Exercise the Stress Away

05.18.2012 / Blog Posts Health and Wellness

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Becky Johnson, Certified Personal Trainer (ACE); IBNFC Certified Nutrition Coach

People who exercise regularly will tell you they feel better. Some will say it’s because chemicals called neurotransmitters, which are produced in the brain, are stimulated during exercise. Since it’s believed that neurotransmitters mediate people’s moods and emotions, they can make you feel better and less stressed.

While there is no scientific evidence to conclusively support the neurotransmitter theory, there is plenty to show that exercise provides stress-relieving benefits. We all lead very busy and stressful lives. We stretch ourselves so thin that we don’t have time to breathe. Between kids, jobs, spouses, family and other commitments the effects of this lifestyle start to take its toll on our bodies.

There are four ways in which exercise controls stress:

• Exercise can help you feel less anxious. Exercise is being prescribed in clinical settings to help treat nervous tension. Following a session of exercise, clinicians have measured a decrease in electrical activity of tensed muscles. People are less jittery and hyperactive after an exercise session.

• Exercise can relax you. One exercise session generates 90-120 minutes of relaxation response. Some people call this post-exercise euphoria or endorphin response. Many neurotransmitters, not just endorphins, are involved. The important thing though, is not what they’re called, but what they do: They improve your mood and leave you relaxed.

• Exercise can make you feel better about yourself. Think about those times when you’ve been physically active. Haven’t you felt better about yourself? That feeling of self-worth contributes to stress relief.

• Exercise can make you eat better. People who exercise regularly tend to eat more nutritious food. And it’s no secret that good nutrition helps your body manage stress better.

Time To Get Started

Now that you know that exercise can make a big difference in controlling stress, make some time for regular physical activity. We’ll help you get started by listing three activities you can chose from:

• Aerobic activity. All it takes is 20 minutes, 6-7 days a week. Twenty minutes won’t take a big chunk out of your day, but will significantly improve your ability to control stress.

• Yoga. In yoga or yoga-type activities, your mind relaxes progressively as your body increases its amount of muscular work. Studies have shown that when large muscle groups repeatedly contract and relax, the brain receives a signal to release specific neurotransmitters, which in turn make you feel relaxed and more alert.

• Recreational sports. Play tennis, racquetball, volleyball or squash. Join an adult soccer or softball league. These games require the kind of vigorous activity that rids your body of stress-causing adrenaline and other hormones.

Not Just Any Exercise Will Do!

• Try to steer clear of exercising in your office. Outdoors or away from the office is the best place to find a stress-free environment. Sometimes even a corporate fitness center can trigger work-related thoughts for some people (especially if you are working out next to your boss)!

• Stay away from overcrowded classes. If you work surrounded by people, a big exercise class may be counterproductive. Solo exercise may be more relaxing for you. If, however, you work alone, you may enjoy the social benefit of exercising in a group. A lot depends on your personality and what causes stress for you.

• Don’t skip a chance to exercise. Take a break every 90 minutes and you’ll be doing yourself a favor. Ninety-minute intervals are a natural work-break period. And four, 10 minute exercise breaks will burn as many as a solid 40 minutes session. Work-break exercises can be as simple as walking or climbing stairs, stretching or doing body weight exercises.

Controlling stress comes down to making the time for yourself and for exercise. You’re worth it!

Stay Fit and Healthy,

Do you have your own tricks to combat stress? Post them below to share them with WOW members!

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