Posts Tagged ‘Stress’

Silence Please!

October 14th, 2015 at 5:29 pm by timigustafson

According to the 17th Century French philosopher Blaise Pascal, “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” Such a statement may sound a bit overwrought for most moderns, however, it is a well-known fact that ubiquitous exposure to noise is one of the great stress factors of our time. Unfortunately, even for those who seek it, silence is hard to come by.

To be sure, not everybody suffers from lack of quiescence. Most of us are now used to being constantly connected with the outside world, with our workplace, with family and friends. It can be bothersome, but it can also be addictive.

study by CNN found that most pre-teens and teenagers would rather be “grounded” at home than having their smart phones taken away from them as a form of punishment. Staying in touch via social media means more to these kids than almost anything else in life, according to the researchers who conducted the study.

Of course, craving for social interaction is not limited to young ones. Neuroscientists from the University of California, Los Angeles discovered in a recent study that the human brain is wired to be social, especially when there is little else to do that requires attention. “The social nature of our brains is biologically based,” they concluded.

Yet, experts warn that, although we may be social creatures, not having enough downtime to be by ourselves may have consequences we don’t yet fully understand.

The fact that people make (or have to make) themselves constantly available for interaction increases the risk of “burnout,” commonly defined as physical or mental collapse by overwork or stress, according to neurophysiologist and Nobel Prize laureate Thomas C. Südhof.

The pressure of always being within reach can become a form of chronic stress that affects how our brains function. Over time, this may lead to lasting damages. To counteract it, he says, we need regular brakes and time out to recover.

In addition to the onslaught of social demands, the sheer fact that most of us live in noisy environments makes things only worse. According to studies by the American Psychological Association, noise pollution plays a role in numerous health issues, including learning disabilities among children. By contrast, researchers found that when “quiet time” was introduced in selected schools, students found it easier to concentrate and had better peer relations.

Naturally, not everyone can decide to tune out and escape his or her world on a whim, even if nothing else would be more welcome. Finding a truly quiet spot for relaxation, meditation, or simply a short nap may be difficult. But there are other solutions. A walk in a nearby park after work or an afternoon in the woods or on a beach can do wonders.

Much of what we experience also depends on our attitude. Does that phone really have to be on 24/7? Can answering those e-mails wait a bit longer? What if you’re not up on the latest news?

Letting it all go for a while may be a better choice. Besides, most of what you missed out on will still be there when you get back.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (


Hypertension for Beginners

July 18th, 2015 at 1:54 pm by timigustafson

More than half of people who have hypertension, a.k.a. high blood pressure, don’t know enough about the condition and are unable to control it properly, according to a new survey.

Oftentimes patients don’t even correctly understand the meaning of the word “hypertension,” and think of it more in terms of stress, anxiety, or other psychological disturbance rather than what it actually is, namely a physiological dysfunction that can turn into a chronic disease if untreated, the researchers found.

Many healthcare professionals use the words “hypertension” and “high blood pressure” interchangeably when talking to their patients, which can be confusing for some, said Dr. Barbara Bokhour, a professor of health policy and management at Boston University School of Public Health and co-author of the study report, to Reuters.

Explained in a nutshell, blood pressure is the force exerted by the blood against the walls of blood vessels. It is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Measuring involves two readings: systolic, indicating the pressure as the heart pumps blood out, and diastolic, the remaining pressure as the heart relaxes and refills with blood.

Normal blood pressure ranges below 120 systolic and 80 diastolic. Readings of 120 to139 systolic or 80 to 89 diastolic are considered “pre-hypertension,” meaning there is a risk of developing hypertension without intervention. Everything above 140 over 90 is categorized as hypertension of various stages, with 180+ over 110+ seen as a medical emergency.

Hypertension can build up for years without ever showing discernable symptoms. But left uncontrolled, it can lead to life-threatening complications like kidney disease and heart disease as well as heart attack and stroke.

Hypertension is a growing worldwide epidemic. The number of people living with the disease has crossed the 1 billion mark in 2008 and is predicted to reach well over 1.5 billion within the next ten years, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The causes are seen to a large degree as diet and lifestyle-related, including excessive consumption of salt and alcohol as well as excess weight and lack of physical activity.

Against widely shared assumption, hypertension is not a disease that predominantly occurs with age. Recent studies found that young adults in their 20s and 30s are now increasingly at risk as well, facing complications much sooner than generations before them.

For this reason it is extremely important to keep blood pressure as low as possible, especially in the first half of adult life, said Dr. Joao Lima, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University and lead author of one such study, ideally even below the recommended limits.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (


Getting Back in Shape After the Holidays – Don’t Rush It!

December 27th, 2014 at 5:02 pm by timigustafson

Now that the holidays are behind us, the damage inflicted on waistlines and other body parts bearing the marks of every dietary misdeed, no matter how harmless and forgivable it seemed at the time, will be lamented by millions. But I say, no need for self-flagellation. What’s done is done. Let bygones be bygones, we’ll do better from hereon in.

My regular readers know that I am no friend of New Year’s resolutions because they only lead to greater pain and frustration and, for most people, don’t produce lasting results anyway.

Don’t go on a guilt trip
The last thing you want to do is blame yourself for lack of willpower and discipline. Unless you avoided all the holiday cheer by hiding in a place with no contact to the outside world, there is little chance you could stay on the straight and narrow of a perfect diet regimen. It’s just the nature of the beast. So don’t beat yourself up over the inevitable.

Don’t diet right away
If you have been overeating on numerous occasions or for extended periods of time, your body has become used to the higher food intake and will want to continue on that level as the new normal. If you cut back too quickly and/or too substantially, as panicked dieters tend to do, you will feel deprived, and your body will protest with all the hunger pangs it can muster. It’s not a good recipe for successful weight loss.

Take small steps
A better approach would be to wean yourself gradually from your lately acquired eating habits by reducing portion sizes, avoiding sugary snack foods and soda drinks, and decreasing or eliminating alcohol consumption. Remember, you only have to lower your calorie intake by approximately 500 calories per day in order to shed one pound per week. Losing weight at a slower pace also makes it more likely that you can keep it off long-term, which, of course, should be the ultimate goal.

Stay away from crash diets
Because of their initial effectiveness, so-called crash diets are very popular, but they can do more harm than good. Don’t engage in what is known as “yo-yo dieting,” meaning that you slim down real fast but gain everything back – and oftentimes more – soon thereafter. Such weight fluctuations can damage your metabolism and make it even harder to control your weight later on.

Eat more healthy foods
If you decide to cut back on your food intake, you should not only consider the amount of calories you are planning to reduce but also important nutrients you might be missing on a weight loss diet. In fact, it is recommended that you actually increase your consumption of highly nutritious foods like fruit and vegetables, while excluding others of lesser nutritional value such as processed and refined items, to provide your body with the necessary fuel to function properly and to avoid the risk of malnutrition.

Keep stress in check
It’s easy to forget how stressful the holidays can be. You may have enjoyed yourself, but all the preparations and gatherings with colleagues, family and friends can take a toll, whether you are aware of it or not. So, when things start slowing down again, it might be a good idea to pause and take stock. Perhaps it’s time to put your own needs first for a while and be kind to yourself by taking a break. Yoga, meditation, massage, or simply taking long walks – whatever lets you calm down and become yourself again – can be helpful. Also, don’t get too stressed out right after returning to your workplace. This may be easier said than done, but you have to be aware that leftover stress from the holidays plus new stress from the workload you’re resuming can quickly burn you out before the new year has even started.

Get more sleep
Chances are the holidays have left you sleep-deprived, perhaps even more than usual. So you may want to go to bed a little earlier or sleep in for a few days, if you can. There are plenty of things you can do to readjust your sleep pattern, so you wake up refreshed instead of hung over.

It is still the best measure you can take to get back in shape. The weather may be less than inviting to go outside, but give yourself that proverbial kick in the butt and put on your running or hiking shoes, then deeply inhale some much-needed fresh air. The gyms may be extra full in early January, but resolution season is notoriously short, and within a few days you’ll be able to find plenty of vacant treadmills and stairmasters again.

Unlike the rest of the crowd, you’ll stick with your program, and all will be well in almost no time. Happy New Year!

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (


Being in a relationship that has soured or become dysfunctional is stressful and can take a serious toll on people’s emotional health. But it doesn’t end there, according to a new study that investigated the physical impact such distress can have.

The research showed that especially older adults – and women more so than men – are at greater risk of developing high blood pressure when exposed to antagonistic situations for prolonged periods of time in their lives.

For the study, psychologists from the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, followed over 1,500 men and women over the age of 50, focusing on their physical responses to negative interactions with family members and friends like disagreements, criticism, voicing of disappointments, etc.

For the selection of their participants, they used data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a longitudinal study of health, retirement, and aging, sponsored by the National Institute on Aging (NIA).

The study results showed that “negative social interactions,” as the researchers called it, increased the participants’ chances of developing hypertension by nearly 40 percent over just four years of follow-up tests.

“This demonstrates how important social networks are as we age – constructing strong, positive relationships are beneficial to prolonged health,” said Dr. Sheldon Cohen, a professor of psychology at CMU and one of the authors of the study in a press release.

It is less clear why women are seemingly more vulnerable to stress from relational issues than men, as the study suggests. While it would be hard to find the exact reason for these differences, it could be that females are more invested in their relationships, and are more deeply affected when these break down. Other studies on this subject have also pointed in this direction.

The findings that people get more physically affected by stress and upheaval as they age may be explained by the fact that their overall health and resilience weakens, including when dealing with negative emotions. Also, as they retire and undergo other changes in their later years, the risk of social isolation can increase and become a source of anxiety. If existing social connections are less than perfect, those prospects only worsen.

As a number of studies have shown, seniors who are lonely and isolated tend to be in poorer physical and mental health than their contemporaries who are in loving relationships. In other words, it is worthwhile to keep working on your family- and social life while you still can…

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (


Just the Right Amount of Stress

May 24th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by timigustafson

Being regularly overworked and stressed out likely leads to health problems long-term, but feeling bored or having too much time on your hands can also have negative effects, a government-sponsored study from Germany on health and safety issues in the workplace concluded.

Unlike here in the United States, labor laws in many European countries, including Germany, impose strict limits on how much time people can spend at work. 35-, 32- or even 30-hours workweeks are not uncommon, and month-long annual vacations are mandatory in some states. Yet it is not altogether clear whether a lighter workload and more free time automatically lead to greater quality of life.

Boredom and monotony produce their own kind of stress, which can be just as harmful as exhaustion from work overload. A study by the National Institute of Health (NIH) found that uninspiring occupations can elicit considerable stress, especially when coupled with a need for high alertness, e.g. in security and surveillance jobs.

Like unemployment, underemployment or part-time work can cause stress, and not just because of financial concerns. Not having enough structure in one’s life, or feeling left out in terms of work-related opportunities can lead to loss of self-esteem, anxiety, and depression, according to a report by the American Psychological Association (APA).

So, is there such a thing as a healthy middle when it comes to stress at work?

Most people who work between 35 and 40 hours a week don’t experience significant health damages related to stress, said Dr. Monika A. Rieger, a professor of medicine at the University of Tübingen, Germany, and an expert in work-related health matters who was not involved in her country’s government study, to the German news magazine “Der Spiegel.” However, consistently laboring beyond 40 hours can potentially lead to health problems. It seems that those who work harder are also more vulnerable to disease, she added.

Still, experts agree that there is such a thing as “good stress.” Especially when work involves variety and creativity, it can be a rewarding experience. The more control people can exercise over their activities, and the more they benefit from the results, the more likely they will enjoy what they are doing, even if it entails a lot of personal effort.

There is indeed a kind of stress that is good for you, one that makes you excited and let’s you push harder. But even stress that is motivating and enhances performance can cause harm if it’s not kept in check, according to Elizabeth A. Scott, a wellness coach specializing in stress management who wrote extensively about the subject.

For instance, workaholics may pride themselves in getting lots of work done, but that doesn’t mean their behavior is healthy. Good stress can turn into bad stress, especially when it develops into chronic stress that offers no reprieve. That’s the kind of stress we really have to worry about, says Scott.

So while there is no precise measure by which we can determine when work-related stress becomes damaging, it is clear that there is a limit of what is tolerable. To keep workers from reaching that, it is important for companies to add as much quality to their workplaces as possible – for example by allowing their staff to take frequent breaks, do a variety of different tasks, partake in wellness programs, etc. After all, a work environment where people thrive instead of suffer is in everyone’s best interest.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (


Don’t Worry Yourself Sick

April 19th, 2014 at 3:39 pm by timigustafson

Among the many capabilities that distinguish us humans from other earthly creatures is the ability to forecast future events and prepare accordingly. Your dog or cat may have an uncanny way of “knowing” when you’ll return from work or when it’s feeding time, but that doesn’t compare with our anticipating of what’s to come. However, this unique gift also has a downside: We worry. And sometimes we worry too much.

Worrying is a form of stress that can have multiple negative health effects, especially when there is no reprieve. Constant worriers can turn into emotional wrecks with sometimes serious physical implications.

Potential outcomes are toxic effects from accumulating stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol in the blood stream, which can affect the glands, nervous system, and the heart, and can lead to stomach ulcers, heart disease, and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Other less dangerous, but by no means benign, responses include muscle tension, headaches, back pain, constipation and diarrhea. There can also be a greater susceptibility to infectious diseases as the immune system weakens.

Worrying also impacts our wellbeing in other ways. It can rob us of our peace of mind, disturb our sleep, reduce our libido, isolate us socially, and throw us into depression. Unlike fear, where there are concrete obstacles, excessive worrying can make the whole world appear as a threat, causing anxiety and panic attacks.

Worriers typically get bogged down by events that haven’t happened yet but might in a worst case scenario, says Dr. Christine Purdon, a psychology professor and executive director of the Centre for Mental Health Research at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. They succumb to what she calls a “worry chain,” where one worrying thought spurs another and another, until they no longer can think straight.

What’s important is that overly worried people reestablish a sense of perspective. While it is perfectly acceptable to be a little nervous before an exam or a job interview, getting paralyzed with fear over every eventuality is not. There is only so much the mind can bear in terms of apprehension. Beyond that things start spinning out of control.

There are a number of exercises people prone to worrying can do to calm down and regain their confidence, Dr. Purdon suggests. Sometimes it can help just to analyze where a particular concerns originates from. Getting to the root of one’s worries can be a first step to overcome them. Asking the right questions, such as “Do I have any control over this particular situation?” – or “Have I done everything I can to avert an undesirable outcome?” – or “Is this an imminent threat?” can help clarify how justified a particular concern really is.

There are also some hands-on measures worried folks can take to counterbalance the effects of their thinking. Eating extra nutritious foods, engaging in regular exercise, and getting enough sleep are all tried and true anti-stressors. Nothing worse can happen to a person who is under emotional distress than letting his or her body get run down. It is like throwing gasoline on fire.

Not allowing yourself to be isolated is equally important. Seeing a licensed psychologist or health counselor can be helpful, and so can staying close to family and friends. Sometimes just forgetting about one’s worries for a while by rejoining the living can take the bleakness away.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (


More Than Temptation, Stress Causes Overeating During the Holidays

November 10th, 2013 at 3:21 pm by timigustafson

That many people’s waistlines expand during the holiday season is a well-established fact. But, as a new study found, the reason why most of us overindulge at this particular time may not be so much the countless opportunities for extra munching but rather the need for extra comfort due to heightened stress.

The study, which was conducted at the University of Konstanz, Germany, showed that participants who had a tendency to reach for food when stressed did not continue to do so after they were more relaxed, even though they were given equal access to the comfort foods they craved when they felt tense.

Other participants had reverse reactions. They ate less or stopped eating altogether in acutely stressful situations and compensated (or often overcompensated) for the deprivation afterwards when the tension ebbed. In either case, eating was connected to their stress experience rather than the availability of food.

Stress eating, or emotional eating as it is sometimes called, is not yet fully understood by scientist. In fact, the expression “stress eating” itself should be a contradiction in terms. Acute stress as a short-term response supposedly blocks the desire for food due to hormone releases in the brain that suppress appetite. But when high stress levels persist, as with chronic stress, cortisol, an appetite-stimulating hormone, secretes in the adrenal glands and remains elevated until the stress period ends, which may be indefinite.

Some foods seem to be more effective for stress relief than others. Comfort foods, which are typically highly processed and filled with fat and sugar, are among the favorite choices of the chronically stressed. These are also the kinds of food that one can easily snack on, often mindlessly.

Overeating, of course, is not the only widespread response to stress. Because of its energy-draining and exhausting effects, both physically and mentally, stress prevents many people from exercising and often from getting enough sleep. Alcohol and/or drug use, not unheard of among stress sufferers, add to the likelihood of unhealthy weight gain and other body dysfunctions.

So, what makes us so much more vulnerable and so inclined to succumb to our cravings during the holiday season? The fact is that this is no holiday at all for most people who find themselves burdened with many additional tasks and obligations while their everyday lives still must go on as usual. Thus, stress sources multiply. That, at least, may be one reason.

Still, whatever we do to cope with those challenges, it is important to understand that we are not helpless when it comes to controlling our impulses. The first step towards making positive changes is to become more aware of our tendencies and then take the necessary steps to counterbalance them.

For example, do you have a sweet tooth? If so, you can limit your access to your favorite treats. Do you easily forego exercising and make excuses for staying sedentary? You can draw up a fitness plan and join in with likeminded people who can hold you to it. Are you chronically sleep-deprived? You can make a point of increasing your sleep time. The list can go on and on.

It would be naïve to think that all this can be accomplished with a quick resolution. Far from it. Instead, I recommend to start with one thing, something concrete you can take on right now without further delay. How about, this holiday season, I give myself the gift of an hour daily to take care of my health and my peace of mind? It doesn’t matter what exactly you choose to do. Read a book, go for a walk, meditate, whatever. Stay with it, and that gift might just keep on giving.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (


No Time to Be Sick

November 6th, 2013 at 2:51 pm by timigustafson

It is a well-documented fact that American workers put in longer hours and take less time off than their counterparts in almost any other country in the developed world. Unlike in Europe, for example, where four to six weeks paid vacation time is mandatory, there are no comparable laws in the United States. But in addition to the lack of recreation, most Americans don’t stay home even when they are sick.

According to surveys by, about three in four people come to work while nursing a cold, the flu and something worse. Other statistics indicate the numbers are even higher.

When asked, most of those who decide to toughen it out say they don’t want to fall behind in their workload or be thought of as slackers. Most are also aware that the germs they spread around while sneezing and coughing may infect their coworkers – but still they insist on staying on the job.

It doesn’t help that taking a day off now and then is unaffordable for many Americans. Again, unlike in most European countries, there are no laws here that mandate a minimum amount of paid sick leave.

Employers, of course, are keenly aware that workers who show up ill can do more harm than good, not only because the viruses they carry are contagious, but also because they are likely less focused and productive than normally. In other words, it affects businesses’ bottom line, probably more so than if people stayed at home. Luckily, in this day and age, many of us can do at least some of their work remotely and don’t have to be physically present in their workplaces.

Either way, as this year’s cold and flu season approaches, it may be a good idea to make some plans for how to cope with the inevitable before it strikes.

Your first step should be getting a flu shot. It may not protect you against every strand that’s out there, but it increases your chances to escape some.

Second, you are well advised to wash your hands every time you leave common areas like conference rooms or cafeterias, or touch items like door handles, staircase railings or elevator buttons. Thorough washing and sanitizing of hands after bathroom visits should go without saying.

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to eliminate all germ threats and can only minimize the risk of getting infected so much. Still, it makes sense to take as many precautions as you can think of. However, you don’t want to become paralyzed with fear and develop paranoid behavior (Melvin Udall, the obsessive-compulsive character portrayed by Jack Nicholson in the movie “As Good As It Gets” comes to mind).

Your best weapon, besides vaccination, is to strengthen your immune system as much as possible. Especially in the winter months, it is important to eat healthily and get lots of vitamins from fruits and vegetables. Go outdoors and exercise, even if the weather is less than inviting. An enclosed gym may provide many more health hazards than cold but fresh air. Make sure you get enough sleep, since tiredness and exhaustion make you more vulnerable to infections. Manage your stress as well as you can.

Should you still fall ill despite of your best efforts, see what can be negotiated in terms of staying at home and, if necessary, doing some work over the phone and via email. Your boss and colleagues should thank you for your wise decision.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (


Stress in Midlife May Increase Risk of Dementia, Study Suggests

October 9th, 2013 at 3:28 pm by timigustafson

People who undergo traumatic experiences or endure stressful situations during their midlife years may be more likely to suffer from cognitive decline such as Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss as they age compared to their counterparts who manage to sail through life more smoothly, according to a study from Sweden that followed participants over decades, keeping track of their mental health.

The study only included women, but the researchers say there is no reason to assume their observations wouldn’t be applicable to men as well, although, as other studies have shown, the sexes respond to stress differently in a number of ways.

What is remarkable about the findings of this study is that stress-producing events, even if they had taken place long in the past, continued to have a negative impact on people’s mental well-being. Whether they could pinpoint the source to certain incidents like a divorce or the loss of loved ones, or whether they were exposed to high stress levels for extended periods of time, a.k.a. chronic stress, the potential for lasting health damages increased significantly as they grew older.

There also seems to be an accumulative effect: For each additional stressor the participating women reported at the beginning of the study, their risk of later developing Alzheimers’s disease was raised by up to 20 percent.

The researchers do not claim having found a cause and effect connection between stress and age-related mental decline, though.

“Stress and stressors are just one of several risk factors. Not everyone who had stress or stressors developed dementia,” said Dr. Lena Johansson of the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology at Gothenburg University in Mölndal, Sweden, one of the authors of the study report.

However, what the study does show, she said, is that common stressors most of us encounter every day can have severe long-lasting physiological and psychological consequences.

One possible explanation for this is that stress hormones like cortisol may cause harmful alterations in the brain. They can also affect blood pressure and blood sugar control. It is well known that high blood pressure can lead to heart disease, which is also suspected to play a role in mental decline. Even if all the connections are not yet fully understood, a larger picture seems to emerge that allows for a better identification of all the components.

For now, however, our best options are to take as many preventive measures as we can, such as eating healthy and exercising plenty. Getting enough sleep and managing stress are equally as important.

While there is no real protection against Alzheimer’s and memory loss available today, and perhaps never will be, we all can take steps to remain mentally active and alert. Lifelong learning and problem solving are most beneficial in this regard. Maintaining an active social life is also important.

As far as stress is concerned, most of us can never escape that for good. Modern life is just that way. That means we must find solutions to deal with the inevitable and counterbalance the impact of stress as best as we can. There is no shortage on advice on how to go about this, including on this blog. What matters in the end is how successful we are in controlling our responses to the obstacles that are thrown in our way, not just for the moment but for the rest of our lives.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “Staying Physically Healthy and Mentally Engaged Protects Best Against Dementia, New Studies Finds.”

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (



Stress and Anxiety Among the Leading Causes of Obesity, Studies Find

September 20th, 2013 at 11:21 am by timigustafson

Being well fed was once a sign of wealth, but obesity is now most prevalent among poor people. Surveys by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show a close connection between obesity rates and socioeconomic status in American adults. Particularly women at low income and education levels are at a high risk of developing weight problems at some time in their lives.

While most studies on the subject have been focusing mainly on the economic aspects of food-buying and eating habits of low-income earners – e.g. poor people buy food that’s bad for their health because it’s cheap and calorie-dense – more attention is now being paid to psychological responses to economical insecurity and how it can lead to dysfunctional behavior such as overeating and food addiction.

One particular study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), found that obesity may indeed be associated with mood and anxiety disorders, although the relationship can be complex and hard to pinpoint. Obesity may also be connected with other psychological disturbances such as depression, bipolar disorder and panic disorder, the study concluded.

Undoubtedly, economical hardship is one of the most stress-producing situations anybody can be exposed to. Researchers at the University of Manitoba, Canada, found that participants in a study who lived near or below the poverty line were at a substantially higher risk of developing anxiety disorders compared to their financially more secure counterparts.

Stress and anxiety are also well known as triggers of food cravings, especially for so-called “comfort foods.” Tests with lab rats have shown that stress increases the release of “endogenous opioids” in the brain, neurotransmitters that resemble opiates with similar addictive properties. They stimulate cravings for foods that can make you feel good in an instant, especially for those tasting sweet, salty and fatty that are so richly present in our Western diet.

Stress and anxiety-evoking experiences, of course, are not limited to acute financial difficulties. Our busy lives are filled with potential stressors in many ways. The effects are all the same, even when your daily challenges are more manageable. It is at times when you are not stressed to the hilt that you should put a plan in place that allows you to resist temptations when the going gets tough again.

Since food cravings in response to stress will inevitable occur, whether you fight them or not, it seems more helpful to keep food items around that are healthy and non-fattening, like fruits and vegetables, and to stay away from the chips and candy you may prefer at the moment but will cause you regrets later on.

What you don’t want to do is make matters worse either by artificially energizing your body with caffeine and sugar or by numbing yourself with alcohol or junk food. These are actually “stress-feeders,” even if they seem to bring contemporary relief.

If you need a boost or just something to make you feel better or let you cope more effectively, look for healthy “stress-busters.” Complex carbohydrates found in whole-grain breads, cereals and pastas, as well as oatmeal are good choices and nutritionally far superior to the simple versions you get from white breads and pastries. Carbohydrates help the brain produce serotonin, a chemical that relaxes you. Fresh fruits provide many vitamins and help strengthen the immune system, which is especially important when you are under heightened pressure. Almost all vegetables, cooked or raw, are beneficial for your nutritional health, and should be part of your daily diet, no matter what your state of mind is.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (

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About timigustafson

Timi Gustafson, RD, LDN, FAND is a registered dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and blogger. She lectures on nutrition and healthy living to audiences worldwide. She is the founder and president of Solstice Publications LLC, a publishing company specializing in health and lifestyle education. Timi completed her Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Dietetic Association, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Healthy Aging, Vegetarian Nutrition and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition practice groups. For more information, please visit

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