Autumn 2017 Fit Tip
October 13, 2017 By Barb Gormley

A bad day at work, a visit to the dentist, too much to do at home, bumper-to-bumper traffic—any of these can send your stress levels through the roof. According to Montreal’s Centre for Studies on Human Stress, if left unchecked, chronic anxiety and worry can contribute to a variety of health problems, including heart disease, depression, and type 2 diabetes.

Marla Warner

If you are already living with diabetes, stressful situations can lead to spikes in your blood sugar levels. “When the body is under stress, it produces cortisol and other stress hormones, which release a surge of energy in the form of glucose [sugar] into the bloodstream,” says Marla Warner, a Toronto-based certified stress management educator and health coach.

To help manage and even avoid stress, it can be helpful to remove yourself from the situation when possible, or talk about issues with friends or a professional counsellor. But there is another effective coping tool for controlling stress and your blood sugar: “Physical activity has a calming effect on the body because it helps to reduce the production of stress hormones, and it also temporarily distracts you from your worries,” says Warner. Leading an active lifestyle also comes with many other side benefits, such as helping with weight control, reducing your risk for heart disease, strengthening your muscles, boosting your energy and mood, and helping you sleep better. Here are four activities Warner recommends for helping you keep stress in check.

1. Mindful breathing

Stand or sit, with your back straight, in a quiet place. Place one hand on your belly and breathe deeply and slowly. Feel your belly expand and relax as you count for five seconds for each inhale and another five seconds for each exhale. Even just five to 10 mindful breaths will help you feel calmer.

Tip: If your mind wanders (which it will likely do the first few times), don’t worry. Simply bring your attention back to your breathing.

2. Yoga butterfly pose (reclining baddha konasana)

Lie on your back with the soles of your feet together, your upper back supported by a rolled towel or yoga bolster placed lengthwise along the spine, and a rolled towel or small pillow under your head and each outer thigh so you can relax completely. Close your eyes and place your arms along your sides with your palms facing up. Breathe deeply, slowly and evenly, focusing on your breathing, for five to 10 minutes.

Tip: There are many yoga poses (called asanas) and styles of yoga, such as Iyengar, Ashtanga, and Kundalini, and all of them can be effective at managing stress. If you enjoy it, do some research to discover which style of yoga and which teacher you like best.

3. Walking in nature

Research shows that walking in peaceful, natural settings helps to decrease cortisol levels, heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. It also has an energizing effect and provides a positive sense of well-being.

Tip: If you find walking dull or you need to feel more purposeful while walking, invite a friend to join you, take along a neighbour’s dog, or listen to calming music or an interesting podcast as you walk.

4. Swimming

Swimming is a great choice for de-stressing because the steady rhythm of the arm strokes and the soothing sensations of the water have a calming effect on the body and mind. The coordination required to combine the arm and leg action with breathing also helps distract the mind from daily stresses.

Tip: Remember to drink water during and after swimming. You may not recognize that you are sweating when you are in the water.

Did You Know?

It is important to plan for physical activity: Think about what you will do, for how long, when, where, and how you will do it. Write down your plans—the more specific and personal you make them, the more likely you are to follow through. Read more from “Planning for Regular Physical Activity” now.  

Do you have a story about the difference physical activity has made for you and your health? Please let us know at dialogue@diabetes.ca

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