Relaxation Can Improve Your Health

  Relaxation Can Improve Your Health

Although the link between psychological and emotional well-being and physical health has long been suspected, it is only relatively recently that hard evidence has come to light.

A recent piece of evidence is a study by Barbara Andersen and others at Ohio State University. They have shown that breast cancer patients who had undergone psychological intervention had a lower risk of cancer recurrence.

The study, reported in Medscape 20 November 2008, followed 227 women over 11 years. Those women who were taught relaxation methods had much less chance of cancer recurrence than those assigned to psychological assessment only.
Stress Hormones

The body has to have a mechanism for translating thought into physical action: if you want to pick up a cup, then that wish gets translated into muscular action. If you realize that you are in danger, then that thought also needs to become an action. In the case of danger, a certain urgency is usually required for the work, and the emotion of fear mediates this.

Thoughts become emotions through the action of the hypothalamus. This small gland beneath the brain receives input from the rest of the brain. It sends its output to the pituitary gland which controls some organs in the body. Of particular interest are the adrenal glands – one on each kidney. When we are frightened, nerve impulses from the brain go to the hypothalamus which in turn stimulates the pituitary gland to secrete epinephrine and norepinephrine from the adrenal medulla and cortisol from the adrenal cortex.

Epinephrine & norepinephrine are hormones, that they rapidly prepare the body for dealing with danger by increasing heart rate, sending more blood to the skeletal muscles and increasing the amount of glucose in the blood.

Cortisol helps the body deal with the threat and prolonged stress. Among other things, the hormone increases blood sugar and blood pressure. It also tends to inhibit inflammation. This why the related corticosteroid drugs are used to reduce inflammation in diseases such as arthritis.
Stress and Immunity

These stress hormones have the effect of dampening down immunity – some appear to hurt a class of white blood cells called natural killer cells. This does not matter if the stress is short-lived and the hormones quickly fall back to their resting state. 

However if the stress is constant, or the person feels that the stress is constant (the body doesn't always distinguish between a real or perceived threat) then the effect will be that the stress hormones are kept at a high level and in consequence blood pressure and blood glucose are likely to be kept too high and the immune system depressed.

The effects of a raised continuously blood pressure are well known. The dampening effect on the immune system could lead to difficulty in fighting off infections and being more susceptible to developing cancer.
Relax and Stay Well

The evidence for the effect of the mind on the body's defenses is now overwhelming and this provides a simple and optimistic message: relax, reduce stress levels and you are much more likely to stay healthy There's a huge amount of information available on relaxation and stress reduction available for anyone who wants to make a start straight away.

The authors of the Andersen study pointed out that the stress reduction technique that seemed the most effective was progressive muscular relaxation, a method that has been cited by many other writers in the field.


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