Stress is your body’s response to certain situations. Stress is a subjective: Something that may be stressful for one person — speaking in public, for instance — may not be stressful for someone else.
And not all stresses are “bad.“
For example, graduating from college may be considered a “good“ stress. Stress can affect your physical health, your mental health, and your behavior. In response to stressful stimuli, your body turns on its biological response: chemicals and hormones are released that are meant to help your body rise to the challenge. Your heart rate increases, your brain works faster and becomes razor sharp, you have a sudden burst of energy. This response is natural and basic; it’s what kept our ancestors from falling victim to hungry predators stress overload, however, can have harmful effects. We cannot eliminate stress from our lives, but we can learn to avoid and manage it.
Almost all of the experts, including a few of my good doctor friends, agree that one of the best ways to manage stress is through exercise. Exercise has been proven to relax the body and mind, burn fat, improve cardiovascular system, bring in more oxygen, reduce the chance of diseases, lower blood pressure and more….the list goes on, and on and on!
During the stress response, many chemical reactions occur in the body preparing it for what is known as the “fight or flight response.“ During prehistoric days, as cave dwellers, we had the opportunity to burn off our stress when wild animals attacked or threatened us. Yikes! Stress was part of our survival mechanism. We were able to run away or fight the threat.
In today’s society, we do not have to fight wild animals, so we do not have the same outlet readily at hand to burn off the stress or pent up negative emotions. Therefore, we carry it with us, creating emotional and physical problems.
Exercise can help by providing an outlet for negative emotions such as worry, irritability, depression, hostility, anger, frustration, and anxiety. We can dissipate these feelings by bashing a ball on the tennis court, by running, or punching a bag. Regular exercise provides the opportunity to manage the “fight or flight response“ and helps the body to return to a homeostasis or balanced state more quickly.
Exercise can also improve self-esteem and self worth. We may feel more outgoing and social because of the increased energy. A better physique creates more confidence and a positive self-image. Our self-esteem is be enhanced by taking on exercise challenges or goals, giving us a feeling of accomplishment and reward. Some very good reasons to either start exercising now or continue whatever you have going. I encourage everyone to do some strenuous exercise daily, as tolerated, like weights, racquetball, tennis or swimming. Here are some examples from MayoClinic.com 1.
Exercise increases your overall health and your sense of well-being, which puts more pep in your step every day. But exercise also has some direct stress-busting benefits.
- It pumps up your endorphins. Physical activity helps to bump up the production of your brain’s “feel-good“ neurotransmitters, called endorphins. Although this function is often referred to as a runner’s high, a rousing game of tennis or a nature hike also can contribute to this same feeling. For me, rope jumping does the same to release endorphins.
- It’s meditation in motion. After a fast-paced game of racquetball or several laps in the pool, you’ll often find that you’ve forgotten the day’s irritations and concentrated only on your body’s movements. As you begin to regularly shed your daily tensions through movement and physical activity, you may find that this focus on a single task, and the resulting energy and optimism, can help you remain calm and clear in everything that you do.
- It improves your mood. Regular exercise can increase self-confidence and lower the symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety. Exercise also can improve your sleep, which is often disrupted by stress, depression and anxiety. All this can ease your stress levels and give you a sense of command over your body and your life.
Your stress response can get into a pattern where it reacts to a high degree to whatever you’re confronting: a traffic-clogged commute, the aftermath of a car accident, health concerns or paying bills. Add to that worrying events taking place in the world and the daily struggle to accomplish an endless list of tasks, and you have an idea why stress is such a widespread health issue. Do your best to avoid these stress factors and exercise as often as possible.
From www.stress-relief-exercises.com2 come these ideas for relieving stress.
Stress Relief Exercises
Exercise for Relieving Stress may be in the form physical, mental, or spiritual exercise – or a combination of all three, e.g. yoga. What is good for the body is good for the mind and vice versa.
Physical exercise is one of the most effective ways of relieving stress. Exercising the body regularly is very effective in managing stress, on its own or as a part of a stress management plan. Getting into better shape improves your mental health as well as your physical health.
When we physically exert ourselves, the body releases chemical substances (endorphins) that are similar in nature to opiates. These natural substances produced by our own bodies are free of side effects, except for making us feel good.
When it comes to stress management, every little bit of exercise counts. Don’t think if you can’t commit to a stringent fitness routine that it’s useless. It’s not. What motivates people to do more of something is to do little of something.
Exercises to Suit Everyone
From doing gentle stretching exercises to keeping up in a physically demanding aerobics class, stress relief can be achieved through a wide range of activities. Some people enjoy the solitude of walking alone. Other people need the stimulation of interacting with others, whether walking in a group, participating in a yoga class or other fitness class, or playing a sport such as tennis, racquetball, etc. Interacting with other people during exercise can provide additional stress relief.
Exercise in a Natural Environment Provides Additional Stress Relieving Benefits
Obviously it is more relaxing to walk along a nature trail than to walk along a busy street. Natural surroundings trigger relaxation responses deep in the brain. Even mentally picturing being surrounded by mountains, trees, or watching the waves roll in at the beach can have this calming effect.
Exposure to daylight also has positive effects on mood — another benefit of exercising outdoors.
Any activity that gets your heart pumping (aerobic exercise) will get those endorphins flowing and relieve stress. Though you should check with your doctor before embarking on any exercise program, walking is usually safe for anyone. Try to get your heart going a little faster for at least 15 minutes a day. Even a few minutes here and there of brisk walking can provide stress relief and improve your overall health.
Though not generally as effective as aerobics for relieving stress, many people find that getting into a strengthening exercise program does relieve stress. Strength exercises are also important to prevent injury during aerobic exercise by strengthening the muscles that support your joints. A toned body has as much impact on mental wellness as physical wellness. Stretching Exercises Stretching exercises stimulate receptors in the nervous system that decrease the production of stress hormones. Stretching exercises also relax tight, tense muscles and increase blood flow to the muscles.
Yoga exercises involve the body, mind and spirit. Yoga poses improve flexibility and strength and incorporate breathing techniques that aid in relaxation and general wellness. Stress relief exercises that don’t involve movement but involve both mind and body include meditation exercises and deep breathing exercises; both have been shown to reduce blood pressure.
Self-Indulging Activities Alleviate Stress
On the days you don’t exercise, do something else you find relaxing – whether getting some massage therapy, soaking away stress in a soothing aromatherapy bath, etc. It is not selfish to spend time on yourself! How can you have the energy to take care of others unless you take care of your self? Exercise can decrease ‘stress hormones’ like cortisol, and increase endorphins, your body’s ‘feel-good’ chemicals, giving your mood a natural boost into feeling more energized. To quote Nike3; “just do it.“
About the Author
Bill McGinnis is an NFPT-certified Master Fitness Trainer, and trains exclusively at the University of Texas Medical Branch Alumni Field House on Galveston Island, TX. He has over 24 years in the Fitness Industry, including work as the Men’s Fitness Trainer at the Betty Ford Center and as a Fitness Manager in Southern California. He currently specializes in training older clients for balance, strength, endurance, golf, tennis and an improved quality of life.