If you’re under a great deal of daily stress, it is not good enough to lie down and stare at the ceiling or rattle around the TV dial all evening. Your mind continues to rehash the day’s problems and thus perpetuates your stress. In 1960, a researcher in experiments on sensory deprivation, showed that, even when paid $20 per day, student volunteers could not stay in bed for more than two or three days without any activity. Going from too much stress to too little stress is obviously like jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.
The best way to unwind, it has been found, is to switch to something else that is also stressful. This alternate stress should be something that requires full concentration, but that involves different circuits of the brain and body. Thus, such obviously stressful activities as roller coaster rides, mountain climbing, white water boating, parachuting, racket sports, and surfing can all have a tremendous value in the reduction of your ordinary stresses. An activity of this nature forces you to completely forget about your routine stresses. The alternate stresses for your mind could well be sedentary, such as music, reading, or crafts, but make sure you still leave at least three hours per week for the alternate stresses for your body.
The important point is that what you choose to do should be an alternate exercise. A professional baseball pitcher, on a day off, would not be reducing stress by playing more baseball. The main benefit comes from using different circuits. The tennis pro, for example, may get some relief from stress by tackling a desk job such as financial management or playing the stock markets. On the other hand, the professional financial expert would benefit more from playing competitive tennis as a break in his or her routine.
Another aspect of this in connection with longevity is that, without an interest in some alternate activities, you may well have little else of interest in your life when you reach retirement age. Furthermore, senility can set in at any age with the absence of stimulation. Being dull and boring is certainly not restricted to the elderly, as anyone who has ever attended a cocktail party can attest to.
Exercise in itself is extremely important. Your body is a finely tuned instrument, but the muscles will not retain their tone, shape, or function if you are slack about exercising them. It has been shown that cardiac function in seventy-year-olds who have been keeping fit all their lives is actually better than that in untrained twenty-year-olds. If you leave fitness until your retirement years, you can still improve upon the odds of survival and give your heart the function of an untrained forty-year-old, but obviously it would be better to stay in shape all along.