Stress Less: The New Science That Shows Women
How to Rejuvenate the Body and the Mind

by Thea Singer

Hudson Street Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1-594-63060-6.
Reviewed by Susan M. Andrus
Posted on 12/08/2010

Nonfiction: Elders; Nonfiction: Cultural/Gender Focus; Nonfiction: Body Language

In case you're tired of hearing "Diet and exercise!" over and over again, Thea Singer's engaging style presents a very convincing argument about the benefits of reducing stress to live a healthier, longer, more fulfilling life. Reporting research beginning with 1911 up to the present, she shows that right down to the tips of our DNA strands (telomeres), stress causes shortened telomeres, belly fat, confused thinking, poor memory, and faster aging.

As we learned back in seventh grade science, when cells divide, or undergo mitosis, they replicate themselves exactly. But when strands of DNA in our cells divide, scientists have discovered that the telomeres, little tips of each strand, don't divide. They have to split themselves in half and give some to one DNA strand and some to the other. That's what contributes to aging, obesity, wrinkles, gray hair, weak muscles, and pain in our joints. The older we get, the more our cells divide, and the shorter the bits of telomeres become.

But listen up! Those telomeres can be bulked up, reversing aging in some cases or just slowing down the process for the rest of us. Reducing stress appears to be the key in every study. In addition to the research data about how our bodies deteriorate from stress, Singer gives us additional research to show how to reduce stress and regain our health. One way is to exercise, but not in a stressful way. Having to complete a physical fitness regimen can be very stressful, but Singer shows through documenting research how to exercise in a healthy way.

Singer also shows us how diets can cause stress: we have to count calories, weigh and measure our food, or purchase meals high in salt to make up for lack of flavor from fat. Memorizing the new food pyramid and simply eating the whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and foods on the widest part of the pyramid can reduce this stress, as well helping us to lose weight.

And what about our attitudes? When comparing female optimists with female pessimists, "the optimists were 14 percent less likely to die from any cause and 30 percent less likely to die from coronary heart disease than the pessimists." Meditation techniques, sleep, and changing our social circles also help to reduce stress and lead us to a younger self. Within each section, Singer gives us a short test to help us determine our level of stress in that category. Then she gives us the strategies to help reduce that particular stress. (For example, my biggest stressor is lack of sleep. Singer found studies showing "truncated sleep as an important risk factor for obesity." Singer offers a link on her website where we can volunteer to participate in a sleep study and receive suggestions on how to improve our sleep patterns, thus slowing down our shrinking telomeres.) Looking at stress as the cause of obesity and aging rather than other symptoms, it makes sense to read this book and find research-based methods for reducing that stress and feeling better physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Thea Singer has written about health and science for more than three decades. A contributor to More; O, The Oprah Magazine; Natural Health; Inc.; Body + Soul; and The Nation, her byline has also appeared in newspapers such as The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and The Boston Herald. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts. Visit her website.

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