Quitting the butts was the number one lifestyle change mentioned by every doctor and researcher we interviewed. But even casual smokers need to beware: Research shows that with the first cigarette of the day, heart rate will increase by 10 to 20 beats per minute. Blood pressure will go up 5 to 10 points.
It’s called the Nadishudhi alternate-nostril breathing method, and it has a profound and immediate effect on the body, says Kavita Chandwani, M.D., M.PH. She describes the technique: Hold your right nostril closed with your thumb; breathe in through your left nostril. Without letting out your breath, cover your left nostril. Exhale through the right nostril, then inhale through that nostril with the left nostril covered, close your right nostril, and exhale through the left. Do this for 1 minute. The longer the breaths, the better. Shutting off one of the air passageways causes you to take longer, deeper breaths (it essentially forces you to belly-breathe), which calms nerves, slows heart rate, and reduces blood pressure.
Simply sitting up straight in your chair, acting alert, and forcing a smile will relax you and temporarily reduce stress.
People tend to avoid adverse situations, detaching themselves from problems that they wish would go away. ”Avoidance adds to stress in the long run. It may lower stress initially, but eventually things left unattended catch up with you,” says Mario Alonso, Ph.D. “By facing problems and acting on them, you are taking control. That feeling of empowerment will reduce stress.”
Studies show that social support is key in reducing stress.When it comes to work pressure, simply sharing thoughts with a coworker will do the trick. In fact, researchers suggest the mere presence of a friendly face eases stress. In a study at the University of Tokyo, researchers found that rats given an electric shock had lower body temperatures and stress hormone levels when they were accompanied by another rat that didn’t get zapped. The rats that were shocked in solitary went crazy.
A long-term study by Harvard researchers suggests that drinking cola (diet or regular) increases blood pressure. Coffee drinkers in the study had no increased risk of hypertension, even when they drank 4 or more cups a day. Experts believe the caffeine and sodium in colas can cause blood vessels to constrict. While coffee obviously contains caffeine, it also has heart-healthy antioxidants, which may cancel the negative effects of the caffeine.
Research from the State University of New York at Buffalo shows that men who drink alcohol other than at mealtimes raise their risk of high blood pressure by 49%, compared with those who use booze only to wash down dinner.
In a study done by the University of California at San Diego, listening to classical music was found to be more calming than listening to jazz or silence.
Sound sleep allows the body to recuperate and more ably regulate blood pressure, says Ka-Kit Hui, M.D., a professor and the director of the Center for East-West Medicine at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine.
In studies at the University of Pennsylvania, subjects experienced a 10- to 15-point drop in blood pressure when a friendly dog or cat was brought into the room. Ferrets had no such effect.