Along with frigid temperatures and bottles of champagne, New Year’s Eve brings about reflection, aspirations and resolutions for the year ahead. There’s plenty of good advice out there on how to stick to New Year’s resolutions. And, coming on the tail end of an eventful year, and at a time of year when people in general may feel more stressed, some people may focus on trying to reign that in as the new year begins.
Of course, many causes of stress are systemic, related to forces that no one human being can control.
But there are certainly things that can help. A growing body of research is building the case that physical exercise does help relieve stress. While that may sound like the kind of unsubstantiated folk advice that might lead you to sign up for a discounted New Year’s membership at a gym you’ll never actually go to, it’s becoming a substantiated claim. A group of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found evidence that areas of the brain involved in physical movement have a clear connection to the adrenal glands, which play a major role in the body’s stress response.
Getting exposure to nature can also help. A study from Stanford found that those who went on even short walks through pleasant, tree-laden surroundings felt better than counterparts who walked through busy city streets. According to National Geographic, a similar study in Japan found that a 15-minute “walk in the woods” led to significant decreases in blood levels of stress hormone, blood pressure and heart rate.
Of course, not everyone is able to pack it up and head to the woods for three days, and getting to a park might be a challenge depending on your schedule or where you live. If even 15 minutes might help, it could be worth a shot, given the research behind it.
Other quick fixes to reduce stress that may appear more scientific can fall short. STAT reported on a $199 “wearable device” that promised to reduce stress and had little evidence to show it achieved that effect. As STAT notes, the people on whom it was tested were mostly on Social Security or disability, and would be unable to afford such a device even if it did work.
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