One way to fight excess weight may surprise you. Besides clocking in time with a tread mill, it turns out we also need to do the opposite: learn to relax. Experts say managing stress effectively doesn’t only help with weight loss, but it makes us healthier overall.
According to Mladen Golubic, MD, PhD, Medical Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Lifestyle Medicine, excess weight and high levels of stress contribute to lifestyle-related chronic disease — and the two are related.
“Relieving chronic stress leads to better eating and exercising. Those lifestyle practices are proven to stop the progression of — and sometimes reverse — some chronic diseases,” Dr. Golubic says.
Is it all in my mind?
You’ve heard people talk about illness that’s “all in your mind.” They may not be completely wrong.
That’s not to say illnesses are imaginary. But, according to Dr. Golubic, improved mental well-being is an important ingredient for overcoming:
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
Excess weight and high levels of stress contribute to lifestyle-related chronic disease — and the two are related. “Relieving chronic stress leads to better eating and exercising,” he says. “Those lifestyle practices are proven to stop the progression of — and sometimes reverse — some chronic diseases.”
Why relaxation is so powerful
Relaxing by practicing meditation, yoga and other mind-body techniques can make us more accepting of our emotional states, says Dr. Golubic. This acceptance leads to:
- Better mental control: We’re less likely to give in to habits and impulses.
- Truer hunger (and fullness) signals: We’re less likely to soothe stress by eating.
Studies have also reported significant weight loss in people who practice meditation. “Weight loss requires a resilient mind,” says Dr. Golubic. “We need mental strength to confront the challenges of today’s sedentary lifestyles, surrounded by processed and addictive food-like substances.”
How you can try it
More Americans are using mind-body approaches to improve their health and well-being, according to a recent nationwide survey. About 21 million adults (nearly double the number from 2002) and 1.7 million children practice yoga. Almost as many practice meditation.
You can try it too, by:
- Watching DVDs on relaxation techniques. You can learn how to meditate, do yoga or tai chi, or use guided imagery.
- Attending yoga and/or meditation classes. You can learn stretching, breathing and meditation from an experienced yoga therapist or meditation practitioner. Be sure to find a class that works for you. There are many types of yoga and meditation practice available for people of every fitness and experience level.
- Seeing a lifestyle medicine professional. Lifestyle medicine experts will teach you a variety of techniques for relaxation, healthy cooking and eating, and effective exercise.
“The same approaches don’t work for everyone due to genetic or behavioral factors,” says Dr. Golubic. “Be bold, be persistent, and dare to experiment to find the most effective, sustainable self-care path for you.”