When you’re under stress, one of your best defenses is good health. To keep your body healthy, it’s important to eat nutritious foods and be physically active, according to LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames.
Eat right to cope with stress. Eating nutritious foods helps your body respond to stressful situations. Eating a variety of foods usually provides the nutrients needed for good health for most people. Reames says to choose foods from the Food Guide Pyramid to get the nutrients your body needs:
• Fruits – fresh, frozen, canned and dried fruits and fruit juices.
• Vegetables – fresh, frozen, canned and dried vegetables and vegetable juices.
• Grains - bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas and grits. At least half of the grain foods should be whole grains.
• Meat and beans – lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, peanut butter, dry beans, nuts and seeds.
• Milk – fluid milk and milk products, such as yogurt and cheese. Choose fat-free or low-fat milk.
"Emotional stress and psychological stress usually don’t increase your body’s nutrient needs above the recommended amounts, so you probably won’t need any special diet preparations or supplements," Reames says. If you take a vitamin supplement, be sure to choose one that provides no more than 100 percent of the recognized nutrients. Remember that very large doses of some vitamins and minerals can be harmful.
Tips for coping with stress. Follow a regular eating schedule. Irregular eating patterns interfere with your body’s ability to cope. Avoid meal skipping or skimping. Hungry people lose their ability to concentrate and often respond poorly to stressful situations.
Try to make mealtimes relaxed and enjoyable. Eat with those you enjoy being with, talk about pleasant topics and plan enough time to eat slowly.
Satisfy your body’s defenses by eating nutritious snacks such as fruit, juice, raw vegetables and milk. Avoid greasy or fried foods that may be difficult to digest. Drink plenty of water. A good fluid intake helps your body resist the effects of strain.
If stress leads you to "binges," try these alternatives: take a walk or visit a friend instead of eating; keep nutritious, low-fat snacks on hand instead of those high in calories or fat; learn to recognize when you’re really hungry, not just needing the comfort that food offers.
If stress makes you lose your appetite, Reames suggests eating several small meals throughout the day, planning a quiet time before meals to relax and unwind and keeping nutritious, easy-to-eat snacks on hand.
Be physically active to cope with stress. Regular physical activity makes you a healthier person with more energy. It improves the heart’s efficiency, increases lung strength and capacity, decreases body fat, increases muscle mass, helps control weight, lowers blood pressure, helps you sleep better, helps prevent constipation, helps combat muscle and joint stiffness, makes your bones stronger and decreases anxiety, tension and depression through production of the body’s natural tranquilizers.
What’s the best physical activity? For health and long life, Reames says to get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity most days of the week. For example, the nutritionist recommends walking two miles at a 15-minute-per-mile pace, mowing the lawn with a power mower or playing golf while carrying the clubs.
For aerobic fitness to improve heart and lungs, exercise up to 45 minutes three to five times a week. Examples include brisk walking outside or on a treadmill, bicycling, swimming or running.
You don't need to do all your exercise at one time to get many health benefits, according to Reames. To lower heart rate, blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels, divide your 30 minutes of physical activity into three 10-minute sessions a day if this suits your schedule better.
Keep these points in mind when exercising:
• If you're a man over 40 or a woman over 50, or have a chronic disease such as heart disease or diabetes, consult you doctor before starting an exercise program.
• Exercise moderately and regularly.
• Increase exercise gradually.
• Warm up before and cool down after exercise.
• Drink plenty of water before, during and after your workout.
• If you stop exercising because of illness, start back slowly.
• Choose an exercise you enjoy and get started.
For information on related family and consumer topics, click on the Family and Home link on the LSU AgCenter homepage, at www.lsuagcenter.com.