Exercise Your Way to Calm

There are many different ways to de-stress. One of the most productive ways is to exercise. Exercise has been proven to reduce stress hormones & chemicals more than any other activity. Whether it’s just a walking or jogging around the neighborhood, joining a new sport, participating in yoga or a new class at your gym, or lifting weights, it will do wonders for your mind & body.

Stress is an inevitable part of life. Seven out of ten adults in the United States say they experience stress or anxiety daily, and most say it interferes at least moderately with their lives. When stress affects the brain, with its many nerve connections, the rest of the body feels the impact as well. So it stands to reason that if your body feels better, so does your mind.

Regular aerobic exercise will bring remarkable changes to your body, your metabolism, your heart, and your spirits. Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. Endorphins are responsible for the “runner’s high” and for the feelings of relaxation and optimism that accompany many hard workouts. When you exercise, your body produces endorphins which ultimately mean you will not only look good, you will feel good too!

Any type of exercise can increase your fitness and decrease your stress. However, it’s important to choose an activity that you enjoy rather than dread. Stress can result from many personal, professional, and environmental causes. The best way to cope with stress is by managing the stressors that are within your control. For example, you could walk away from toxic relationships or leave a stressful job. You can also practice accepting or coping with the stressors that are out of your control, with actions like meditating or drinking less caffeine and alcohol. Depression can make it much more difficult to control or cope with stressors, but seeking out counseling or therapy or taking medication can allow you to better confront stressors and deal with them in a positive, constructive way.

Stress comes in many forms and produces many symptoms. Mental symptoms range from worry and irritability to restlessness and insomnia, anger and hostility, or sensations of dread or panic. Mental stress can also produce physical symptoms. Muscles are tense, resulting in fidgetiness, taut facial expressions, headaches, or neck and back pain. The mouth is dry, producing unquenchable thirst or perhaps the sensation of a lump in the throat that makes swallowing difficult. Clenched jaw muscles can produce jaw pain and headaches. The skin can be pale, sweaty, and clammy. Intestinal symptoms range from “butterflies” to heartburn, cramps, or diarrhea. Frequent urination may be a bother. A pounding pulse is common, as is chest tightness. Rapid breathing is also typical, and may be accompanied by sighing or repetitive coughing. In extreme cases, hyperventilation can lead to tingling of the face and fingers, muscle cramps, lightheadedness, and even fainting. The physical symptoms of stress are themselves distressing. In fact, the body’s response to stress can feel so bad that it produces additional mental stress. During the stress response, then, mind and body can amplify each other’s distress signals, creating a vicious cycle of tension and anxiety. Because the root cause of stress is emotional, it is best controlled by gaining insight, reducing life problems that trigger stress, and modifying behavior. In addition to having a direct effect on your stress levels, regular exercise also promotes optimum health in other ways. Improvements to your overall health may help indirectly moderate your stress levels. By improving your physical wellness and heart health, you’ll have less to feel stressed about.

Many forms of exercise reduce stress directly, and by preventing bodily illness, exercise has extra benefits for the mind. Regular physical activity will lower your blood pressure, improve your cholesterol, and reduce your blood sugar. Exercise cuts the risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, colon and breast cancers, osteoporosis and fractures, obesity, depression, and even dementia (memory loss). Exercise slows the aging process, increases energy, and prolongs life. Except during illness, you should exercise nearly every day. That doesn’t necessarily mean hitting the gym or training for a marathon. It does, however, mean 30 to 40 minutes of moderate exercise such as walking or 15 to 20 minutes of vigorous exercise. Aim to walk at least two miles a day, or do the equivalent amount of another activity. You can do it all at once or in 10- to 15-minute chunks if that fits your schedule better. Add a little strength training and stretching two to three times a week, and you’ll have an excellent, balanced program for health and stress reduction. It’s important to start out slow & not cause extra stress to your body by overtraining. If you need guidance, hire a trainer to help get you on the path to stress-free, healthy living!

by Gina Stallone

Posted in Blog, Fitness and Health Articles.