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Limiting stress can be as important to good health as eating well
Coping with stress helps nutrition and health

Date published: 6/5/2005

HOW YOU DEAL with stress may be almost as important to your health as eating right and staying active.

Not only is it easier to prepare healthy meals and exercise when you are relaxed, but relaxation itself promotes physical changes in the body. Studies show learning to manage stress can reduce risks associated with heart disease and diabetes.

I meet plenty of people for whom eating well alone isn't enough. To feel better, they also need strategies for reducing stress.

Stress management does not replace medicine, nutrition and exercise, but it works with them. Our mind and emotions influence our body, as anyone who has had sweaty palms or a nervous stomach can attest.

The research about stress and health is compelling. For example, four months of weekly stress management classes reduced risk of death, heart attacks and severely clogged arteries by 26 percent compared with general medical care, according to studies at Duke University Medical Center.

Those stress management classes were linked to lower medical costs, and participants reported less emotional distress and less depression than those receiving only usual care from physicians.

Duke's stress management classes included muscle relaxation, imagery and assertiveness training.

At Stanford University, people with congestive heart failure who took eight 75-minute stress management classes also reported feeling better. Not only did their moods improve, but they walked farther after the 10-week series of classes than before.

Across oceans in Mumbai, India, researchers found that a yearlong program combining yoga, nutrition and stress management helped people reverse heart disease. Cholesterol levels dropped 23 percent on average, and angiograms showed regression of heart disease in 47 percent of participants, according to Indian physicians.

Manage stress and diabetes

People with diabetes, in particular, seem to benefit from stress reduction.

Those who attended five sessions of group classes on stress and diabetes had lower blood sugar levels than those who attended five classes on diabetes only.

Diabetics suffer from high blood sugar, which can cause complications such as blindness, heart attacks, kidney failure, poor circulation, numbness and even the need for limb amputations.

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