Work, kids, finances, relationships, illness. Everyone has some stress in life.
While some let it build up to the point of emotional, physical, or relational problems, others have learned effective ways of dealing with it. One way to prevent stress from – well, stressing you out, is through regular physical activity.
What is it about exercise that relieves stress? How can you incorporate exercise into your already busy schedule?
Endorphins are feel-good brain chemicals that pass signals in the nervous system. They’re produced in response to stress, pain, fear and sex. These chemicals work to block pain, control emotions, enhance the immune response and create a sense of euphoria. Drugs such as codeine and morphine, chocolate and chili peppers all have a similar effect on the brain as endorphins.
Research has shown that prolonged exercise also increases the release of endorphins. Sometimes referred to as a ‘runner’s high’, you don’t have to run to feel this mood boost. A vigorous game of basketball or an intense tennis match will do the same. This increase of endorphins enhances your body’s ability to deal more effectively with stress.
Here’s another way to look at it. When you exercise and endorphins are released, your body gets the opportunity to practice its response to stress. So the next time you’re stressed out, your body will be prepared to deal with it in a healthy way.
Your mind may be going a million miles a minute all day long with everything on your plate. Spend some time working out, and as you focus on your movements, you’ll start to unwind and forget about your worries. The tension you felt at the office will melt away as you expend your pent up frustration.
Following your workout, your energy will feel renewed to face the problems that don’t seem as insurmountable any more.
Exercise not only improves your health, your heart, and your body, but it’s also known to improve your mood. A good mood goes a long way in combating stress.
One way exercise does this is by helping you sleep better at night. A good night’s rest eases your stress level. Second, the weight loss and increased stamina attributed to exercise can improve your self-esteem and empower you to effectively manage stress. Finally, stress stimulates the production of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which put your body on heightened alert.
Exercise reduces these hormones and helps you feel calm.
If you feel too busy and stressed to add one more thing to your schedule, it’s time to re-evaluate your priorities. For starters, don’t regard exercise as one more thing to add to your to-do list. Rather, make it part of a healthy lifestyle
And don’t worry too much about what kind of exercise you do. When it comes to stress relief, any type of physical activity will do. It could be jogging, walking, cycling, swimming, yoga, or gardening. Or change things up to add variety and keep you engaged.
Exercising with a friend may make it more enjoyable and help keep you accountable. Regardless, aim for 75 minutes a week of intense exercise or 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise. Mark specific time slots on your calendar and follow through.
Because a little exercise goes a long way on the road of stress management. Stressed out? Give exercise a try. You may find the relief you’ve been seeking.
Jack Wheeler is a personal trainer and owner of 360 Fitness in Red Deer.