Why exercising can help us manage our stress? The month of April is dedicated to Stress Awareness, so I decided to share 'why movement can help us reduce our daily stress'.
Let’s be realistic, stress is a good thing in general. We need it to function properly. Anthropologically, we were designed to use stress as a defense mechanism. Our ancient ancestors had two choices when facing danger in their environment: fight or flee. We have inherited this perception of threat that activates the 'sympathetic nervous system' and triggers an acute stress response. Once our ancestors decided to fight or flee, they either died or survived. When they survived, then they relaxed, and cooled down.
Today, many of us keep a constant stress, a non-stop anxiousness mode is going on. It brings us to the other end of the spectrum where stress isn't cool anymore. Therefore, learning to cope with the daily presence of stress and finding healthy ways to not only manage stressful situations but mitigate them, can certainly improve our health tremendously and bring positivity.
Exercise, a solution
Moving our bodies has a positive effect on our body, metabolism, heart and mind. It has direct stress-benefits on producing more 'happy brain’s neurotransmitters', also called endorphins.
“Exercise has a unique capacity to exhilarate and relax, to provide stimulation and calm, to counter depression and dissipate stress. It's a common experience among endurance athletes and has been verified in clinical trials that have successfully used exercise to treat anxiety disorders and clinical depression. If athletes and patients can derive psychological benefits from exercise, so can you” Harvard Health.
We don’t need to be an elite athlete or to be in super shape to use exercise as a stress reliever. Any type of exercise including yoga or long walks can relieve our stress. For me, breathing exercises, mental visualization, combined with movement, have done marvels to manage my stress.
As an anxious and stressed individual, I had to find ways to feel better and deal with my stress. People always think that I am very calm. What they don’t see is the inner stress that I constantly need to manage to achieve a perceived sense of well-being. As part of my stress management plan, related to exercising, I include a few things: squash matches 5-6 times per week, a long run once per week with my husband, at least two bodyweight and free weight training sessions per week, a few stretching sessions throughout the week, 20-minute morning meditation practice everyday and daily walks with my dog in our community or by the ocean.
How exercise reduces stress
Movement can have so many benefits on your well-being and it is a great way to manage your stress, here is how:
1) Your endorphins are through the roof, which is good
We never say after a walk in nature that we feel down and stressed out. We usually get the feeling of being on a high of positivity. Movement of our body helps produce endorphins, which are the feel-good neurotransmitter and the body's natural painkillers and mood elevators. Exercise also reduces levels of the body's stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol.
2) It makes the different systems of your body work together
Movement can impact your body positively by protecting your heart, digestive system and immune system from the negative and sometimes harmful impact of stress. Since exercise imitates the impact of stress, like the flight or fight response, all the different systems on your body start working together to mitigate and manage the stress.
3) Mindfulness in action
The focus on a single task and on our physical movement, while we play our sport, go for a swim, run or walk, makes us forget our concerns and worries. Movement helps us remain calm and more mindful in everything we need to do.
4) Moving improves your mood and sleep
The relaxation that follows movement helps improve our mood and reduce the symptoms of stress and anxiety. As a result, it is also known that exercise helps to improve the quality of our sleep (stillness, restfulness and deep sleep). Managing your stress through movement gives you a sense of control on your body and life in general.
Routine is key
Starting a new workout program is a first important step. However, adopting a solid routine that we will stick to is even more important. The routine has to be sustainable for it to work on our stress management.
Write down your SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-limited) goals. If your goal is to manage your stress in your daily life, then your specific goal could be: walking at lunch, four times per week.
Train with a buddy. Make appointments with someone for your walks or for your abs, upper body or legs workout. It makes it much harder to cancel when we make a commitment with someone. Plus it makes it more fun.
Make your routine interesting by changing it regularly. If you’ve always been a competitive player or runner, then it is time to add something else into the mix to help manage your stress such as pilates, yoga, or stretching sessions.
Shorter fitness or movement sessions. What is most important here is to include movement in your daily life. Going for a 30 minute walk, doing a 20 minute full body workout or 15 minute stretching are sufficient to channel your stress.