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Released: November 19, 2002

Exercise, Nutrition Can Boost Holiday Mood, Relieve Stress

MANHATTAN, Kan. – For some, many holiday foods are ‘comfort’ foods.

But whether or not food can really boost one’s mood – and even relieve psychological stress – probably depends on following a recipe of exercise and good nutrition, says Barbara Lohse Knous, a human nutrition specialist with Kansas State University Research and Extension.

During the holidays, "you probably need more exercise, because you know you might be eating more," says Lohse Knous. "Maybe you want to walk around the mall once before you buy anything. Or walk back to the car to take packages before returning to shop.

"Whatever you do, it takes planning, something you’re going to want to do."

Lohse Knous cited a recent study that showed people who exercised more frequently (one to four days a week) were less stressed than those who didn’t exercise at all. The study also showed no difference in the benefits of exercise for people with a different body mass index (or BMI, a measure that takes into account a person’s height and weight).

"That shows that exercise alone (regardless of one’s body size) is really important in terms of handling stress," Lohse Knous said.

"There truly is a physiological response on our body to emotional stress, but there is not necessarily a food or a vitamin that will stop it," she added. "A lot of people buy stress vitamins, and think those are going to help them – but they’re not."

Instead, nutrition has one part in helping people cope with stress, says Lohse Knous, who offers these tips:

* Recognize that stress exists;

* Get good sleep;

* Get psychological help (for example, from a counselor; or a self-help activity like yoga or meditation);

* Keep a normal eating schedule. If you normally eat twice a day with a snack, stick with it.

Lohse Knous adds that foods high in carbohydrates tend to help people relax, perhaps even sleep better. Foods high in protein generally help people stay alert. Alcohol (in small amounts, such as 1 ounce distilled spirits, 5 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer) can be calming, and helps increase appetite.

Lohse Knous also said comfort foods and kitchen aromas can improve one’s mood.

"Look at comfort food as a psychological treatment, not a nutritional treatment," she said, adding that studies have shown that people who are ill "feel so much better when they have a comfort food."

The smell of freshly-baked bread or cookies also appeals to "our most primitive sense," Lohse Knous said. Some non-food aroma favorites include potpourri, incense or spices.

Lohse Knous encourages people to avoid holiday binge-eating, but if it happens, "don’t beat up on yourself."

"There are more important things to do than beat up on yourself because you ate too much. Don’t feel guilty, or binge eat more or even go on a diet the next day. Just go on about your normal routine."

For more information on healthy eating, interested persons may contact their local Extension office.


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by:
Pat Melgares, News Coordinator
K-State Research& Extension News

Additional Information:
Barbara Lohse Knous is at 785-532-0154