Monday, May 16, 2011

The Ever Increasing Relationship Between Stress Relief and Exercise

By Melody Weathers
Stress isn't just uncomfortable; when it comes to your health, stress is downright dangerous. The chronically stressed have higher incidences of all of the following:
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Depression
  • Substance abuse
Understanding Stress
To understand why stress impacts your body and your mood in such a negative way, it helps to get a clearer picture of what stress really is. In essence, stress is your body's "fight or flight" response kicking into gear. From the perspective of evolution, the fight or flight response was absolutely necessary for survival. It told the caveman to run away from the lion or to protect his family from a roving wild dog.
Physically, when the fight or flight response begins, your adrenal glands release a dose of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol provides a quick burst of energy, lowers sensitivity to pain, and increases immune function. After the danger has passed, the cortisol levels return to normal.
People who suffer from chronic stress shoot dose after dose of cortisol into their bloodstream. In small amounts, cortisol is helpful, but when cortisol levels are higher and prolonged they lead to many negative effects. These include the following:
  • Decrease in bone density and muscle density
  • Blood sugar imbalances
  • Increased abdominal fat
  • Suppressed thyroid function
For anyone concerned with how to lose weight fast, too much cortisol resulting from chronic stress is obviously a problem.
How Exercise Helps with Stress
From the point of view of your body chemistry, exercise decreases the stress hormones like cortisol, while increasing endorphins.
Endorphins are our body's own personal narcotic, and their release into our bloodstream leads to a blissful, healthy high. In order for the body to release endorphins, you have to work out fairly hard. Resistance exercise, such as weight lifting, doesn't do much to release endorphins. Aerobic exercise, from high-intensity team sports to running and cycling, is the best way to get the endorphins flowing.
Then there are stretching exercises, such as yoga, that trigger the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is another naturally-occurring chemical that provides a healthy high. Stretching exercises also lower the heart rate, lower blood pressure, and promote healthy sleep (Source: Besides yoga, Tai Chi and Qigong are both popular exercises that are known to reduce stress through systematic stretching.
The benefits of exercise when it comes to stress, however, go beyond mere biochemistry. For example, team sports provide an easy, organic way to develop social support systems. From overall brain health to stress relief, the beneficial impact of increased social support and social interaction has been well-documented.
Exercise also provides the psychological benefit of getting your mind off your problems. When you become engrossed in a yoga posture, focused on power lifting, or zeroed in on the hill you're biking up, you temporarily forget about your problems. It's the unwarranted focus on our problems that leads to the stress response, so forgetting about our problems, if only for a short while, reduces the negative physiological and psychological impact of stress.
Suggestions for Reducing Stress Through Exercise
Although you may feel that the only way you can deal with your stress is to flop on the couch and zone out in front of the TV, this is actually one of the worst things you can do for your body. Yes, your stress will reduce for a while as you forget about your problems, but sitting on the couch won't release any endorphins or dopamine. Our bodies need endorphins and dopamine to stave off depressive states, so it's likely that if you deal with stress by vegging out, over time you will gain weight, feel sluggish, and begin to get depressed.
Instead, find a physical activity you like ? any physical activity. If you think exercise is boring, it's probably because you associate exercise with having to get up early and go to the gym or with going nowhere fast on a treadmill. Exercise isn't all StairMasters and gym memberships, though. Your exercise routine might start by joining an amateur football team, signing up for karate lessons, or just walking around your block. Chasing your kids around the yard, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and walking to lunch instead of driving there are also great ways to get started.
In short, you can definitely reduce your stress by increasing your level of physical activity. Don't trigger that mind of resistance by making exercise seem hard, expensive, or time consuming; start wherever you're at, and as you begin to feel the positive effects of exercise on your body and your mind you'll naturally want to increase your level of activity.
Melody was a fat girl. High school was awful to her and she never felt stress quite like she did then. Shortly thereafter, she made a decision to change her life and hasn't looked back since. She feels reborn and really wants to help out anybody who feels they are in the boat she was in not all that long ago. Melody currently operates How To Lose Weight Fast and would love input from anybody trying to battle the bulge.
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