By Mary Ann Bourbeau
Area experts recommend trying exercise, meditation and good seasonal food
Those extra few pounds are likely not the only thing your body has gained over the holidays.
While the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s can be fun, there is a lot of tension that goes along with it. January is a great time to get rid of that stress by incorporating exercise, relaxation techniques and healthy eating practices.
Diane Karpus, fitness and group exercise director at The Atlantic Club in Red Bank, suggests rigorous exercise to relieve stress. An option she recommends at The Atlantic Club is a boxing class during which Golden Glove champion Lapell Crank teaches people how to punch, bob and weave themselves to a fit body.
“It will help release pent up stress while torching calories,” Karpus said.
The Atlantic Club also offers tai chi, a mind-body practice known as “meditation in motion.”
“This low-impact, slow-motion workout will bring you through a series of movements that has proven to help with balance, muscle strength and flexibility,” Karpus said.
The best way to stick to a New Year’s plan is to make small and obtainable goals so the idea of fitness doesn’t seem so overwhelming. “You must see to it that exercise, healthy eating and inner reflection become a part of your daily routine,” she said. “In order to have success with your resolutions, you must make lifestyle changes.”
Walking outside for half-hour three or four times a week clears the head and is a good way to relieve stress, and might be more enjoyable with a friend. Other people might prefer to join a gym and take classes so they will be motivated by the energy and camaraderie of a group.
“At the end of the day, take some time to reflect and de-stress in a quiet place,” she said. “It won’t be long before you will see and feel the positive changes to your body and state of mind.”
Felicia Gaines Sachs, a certified massage therapist at the Lawless Chiropractic and Wellness Center in Fair Haven, takes a milder approach for de-stressing. She recommends starting the year off with a relaxing Swedish massage.
“Massage increases the blood and oxygen flow in muscle tissue and releases toxins that have built up,” she said. “It’s great for de-stressing. You can do it along with aromatherapy, using essential oils such as lavender that promote relaxation.”
Meditation, along with deep breathing, is a natural way to ease tension and can do wonders for the body and mind, Sachs said. “It’s another way of slowing down that hectic pace that we tend to live in and get stress from,” she said. “Take 5 minutes a day to listen to calming music or a guided image CD.”
When people are bogged down with all the activity of the holidays, they often forget to drink enough water. “The body becomes dehydrated very easily from stress, and stress headaches are exacerbated from dehydration,” she said.
Sachs also recommends journaling and making lists as another way to decrease stress because if forces you to prioritize your daily activities.
“A lot of stress is caused by the thoughts in our heads,” she said. “It’s good to get those thoughts out on paper.”
One thing people might not realize, according to Sachs, is that a poor diet can cause stress in the body.
“If you grab a piece of fruit instead of a handful of chips, you will tend to feel better because you’re not getting chemicals or salt,” she said. “Those things can cause physical stress to the body and skin.”
Andreea Fegan, a certified holistic health coach and raw food specialist based in Fair Haven, knows a thing or two about how the wrong diet can add stress to the body.
“People don’t connect it but certain foods really stress the body,” she said.
The worst culprits are processed and packaged foods, white sugar and flour, hydrogenated oils, pesticides, nicotine, alcohol and pharmaceuticals.
“These things are foreign and the body has to work harder to digest them,” Fegan said. “The No. 1 thing we should do is eat recognizable food. Nature provides the perfect food for us in its original state – clear water, fruit picked from a tree and vegetables from the ground. It’s in our genetics to eat that kind of food.”
Consumers should try to stay away from genetically modified food if possible, Fegan said. “GMO (genetically modified organisms) crops require more processing by the body since the body has to decipher the components of the food, which takes work,” she said.
Fegan also spoke of seasonal eating – consuming what is grown in your area at a particular time of year.
“Winter provides us with root vegetables and glorious greens,” she said. “In the summer, we need cooling foods. That’s why the earth gives us a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables. Every season has its own reason why things grow that time of year.”