Escape from Stressville

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Simple Stress Escape 2: Take a Hike

Next to sleep, exercise may be the single best thing you can do to relieve stress. "Exercise improves blood flow, helps your body release endorphins, and buffers the stress response," says Dr. Sternberg. The activity also shifts your focus away from what's stressing you.

For years doctors said that to reap health benefits from exercise you needed to raise your heart rate for at least 30 minutes at a stretch. Now studies find that exercising just 10 minutes or less a few times a day also works. Researchers in Northern Ireland studied two groups of men and women who took either one 30-minute walk or three 10-minute walks daily. Both groups had similar improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol, body fat, and mood, but the group who exercised in 10-minute bouts found it easier to stick with it. In a study at Northern Arizona University, women who rode stationary bicycles noted better mood and energy levels after 10 minutes. The elevated levels were sustained for as long as they exercised but never rose significantly higher than they were at the 10-minute point.

A few brisk walks -- around the block at lunchtime or down the corridor at coffee break -- may be the easiest way to fit stress-relieving exercise into your day. "If you can whistle while you walk, you're not walking fast enough. If you can't hold a conversation while walking, you need to slow down," says Bruce S. Rabin, MD, PhD, medical director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Healthy Lifestyle Program. In addition to relieving stress, exercise can help you build up a tolerance to it, Dr. Rabin says. That's because the physical stress of exercise activates the same area of the brain as psychological stress does. If you frequently activate those circuits with the health-enhancing stress of exercise, your brain won't be capable of reacting as intensely to health-sapping psychological stress.

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