The digestive benefits of downtime

Author: Linda DiBella

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “kids say the darnedest things”.  While usually they’re funny, they often carry with them a very profound message.  For example, the other day, my grandsons were playing in the backyard in the sprinkler.  The youngest one Carmine, came to sit with me on the porch.  His brother Antonio shouted over for him to come join him to which Carmine replied, “I’m chillin’ out, I’ll play with you later.” He had been playing hard all day and it was time for a rest. Hearing this come out of a four year-old’s mouth made me laugh hysterically inside, but it also reminded me of the importance of relaxation.

Most of us have busy daily schedules and understand the importance of slowing down to reduce stress and to recharge,  and this practice is also beneficial when it comes to eating and digestion for a number of reasons:

  • Eating slowly, in a relaxed, happy, and calm mood makes the experience more enjoyable which has a direct impact on how our body digests food. For example, emotions such as fear and sadness can slow down digestion and anger and aggression will speed up the process.
  • Since digestion begins in the mouth, eating slowly by chewing well means that our stomach will have less work to do to break down a meal and ensures that we absorb as many nutrients as possible.
  • Eating slowly will allow us to eat less.  Because it takes ~20 minutes for the brain to send a signal that we are full, by eating fewer bites, we can feel satisfied with less food.
  • Rest and relaxation after a meal will give our bodies the opportunity to digest food properly, since some of our blood supply must be redirected from our muscles to the gut for digestion.
  • High levels of stress produce excess cortisol, which can hinder digestion.  In addition, a lack of sleep will raise cortisol levels, which can, in turn, inhibit sleep, leading to a vicious cycle.   This lack of sleep can actually lead to weight gain.
  • Excess stress can deplete our feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin.  Ninety percent of our serotonin supply functions in the gut and low levels can lead to digestive problems, including constipation since fear (and anger) are also symptoms of low serotonin levels.

Besides eating slowly, in a relaxed atmosphere, there are a number of tools we can use in between meals to manage our stress and energy levels that will ultimately help with digestion:

Meditation.

Many people meditate first thing in the morning when their minds and the atmosphere are the most quiet.  But anytime throughout the day when you can find a few minutes to close your eyes and try to slow down the mind by either concentrating on your breathing or even visualizing something calming or joyful works wonders. Here’s a very useful one minute meditation technique that, when mastered, can be done even under the most stressful of situations.

Reading. 

Doesn’t it seem like a luxury these days to be able to sit down with a cup of tea and a good book and just read?  It is something to be grateful for and it’s a perfect way to redirect the mind to more calming places.  Books are also a valuable source of thoughts and ideas and can often trigger our own minds to create something new.

Taking a nap. 

While most of us like to reach for the mid-afternoon coffee or sweet, a nap would be far more beneficial.  Fifteen to thirty minutes of sleep would give us a chance to reboot. Sleep is actually one way that we solidify new learning and memories and when our brain does its housekeeping, so naps are a great way to stay sharp and to keep cortisol levels in check, which will also help with weight management.

Pampering.

Nothing can calm the body and mind like getting a massage in a dark room with a few candles and soft, soothing music. Even taking a bath with some Epsom salts and a few drops of lavender oil will soothe the body from the inside out. Both practices are great detoxifications.  Treat yourself when you can.

Walking.

Taking a walk may actually be more doable for people during their workdays.  Although it involves movement, it’s a chance to step away from your work, get some oxygen, get the circulation going, and keep the digestive system moving.  It’s a non-stressful form of exercise that will allow you to return to your workspace relaxed and clearer.

If you don’t now, try to schedule moments of rest and relaxation into your days or weeks. I know that everything mentioned here is obvious and just needs to be put into practice, but life has a way of sometimes making us forget and we just need to be reminded.  Any way you can come up with to slow down and rest on a daily basis will have profound benefits on your digestion, your sanity, and your health.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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