Ask a woman over 50 for a list of the “best things” about aging and she’ll likely react in one of three ways:
Or maybe that’s just me.
So this next sentence may sound counterintuitive, but hear me out: Your body is on your side.
Seriously, your body does literally everything it can to protect you, but the ways it accomplishes its job can seem like quite the opposite.
Case in point. Take arthritis (please).
When my doctor showed me the MRI of my knee he pointed out the arthritic parts by gesturing to the white areas around my kneecap that were not present in the other knee. “That bone shouldn’t be there, and that part either,” he said, with the flippancy of someone who sees this way too often.
Bone growth is my body’s attempt to stabilize my joint. If my knee could talk it would say, “Hey, this situation is looking a bit unsteady. Let’s lay down some spackle and bolster this puppy up!”
The downside: It now hurts.
Oh, knees. Such well-meaning jokesters!
One more example…
Shakiness when lifting weights for the first time is another protective mechanism. It can be due to a few different reasons, but for newbies it’s typically the nervous system trying to adjust to the greater demands placed on it. So hence the shakes.
Unlike arthritis, the shakes usually go away after a couple workouts.
And then, of course, there’s stress… which brings me to today’s topic du jour.
Your body’s reaction to stress is to get you ready to fight or flee, a.k.a. the fight or flight syndrome.
It comes in handy when you’re being chased through the woods by a maniac wielding a chainsaw or you otherwise need to escape a situation that would most likely not end well.
But since most of us aren’t teenagers in a horror film, this stress reaction rears its ugly head during much tamer situations… like realizing someone just unfriended you on Facebook.
Here’s why it’s something you want to keep to control.
Say you just realized you missed an online two-day shoe sale. Not any old shoe sale, but one with all your favorite kitten heels. The horrors!
You’re so upset you’re tempted to fight. Or flee. You manage to stay (outwardly) calm but inside you’re reprimanding yourself and seriously stressing about why this wasn’t on your calendar.
After an hour or so, you’re back to earth and have moved on to other things.
But it’s too late. The horse is out of the barn, so to speak. You’ve released the stress hormone cortisol but… it’s no longer needed. You didn’t fight or flee, so it was all for naught.
But oh, no, cortisol will NOT be ignored. Nope. It decides to store some fat. It’s favorite storage place? Your belly!
And, ironically, the best way to “fight back” is by not. In other words, your best defense is to stop fighting and find ways to prevent yourself from releasing cortisol as often.
A study of nearly 400 people found that those who practiced mindfulness were less likely to be obese and had less belly fat than people who did not practice this awareness.
It’s not just about belly fat, either. Stress links to so many health issues I’d need another post to list them all. Suffice to say you’d likely be much healthier with less of it.
The next time you’re feeling anxious or otherwise stressed, try one or more of these scientifically proven techniques for lowering cortisol – and watch belly fat take a hike.
BONUS: These all feel good.
This one can be done wherever you are, even while talking to a person who’s intent on starting an argument with you over politics, I’ve found. Breathe slowly in, pause and hold briefly, then exhale for twice the length of your inhalation. After a few reps you’ll feel yourself relax.
Walking outside, particularly in a green environment, is shown to ease stress. Most of us spend nearly all our time indoors, making this a special treat. Go for a walk outside without technology, and focus on your surroundings pay attention to every step.
Numerous studies show that uninterrupted screen time raises stress and can even increase depression in women. Stay on too close to bedtime and the blue light can also interrupt sleep. Take regular breaks and shut down technology at least an hour before bedtime.
Have a playlist of soothing music ready to go for stressful times. Classical music seems especially beneficial for its ability to lower blood pressure and slow heart rate.
Viral videos serve a purpose outside of distracting you from your work: They can lower stress hormones by making you laugh and boosting endorphins. Here’s one of my favorites that always cracks me up.
How do YOU relax and de-stress? Call a friend? Pick up your needlepoint? Let me know in the comments section below!
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Your Ageless Body Coach,
Linda Melone is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, certified trainer and award-winning health and fitness writer. She specializes in helping women over 50 get in shape and lose weight.