De-stressing Your Life With Exercise
by Andrew Heilbrunn
Biokinetics Department, CDE.
Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of real or imagined demand or threat. Not all stress is bad however. Eustress is beneficial stress, which often enables us to ‘step-up’ and ‘perform’ better when we give a wedding speech or run a sprint race. Stress helps us to respond to danger. When you are stressed in any way your body reacts swiftly in response. Your muscles tense up, and your ‘flight-flight-flight’ hormone adrenaline surges into action. Your heart and breathing rate increase and your blood pressure and blood glucose levels rise to prepare your body to react. This is entirely functional for acutely stressful situations. But, if stress and anxiety become chronic, you may begin to overwhelm your coping resources and the problems of being in a continual hyper-prepared state soon start to outweigh the potential benefits. You may develop other physical symptoms such as tension headaches, mouth ulcers, stomach cramps, nausea, gastric reflux. stomach ulcers and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Regular Exercise Can Improve Your Response to Stress
Apart from other healthy ways to prevent, deal with, refrain or avoid stress, Mayo Clinic research shows us that exercise in almost any form can act as a stress reliever. Being active can boost your feel-good hormones and distract you from wallowing in daily worries. Regular exercise can increase self-confidence, it can relax you, and it can lower the symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety.
How Does Exercise Do This?
Exercise is an excellent treatment for stress because it counteracts all your body reactions to it in a healthy way. When you exercise, you release the muscle tension – your brain registers that things are looking better and this allows you to relax more. Your blood pressure and blood glucose levels also come down, especially with the regular activity. Physical activity helps increase the production of your brains feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins. Endorphins are your body’s natural anti-depressant – they make you feel better. Although this physiological response is often referred to as a ‘runner’s high’, a game of tennis, a mountain bike ride, and nature hike, or a correctly prescribed gym workout can contribute to the same feeling.
After exercise your body and your mind become more relaxed, so activity may also improve your sleep, often distracted by stress, depression or anxiety.
All of these exercise benefits can ease your stress levels and give you a sense of command over your body and your life.
So, What's The Dose, Doc?
Exercise does not have to be at a high intensity to relieve stress. Low intensity exercise like walking, gardening, swimming for at least 20 minutes a day will do the trick. Just get moving, set reachable targets, and once you get going, you will see and feel the benefits.
After a game of tennis, or squash, several laps in the pool, or just walking around your office building at work, you’ll often find that you’ve forgotten the days irritations and be able to concentrate on and feel soothed by the rhythmic movement of your body.
No Excuses! Focus!
If you have a physical restriction, no problem! Ask your Biokineticist to prescribe exercises that are suited to you and get moving to start taking the best medication we have to help us manage chronic stress! As you begin to shed your daily tensions through regular movement and physical activity, you may find that this focus on a single task, and the resulting energy and optimism, will help you remain calm and clear in everything you do. Suddenly that stress monster may start looking a whole lot smaller… Stress! What stress!