Suck In That Gut
By John Reinan, HealthScoutNews Reporter
-- Slow down. Take a deep breath.
folk wisdom is also powerful science.
shown that people under stress are more likely to get sick. Their
wounds take longer to heal. They're more apt to be depressed,
have high blood pressure and suffer heart attacks.
learn to control their stress, on the other hand, reap a host
of health benefits.
fewer headaches. Their memories are better. They may even be less
likely to get cancer, studies suggest.
And one of
the best ways to fight stress, experts say, is something everyone
does already -- they just don't do it very well.
And it's the key to many stress-reduction programs.
I tell people is, you take your lungs with you everywhere you
go. So no matter where you are or what the situation, you can
reduce your stress," says Alice Domar, director of the Mind/Body
Center for Women's Health in Boston and an assistant professor
of medicine at Harvard Medical School (news
But only if
you breathe deeply enough to make your belly and diaphragm move.
That's something most adults don't do, say Domar and others.
a new baby. She breathes diaphragmatically," Domar says.
"We are all born breathing diaphragmatically."
But most of
us stop breathing deeply as we get older. We breathe using only
Why? A combination
of vanity and social pressure, Domar says.
hold in their stomachs. You can't breathe properly if you're trying
to have a flat stomach," she says.
By the same
token, young men are taught to stand up straight and puff out
their chests. And as he ages, a man will often "suck in his
gut" to hide a flabby midsection.
lifestyle doesn't help either, says Dr. James Gordon, director
of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C., and
a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University's
School of Medicine.
walk into an office and you wonder sometimes if these people are
alive," he says. "There's no movement. The breath is
a very serious problem."
taught deep breathing to war refugees in Bosnia, to HIV -positive
patients in the United States and to rural people in Africa.
a universal language," says Gordon, who is also chairman
of the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative
Medicine Policy. "People learn it and people get it -- because
once you start doing it, you can see that it makes a difference."
teaching people deep breathing and other stress-reduction methods
"should be one of the central aspects of medicine."
become clear in the last 20 to 25 years is that people who are
stressed are more likely to develop a variety of illnesses,"
We all take
thousands of breaths each day, and there's no special trick to
turning some of them into deep breaths.
these simple steps:
- Find a
comfortable place to sit. Turn off the telephone and close the
door. Sit with your feet comfortably on the floor.
in through your nose and out through your mouth. Allow your
eyes to close as your breath deepens so your belly begins to
rise and fall.
- Begin with
five to 10 minutes of deep breathing at a time, several times
a day, and see how you feel. You can lengthen your sessions
as you become more comfortable.
- If you
find yourself too agitated to sit still, put on some music and
dance. Or go for a walk. Then come back and try to sit quietly
exercise could help you avoid some of the problems that have been
identified by researchers like Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, who with
her husband, Ronald Glaser, has done pioneering work on how stress
affects the immune system.
director of the Division of Health Psychology at the Ohio State
University College of Medicine, says stress has a "cascading
negative effect" on the body's immune system.
In one study
of medical students, for example, Glaser and Kiecolt-Glaser found
that the stress of examinations caused a decrease in the activity
of natural killer cells that fight tumors and viruses.
who were taught relaxation techniques -- and used them regularly
-- showed significantly better immune responses than those who
didn't use the techniques or only used them sporadically.
Harvard's Domar taught relaxation techniques, including deep breathing,
to a group of almost 300 women who had been having fertility problems.
months after starting the program, 44 percent of the women were
study, Domar worked with two groups of women who had been trying
to conceive for one to two years. One group used mind/body relaxation
techniques, the other didn't.
Within a year,
55 percent of the mind/body group were pregnant, compared to 20
percent of the control group.
looking at almost tripling the take-home baby rate," Domar
But Dr. Paul
J. Rosch, president of the American Institute of Stress, cautions
that deep breathing may not be the answer for everyone.
is a highly individualized phenomenon," Rosch says. "And
just as stress is different for everyone, there is no stress-reduction
strategy that is a panacea.
breathing, jogging, yoga -- these are great for some people, dull
and boring for others," he says. "You have to give subjects
a smorgasbord of options and let them find out what works for
focusing on one stress-relief method, Rosch says, people should
focus on identifying the cause of stress in their lives and preventing
stress can make you sick by visiting the Web site for
Ohio State University's psychoneuroimmunology research program.
Find online links to alternative medical resources at
The Center for Mind-Body Medicine.
Reference Source 101