what do we do to protect our health and promote our own Long Life in view of these dangers?
The first approach is to Avoid Unnecessary Stressors. Control the amount and quality of time you spend with people who tend to generate a stressful response which you have great difficulty managing - family and friends as well as co-workers and acquaintances. Avoid extremes such as overeating, drinking too much, lack of sleep, and overwork. Don't procrastinate. Identify what you, yourself consider to be your own responsibilities, and perform them well. You might consider changing jobs - either for a different type of work, or for different people to work with.
Remember though, not all stress is harmful, and some stress is necessary for you to respond to the challenges of personal growth and daily living requirements. Some degree of concern, and even fear are not only normal, but necessary for dealing with stressful events.
In general, if your response to a stressor leaves you feeling happy and healthy, it is probably beneficial, and not one which will result in exhaustion of your internal resources. If you are unsure of whether you need to make a change to relieve stress, you may want to speak with someone you can trust.
Here are some guidelines for handling pressure to avoid stress, from the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare's National Institute of Mental Health:
Pressure is a normal part of everyday life. If you know how to deal with it, you can actually spur creativity, productivity, and healthy relationships with others. If you let it get out of hand, it can become a problem.
If you have trouble handling pressure and using it constructively, here are some tips:
How You Can Handle Pressure
In addition to these methods of handling pressure, there are some well-established
methods for controlling our responses to stressors:
We can also reduce our physical response to stressors by relaxing the muscles which may have tensed, such as the neck, shoulder, chest, stomach, and extremity muscles; and we can induce normal deep breathing if it has tensed up.
Other commonly practiced techniques may require, or may best be guided by professionals:
Physical Relaxation: A technique for relaxing all of the muscles in an organized fashion is used by athletes in preparation for competition. This method calls for lying flat on your back and progressively relaxing every muscle in the body, beginning at the top of the head and moving down to the toes. One approach is to tense each muscle first, then relax it. The end feeling is that the bones are lying directly on the mat or mattress.
Mental relaxation can be a separate method, or a part of this method. Simply try to relax the mind until it seems to contain non-specific thoughts.
Meditation is a technique in which one assumes a very relaxed position, and casually thinks only pleasant thoughts, or concentrates on one certain sound or phrase.
Transcendental Meditation, commonly called TM, may be learned from books, classes, or in practicing groups. Several approaches are taken by various leaders and groups; but perhaps the best approach for purposes of stress-reduction may be that which trains the individual to control physiological responses. Muscle tension, oxygen consumption, and even pulse rate and blood pressure can be controlled with practice.
Yoga, and some of the marshal arts use some of their techniques as stress control methods.
Biofeedback: This technique does not work for everyone, and can be expensive and time-consuming. The person learning control is hooked up to electronic instruments which may monitor brain waves, pulse rate, respiration, muscle contraction, and perspiration.
The person receives audio or/and visual signals from the instruments, and thus learns to control such functions as muscle tension, blood pressure, blood vessel constriction, pulse rate, and brain waves.
Exercise: The results of exercise, especially strenuous exercise include enlisting muscles, arterioles, and other body systems which may be involved in an ongoing tense, or stressful response. This forces the release of the tense, or stressed condition. Exercise may also release psychological tension, and even burn off stress hormones.
Exercise may be the best method of all to eliminate a stressful condition because, in addition to releasing both mental and physical stress, it circulates nutrients and oxygen to the stressed areas.
Drugs: Tranquilizers and mild sedatives can be prescribed by doctors, but the possibility of dependency and side effects make them less attractive than learning the independent methods described above.
A glass of wine each day has been touted in some of the longevity literature as contributive to long life because of the stress-reducing reaction, but the harmful effects of alcohol on the system make this a questionable way to reduce stress.
Since the objective of "HOW TO LIVE THE LONGEST LIFE POSSIBLE" is to present lifestyle habits as contributors to a healthy Long Life, this section discussing general lifestyle attitudes as they relate to stress has been saved for last, in order that it might be best remembered.
Control of daily lifestyle habits is, indeed, the most important and most effective way to a stress - controlled Long Life. To arrange one's life into a harmonious, smooth-flowing series of events in which one is in tune with one's self, with one's family, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances, and with one's material world (that is, that one's material and financial needs are met), is to arrange for an excessively stress-free existence.
However, to be unfulfilled is itself a highly stressful condition; so, we do want to fulfill ourselves and meet our goals. We want to do so, though, in a way that promotes congeniality, without creating conflict within ourselves or in the world around us.
That is stress, that is what it can do to us, and those are some important approaches to dealing with and alleviating stress. Perhaps as important though is the long life recommendation, that we all set aside some time each day, each week, each month, and each year for rest and relaxation; because that may be one of the best ways to release stress reactions begun recently. The objective of this rest and relaxation, from a health and long life point of view, is to dissolve stress which has begun, before it reaches stage 3 - the devastating Exhaustion stage of stress described above.
The act of setting aside time for rest and relaxation suggests a decision to spend such time involved in the form of rest and relaxation decided upon, essentially to the exclusion of other involvements. This decision, and involvement in the planned rest and relaxation, should result in release of all accumulated stresses - or may with practice.
One of the most effective and beneficial forms of rest and relaxation is a mid-day nap, which can add many years of healthy long life.
So, be aware that stress is one of the worst things that can happen to a human being. Stress causes more deaths each year than smoking, overweight, and lack of exercise, combined. Stress also causes rapid aging, and the appearance of aging early and fast.
Stress Causes Damage In Three Primary Ways:
1) The muscle tension of stress closes circulation to various parts of the body, including vital organs, for extended periods of time. This denies nutrition and oxygen from being distributed via the blood supply. The result is the death of body cells, and of organs.
2) Stress causes mass adverse chemical reactions throughout the body, upsetting bio-chemical functions necessary for the continuance of life, health, and attractiveness.
Research is presently being conducted which may show that the here-to-fore unknown cause of the adherence of plaque to arterial walls, causing coronary occlusion and heart damage, may be caused by the adverse chemical reactions of the body to stress.
3) Stress is also known to instantly drain the body of vital nutrients, such as C, and the B Complex vitamins. The body then ages rapidly until they are replaced.
The most visible results of stress are deep wrinkles and lines in the face and neck, puffiness of the face - especially around the eyes, with bagging under the eyes.
Some of the immediate results of stress are, tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, lack of stamina, and impatience.
Some of the common reactions to stress are anger, the urge for heavy smoking, excessive eating - especially of sweets, and heavy drinking. Also, we do not function well under stress. That is why the hard-and-fast driving executive is now known to be less successful than his more relaxed, thoughtful, pleasant, counterpart, for whom people are more willing to work with enthusiasm.
Stress can actually become a bad habit one forms as a reaction to intense situations in which we may or may not feel competent. These situations may be personal, social, business, or even recreational.
The single exception to this is the medical profession, where the risks of exposure to germs, infection, diseases, and X-rays outweigh the advantages of self-employment. A medical doctor can add significantly (3 to 13 years) to his or her life expectancy by taking extreme caution against infection, and by avoiding frequent contact with X-ray equipment and procedures.
So, if you are not already in one of those two categories, you can add several
(10 to 13 ) years to your life by:
1) Become the top executive of another company.
2) Own your own business.
3) Have a job doing hard physical labor.
A housewife in a well-to-do home is also in the better occupation category for health and long life.
No matter what kind of work you choose to do, though, some interesting information can help you to prevent the stress of your job from damaging your health and appearance, or from shortening your life.
In general, for instance, the more intense and regimented your work is, the less time you should spend doing it. If you work on a production line doing the same thing over and over, with a time limit for each task, you are under much more strain than a person who is not forced to follow a rigid schedule. So, a person in a highly regimented job should work at least 2 hours per week less than the person who works on a loose schedule.
The solution, however, to working stress free, especially on a highly regimented job, is to make it a point, every hour, to stand up, raise the arms over the head for a few moments and stretch; then relax the neck, shoulders, chest, and take a couple of slow, deep breaths.
Then, in the middle of the work day, do a few exercises that will vigorously move and stretch most of the body muscles, getting the arms up over the head, causing you to breathe fast.
For the final, ideal touch, a nap at midday can add many years of healthy long life, youthful and attractive, to your life.
Carl Bourhenne, MA
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