We know that chronic stress can lead to serious health problems, including heart disease, stroke, obesity (and all the health risks it presents), insomnia, headaches and immune system changes that make you more vulnerable to colds and other ailments.

I can relate to your busy schedule, and a potential solution might be giving up 30 minutes of your lunch hour for exercise. A study published in the January 6, 2015 issue of the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found that a 30-minute walk during lunchtime three days a week can boost mood and offer a quick fix for stress. This study is particularly interesting in that it was designed to measure an individual’s short-term response to mild exercise. To do so, the researchers put a specialized app participants’ cell phones that helped them communicate feelings of stress, tension, enthusiasm, workload, motivation, physical fatigue and other issues before and after their walks. Other studies have relied on participants’ after-the-fact recall of the effect of exercise. This one was aimed at getting immediate “before-and-after” feedback.

The volunteers could walk at their own pace – there was no set distance to cover. The only requirement was walking for 30 minutes, which the researchers said would still give the participants time to eat during their lunch hour. 

The 56 volunteers were divided into two groups. One group began the walking program immediately, while the other served as controls during the first 10 weeks of the study and then began their own walks. 

When the researchers looked at the participants’ responses to their walks, they found that afterward, the volunteers reported feeling more enthusiastic, less tense, and generally more relaxed than they were on days when they didn’t walk and compared to their moods prior to their walks.

This study is the latest among many that have shown that physical activity can effectively help reduce stress. If possible, I think it’s worth trying the lunchtime exercise solution.

I also recommend practicing regular, mindful breathing, which can be both calming and energizing. Elsewhere on this website you can learn how to perform the 4-7-8 Relaxing Breath, the most powerful tool I can offer for stress management. Practice it at least twice a day; it takes just a few minutes. Once you become proficient, you can use it anywhere, anytime to help counter stress and anxiety.

You also might take a look at a new book, meQuilibrium: 14 Days to Cooler, Calmer and Happier, by Jan Bruce, Andrew Shatte, Ph.D., and Adam Perlman, M.D., who advocate managing stress by reframing the way you respond to it.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Cecilie Thogersen-Ntoumani et al “Changes in work affect in response to lunchtime walking in previously physically inactive employees: A randomized trial.” Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science and Sports doi: 10.1111/sms.12398

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