Stress and Exercise
Life is stressful. Coping with job-related pressures, changes in one's health, caring for a sick spouse or trying to balance your budget in tough economic times can be challenging. Fortunately, there are many ways that you can combat stress. Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce the stress in your life.
How does exercise reduce stress?
- Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, bringing more oxygen and nutrients to the brain. This meets the increased energy needs of the brain brought on by stress.
- Exercise decreases production of stress-related hormones.
- Exercise increases production of endorphins, the body's natural "feel good" substances. Have you heard of the term "runner's high?" This is what produces this feeling.
What are some of the benefits of exercise?
- It allows you to refocus and turns your mind away from the stresses of day-to-day living.
- It releases built up tension. Anger and stress, when "bottled up" can lead to a host of negative health consequences. Exercise can release this built up tension.
- It helps you "mono task" — In a world that requires and rewards multitasking, exercise can help you concentrate on just one thing. The consistent, repetitive motion of certain types of exercise can act as a form of moving meditation and can deliver many of the same benefits as traditional meditation.
- It can provide an escape. Physical activity can provide a much needed time out from the demands of a stressful world.
- It can make you feel better about yourself. Setting up and staying with an exercise program can boost your self esteem and can build self confidence.
How can I get started?
- Check with your doctor — Make sure that your heart, muscles and joints are up to the task, especially if the planned activity is vigorous.
- Start low and go slow — Remember that your muscles may not be used to their new role. Stretch out and ease into a routine.
- Make it easy to fit it into your schedule — Scheduling a 2 hour walk every day may not fit into a busy schedule. Try starting with a 20 minute walk over the lunch hour or parking at the farthest reaches of the parking lot.
- Pick something that you like to do — If you have to talk yourself into doing the activity every time, it won't last.
- Do it with a friend — Together, you can help each other stick with it.
- Make it a priority — Stress will always be there, so you have to fight back. Carve some time out to do something healthy for yourself.
- Set specific goals — "I will walk for at least 20 minutes at least 4 days/week" is more tangible than " I will try to be more active."
- Have alternatives and switch it up once in awhile — This will help you from getting into a rut. It also improves the chance of staying with it. For example, if it rains, I will practice Tai Chi for 20 minutes inside instead of my walk at lunch hour.
- Get going — Don't put it off. Start today!