Imagine sitting in your doctor’s office and receiving a prescription for yoga, meditation, and laughter therapy to reduce your cholesterol.
You may think there had been a mistake, and that you had gotten the instructions for someone else instead of the ones you were expecting: eat a heart-healthy diet, quit smoking, and exercise regularly. Well, good nutrition and an active lifestyle still get top billing for healthy habits, but taking a holistic approach to managing your health improves your numbers across the board. And, that includes stress management.
You already know that high cholesterol can increase your chance of heart attack and stroke. Cholesterol is produced naturally by your body, and is also found in some foods. Two types of cholesterol, HDL (healthy or “good”) and LDL (lousy or “bad”) make up your total cholesterol reading. Ideally, a healthy adult will have an HDL reading of 60 or higher, and an LDL reading of 100 or less, and a total overall cholesterol level of less than 200. When cholesterol is too high, it causes plaque to build up in your arteries, causing a “traffic jam” that prevents blood flow to your brain and heart, resulting in a stroke or heart attack.Most of the time, a healthy diet, regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and abstaining from tobacco products is enough to keep cholesterol low. But sometimes family history can put you at risk regardless of your lifestyle, and you may need medication to manage your cholesterol.
Recent studies are showing another contributor to high cholesterol: stress. A study of 90,000 people found that those who reported high stress levels at work were more likely to be diagnosed with high cholesterol. The culprit is a hormone called cortisol, which is released in times of stress, and adrenaline, which trigger triglycerides, which lead to an increase in “bad” cholesterol. In addition, stress-filled lives can contribute to less-than-healthy habits such as eating fatty foods, excessive alcohol consumption, and smoking, all of which contribute to cholesterol.
The good news is that by managing stress, you can reduce your risk for high cholesterol. Sometimes stress management is easier said than done, but with a little practice, a few minutes a day can make a big difference. Consider these opportunities to reduce the effects of stress in your life.
Use Meditation Techniques to Stay Calm.
There is a difference between being relaxed and being calm. You may feel physically relaxed after a glass of wine or time spent on the porch swing, but that physical state of relaxation can disappear as soon as the phone rings. Calm, on the other hand, is a mental state that enables you to process chaos differently. It lasts a lot longer than physical relaxation! Achieving and maintaining calm is a learned process, and proven strategies include meditation, breathing exercises, and regular yoga practice. Check out apps like Breathe2Relax or Headspace to be guided through breathing exercises, and set an alarm on your phone to do it throughout the day. Join a yoga class. Find a guided meditation video on YouTube to start or end your day.
In the moments that the noise of the world around us becomes a clashing cymbal, just breathe. In that moment, close your eyes, inhale deeply through your nose, hold that moment, and exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat four or five times, or until you feel calm again. It may help to internally chant a mantra like, “this too shall pass,” or “I can handle anything.” Both are true!
While stress triggers the release of cortisol, laughter releases serotonin, the “feel good” hormone. Instead of listening to the news in the car, turn on a comedy podcast and laugh on your commute. Put a joke-a-day calendar on your desk for a morning chuckle. Watch a funny movie on the weekends or spend time with people who make you forget your cares. Laughter isn’t just goofing around, it’s a proven health strategy!Our bodies are complicated, but how we care for them is pretty simple: feed it well, give it rest, keep it functional, and take time for laughter and calm. Your body will thank you.