By: Rachael Anderson
How Stressed Are You?
We're all familiar with stress, whether it's from taking on too many projects at work or battling traffic to pick up the kids from school. Whatever the source of your stress, the frequency with which you feel stressed and how you handle stressful situations can help -- or hurt -- your health.
"High levels of continuous stress can raise your blood pressure, harm your immune system and increase your risk of heart attack and stroke," says Keith Roach, MD, Chief Medical Officer of Sharecare and co-creator of the RealAge® Test. On the flip side, a little stress is good for us. "We have higher performance levels with a little bit of stress than with no stress at all," says Dr. Roach. Being able to effectively manage stress can make your RealAge 2.4 years younger if you're a man and 1.1 years younger if you're a woman. That's why we factored stress into our RealAge Youngest & Oldest Cities in America Report.
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When you encounter a perceived threat -- like a big job interview -- your body releases a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline raises your blood pressure and cortisol increases your blood sugar levels. Once the threat is over your hormone levels drop, and your heart rate and blood pressure return to normal. But when you experience a high level of constant stress, that fight-or-flight response stays turned on, and the body releases more and more of these stress hormones. "This clearly has a bad affect on our heart and immune system, making us more likely to develop heart disease, diabetes and even cancer," says Roach.
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1. San Diego, CA
San Diego boasts some of the highest rates of optimism and exercise, thanks to year-round beautiful weather and serene beaches. "Exercise is a great way for most people to relieve stress," says Roach. "It lowers cortisol and baseline epinephrine." Other factors that contribute to San Diego's laid-back attitude and overall good health are the city's low rates of smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, both activities that people tend to do when they're stressed out.
2. Austin, TX
The city's healthy employment rate -- Austin ranks second in employment among RealAge Cities -- certainly helps. "There's a direct correlation between losing your job and stress," says Roach. "People who are unemployed have an older RealAge than those who are fully employed." Residents of the Live Music Capital of the World may also thank the 250 music venues for their lack of stress. Studies show that listening to music can lower your blood pressure, boost your immune cell count and reduce levels of stress hormones.
3. Kansas City, MO
Managing stress seems to be one of the few things Kansas City residents are doing right to stay young and healthy. They rank highly in a host of unhealthy habits, including poor eating habits, high smoking rates and not getting enough sleep. Whether it's all that soothing Kansas City jazz music, upscale shopping (retail therapy can be a great stress reliever!) or camaraderie around sports teams, residents don't let stress get the best of them.
4. Sacramento, CA
Sacramento is one of the top cities for exercise, which is a great way to cope with stress. Residents here also have some of the lowest rates of diabetes and hypertension (both conditions that can stem from chronic stress). Even better, they have low rates of C-reactive protein, a marker of disease-causing inflammation that's worsened by stress.
5. Phoenix, AZ
With endless sunshine, some of the nicest spas in the country and plenty of outdoor activities, it's no surprise Phoenix is one of the least-stressed cities in America. But residents of the Valley of the Sun have something that not a lot of cities have: They're among the 10 top cities for optimism, as well. "A person who's optimistic isn't protected from stress, but is probably going to be less affected by it," says Roach. One study tracked 135 adults ages 60 and older over six weeks and found that the stress hormone cortisol tends to be more stable in people with optimistic personalities.
6. San Francisco, CA
San Francisco residents are number one for exercise, sexual satisfaction for men (another good way to relieve tension -- if you're in a committed relationship), not smoking and eating fruits and vegetables. Whole fruits as well as whole grains boost serotonin levels in the brain, and vegetables high in magnesium and vitamin B6 help relieve anxiety.
7. Chicago, IL
The Windy City is number two for drinking moderate amounts of alcohol. Studies indicate that people drink to cope with stress, and the more severe the chronic stress, the greater the alcohol consumption. Chicagoans also get a lot of shut-eye (they're ranked fifth for sleep). Chronic stress keeps your cortisol levels elevated into the evening hours, which increases anxiety and may make falling asleep difficult. Finally, Chicago ranks in the top 10 for income, and a healthy paycheck is a good buffer against stress.
8. Minneapolis, MN
Aside from eating a diverse diet with plenty of whole grains, the Twin Cities is number five for both employment and health insurance. Both help ward off stress. "Lack of good health insurance is a source of both financial stress as well as overall stress," says Roach. "The worst thing that can happen to someone is to have some sort of catastrophic illness with no health insurance. It can bankrupt an entire family."
9. Memphis, TN
For starters, Memphis is the least angry city in America, and that's good news because anger triggers the release of stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol. Memphis is also ranked number one for employment overall and first for sexual satisfaction for women. One study out of Scotland found that when subjects had sex, their blood pressure reacted less to stressful activities. Residents here also rank number six for have a strong social network. "What seems to be beneficial for most people is connecting with others," says Roach. "It may not lead you to a solution, but at least getting it out there can really make a difference in having us feel less stressed."
10. Miami, FL
Miami isn't just home to the NBA champions the Miami Heat; it's also home to some of the least stressed residents in America. With nice weather, plenty of relaxing parks and some of the best beaches in the U.S., it's easy to see why. Miami is also ranked in the top 10 for sexual satisfaction in both women and men. Plus, it's the 10th most optimistic city in America. All these factors help residents enjoy a laid-back lifestyle.
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