Right now I’m sitting at my laptop thinking I can’t possibly find time to write a blog post: I need to order the turkey, work out what to give my impossible-to-buy-for brother-in-law, get the dishwasher fixed, wrap presents, find the tree decorations, actually buy a tree….you get the picture. It’s Christmas stress time and we’ve all got it.
Three age-well reasons you don’t want to be stressed:
- Research undertaken in both San Francisco and Helsinki shows that chronic stress shortens our telomeres – the ‘shoe lace tip’-like caps to our DNA which indicate how our cells are ageing. The longer they are, the more protective they are: once they become too short the cells can start to die. Telomere shortening has been linked to Parkinson’s, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
- It gets better – Swedish researchers found that elevated levels of stress steroids in the brain can inhibit general brain activity. This, in turn, was found to accelerate the development of Alzheimer’s in mice. Oh crikey – not what you want to hear at Christmas.
- To compound it all, stressed people don’t take care of themselves, which is obvious really. All those healthy habits we’ve cultivated go out the window in December when things are hectic and there are sausage rolls to eat. It’s a vicious cycle: we know that a healthy lifestyle is critical to ageing well, but just when we need it most our healthy habits fall by the wayside.
So here’s some good news: you can get to December 25th with your sanity intact. Here are our five top tips:
- Exercise: however busy you are, make time to exercise outside. There’s so little daylight at the moment we need to get a burst of it when we can. Annabel’s playing table tennis for 10 minutes a day – that’s enough to make a difference, and I’m hauling the dog round any bit of woodland I can find. Japanese research shows that ‘forest bathing’ (great name, but – basically – a walk in the woods) – reduces stress levels.
- Sleep : if you’re struggling to get the zzzz you need, have you tried the 4-7-8 breathing technique? It really has changed my life because it enables me to put myself to sleep! It’s extraordinary, and so simple. All you do, when you’re in bed, is get comfortable then breathe in for four, hold for seven and out for eight. Concentrate on the counting and it becomes a meditation, relaxation tool and breathing exercise all in one. The Harvard doctor behind it calls it ‘a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system’. The science behind it is fascinating. There’s more here https://www.drweil.com/videos-features/videos/the-4-7-8-breath-health-benefits-demonstration/
- Give back: remember your mum telling you it’s better to give than receive? Well, it’s true. Research published in the journal, Science, showed that people’s sense of happiness is greater when they spend relatively more on others than on themselves. And it’s well documented that volunteering makes us feel better – so stock up on those presents, volunteer to help out at the Christmas Fair or take some mince pies to a neighbour. You’ll feel better for it.
- Supplement: Now might be the time to take a Vitamin D tablet. With light levels so low (it barely seems to have got light some days!) it’s pretty much impossible to get enough daylight. Neither of us take a ton of supplements, but Vitamin D is one that we do take. Low levels of Vitamin D have been linked to increased risk of everything from osteoporosis to Alzheimer’s, so maintaining a good level is crucial.
- Eat to beat stress: avocados are a great source of B Vitamins which we need for a healthy nervous system; almonds contain Vitamins B2 and E which help boost the immune system in times of stress; the Vitamin C in oranges helps to lower blood pressure and the stress hormone cortisol. And filling up on the good stuff should (in theory) reduce our need to reach for that tin of Christmas Quality Street!