While we may think of stress as normal because of its prevalence in contemporary society, it can have long-term and lasting consequences on health and well-being. Here’s a closer look at the problem, along with a breakdown of the vital role exercise can play in managing and overcoming stress.
The 411 on Stress
According to the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “stress is how the brain and body respond to any demand…There are different types of stress—all of which carry physical and mental health risks. A stressor may be a one time or short-term occurrence, or it can be an occurrence that keeps happening over a long period of time.”
Stress occurs in many incarnations, including routine stress, a response to daily responsibilities and pressures; stress caused by sudden negative change, such as illness, relationship changes, or the loss of a job; and traumatic stress resulting from exposure to a major event, such as war, assault, a natural disaster, or serious accident.
While stress can inspire some positive outcomes, such as motivating better performance or even saving lives in extreme situations, it can also lead to serious issues over time.
Continues the NIMH: “Health problems can occur if the stress response goes on for too long or becomes chronic, such as when the source of stress is constant, or if the response continues after the danger has subsided. With chronic stress, those same life-saving responses in your body can suppress immune, digestive, sleep, and reproductive systems, which may cause them to stop working normally.”
Stress and Exercise
What’s the good news? There are many different ways to manage stress, including recognizing the signs; exploring stress coping techniques, such as meditation and tai chi; and talking to a doctor or healthcare practitioner. One of the most effective ways to keep stress at bay, however, is regular exercise.
While you often think of exercise in terms of the physical good it does, the restorative powers of moving your body go far beyond that. Urges the Mayo Clinic: “Virtually any form of exercise, from aerobics to yoga, can act as a stress reliever. If you’re not an athlete or even if you’re out of shape, you can still make a little exercise go a long way toward stress management.”
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Specifically, exercise reduces stress in several key ways, according to the Mayo Clinic. These include pumping up the body’s production of “feel-good” endorphins (the same function responsible for “runner’s high”); improving focus, calm, and clarity (leading the Mayo Clinic to proclaim it “medication in motion”); and boosting your mood. Exercise is also linked with alleviating symptoms of mild depression and anxiety.
If poor sleep or lack of sleep is increasing your stress, exercise will help with that too. In fact, a study published in the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity determined that “people sleep significantly better and feel more alert during the day if they get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week,” as reported by the National Sleep Foundation.
Because of the profound, proven benefits of exercise, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity weekly or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity. From walking and swimming to running and cycling, virtually any way you move your body can support your mental health. The Mayo Clinic also reinforces the importance of adding strength training exercises to your workout regimen.
One last thing to keep in mind is that slow and steady wins the race. Advises the Mayo Clinic: “Walk before you run. Build up your fitness level gradually. Excitement about a new program can lead to overdoing it and possibly even injury.” A personal trainer can offer workout tips and other valuable advice in helping you determine the safest, most effective exercise plan.
All of this may leave you wondering, with so many obligations leading to so much stress in your life, how can you possibly afford to make time to exercise? Given the abundance of evidence pointing to the stress-reducing advantages of exercise, the better question to ask may be, how can you possibly afford not to? Sign up for a trial pass to get started at Brick Bodies today.