When you make your to-do list for the following day, do you leave yourself time to relax? With doctors advising that you need to get more exercise and a long list of retirement plans stacking up, you might not feel like you have a free moment. But relaxation can be just as beneficial for your health as eating well and working out, especially if you’ve adopted modern society’s tendency to keep a jam-packed schedule. Learn the benefits of taking time to relax so that you can intentionally unwind instead of waiting until you’re overwhelmed and then crashing.

Lower Your Blood Pressure

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost one-third of American adults have hypertension. Although your blood pressure ebbs and flows throughout the day, it can be problematic if it stays high for an extended period of time.

When the blood exerts more pressure than is necessary against the artery walls, it can damage them. High blood pressure also increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Most people are alerted to their high blood pressure when they get a reading at the doctor’s office. The condition has no symptoms, making it a silent killer. If you have high blood pressure and don’t take measures to reduce it, you are putting your health at risk.

That’s why it’s so important to do what you can to improve your blood pressure. Eating well, exercising and not smoking are some ways to manage your blood pressure. But if you’re constantly stressed out about trying to fit nutrition and exercise into your busy schedule, you could be doing yourself a disservice.

Take time to relax to help maintain low blood pressure. This doesn’t mean that you should be a couch potato; you should still get approximately 30 minutes of aerobic exercise per day. However, you can use relaxation techniques to reduce levels of stress hormones and slow your heart rate.

Increase Blood Flow

While relaxation reduces blood pressure, it improves blood flow. Studies show that short-term meditation is correlated with a boost in blood circulation in the brain. It also improves focus and self-control.

When your body is in good condition, your circulatory system works effectively, bringing adequate blood flow to your major organs with minimal effort. Your heart moves more blood with each pump and doesn’t have to work so hard.

People often associate exercise with improved circulation and heart health. While it’s important to get your body moving, overworking yourself can lead to a heightened stress response, which elevates your blood pressure. Try relaxation to keep your vital signs stable.

Calm the Mind

Have you ever noticed how many thoughts go through your mind at a given moment? Stop reading right now and close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths. Continue breathing for a few minutes. If you notice that your brain is swarming with information and judgment, you could probably use a relaxation session.

Because the mind and body are connected, you can relieve tension in one by relaxing the other. For example, gentle stretching exercises combined with breathing are great for loosening up the body. This type of physical relaxation can also reduce anxiety and mental strain.

Relaxation produces a pattern of brain activity that vibrates in an alpha wave pattern. Alpha waves are also present when people are falling asleep, in REM sleep and in deep meditation. These waves signal that the mind is in a wakeful, but relaxed, state.

There are many types of relaxation techniques that you can use to calm the mind. Focusing on your breath brings your attention to the present moment, making you less likely to get caught up in your intrusive thoughts.

You can also practice mindful meditation. This is especially helpful when you’re immersed in an activity that’s either extremely mundane or overwhelming. Being aware of what’s happening without trying to change it can calm your central nervous system, which in turn quiets your mind.

Improve Digestion

Giving yourself time to relax can improve your digestion in several ways. When you’re busy, you might not take the time to eat nutritious meals. Slowing down lets you nourish yourself.

Relaxation techniques are also used to manage gastrointestinal issues. When you’re calm, your autonomic nervous system is relaxed too. This is the system that controls the bodily functions that you don’t have to think about, such as your digestion and heart rate.

The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are part of the autonomic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is activated when you’re tense or stressed out. This is the system that redirects blood flow away from your digestive system so that you can fight or flee.

When your sympathetic nervous system is going strong, your parasympathetic nervous system is suppressed, your breathing is shallow and your heart rate accelerates.

Research shows that you can shift into a calmer mode just by breathing slowly and tranquilly. Because relaxation is a voluntary practice, you can take steps to stay calm, which improves all of your physical functions.

Relieve Aches and Pains

As people age, they tend to experience more aches and pains than they did when they were younger. In fact, about 20 percent of adults in the U.S. suffer from chronic pain. Relaxation can work alone or in conjunction with medication to help them regain mobility and reduce discomfort.

When you take time to put your feet up, your muscles loosen. This is due in part to the fact that you tend to hold your body still while you relax. If you’re constantly in motion, your muscles tone is consistently high. This can result in tightness, knots and aches.

Progressive muscle relaxation is one way to unwind your muscles. To do this, tighten your muscles while you inhale. As you exhale, relax your body. Work through different groups of muscles until your entire body is relaxed.

The Bottom Line

Unfortunately, many people see leisure time as something to sacrifice in exchange for productivity. When they’ve reached a breaking point, they take a vacation or flop onto the couch because they need some relief. But relaxation should be part of a holistic approach to wellness. When you make time for yourself, you hit the reset button and allow your body to come into balance. If you’re working to maintain or improve your health, don’t neglect the power of relaxation.