Stress Factor: Neither Fight Nor Flight
Today its rare that we have to fight with our fists or run for our lives. On the contrary, its usually the case that we dont ever release this tension the concentrated energy and stress hormones and instead we dont move enough, if at all, keeping our bodies in a loop of stress.
These contradictory behaviors result in a classic problem for todays humans: Tension and energy arent released adequately and the stress hormones produced arent reduced.
In a stressful everyday life, your physical activity and nutrition plans can sometimes fall by the wayside. Take advantage of our free Body Check to get back on track, with nutritional advice and product recommendations tailored to your fitness level and goals.
Upward Spiral = Sleep Eat Exercise Repeat
Being physically active improves both the quality of your sleep and if you feel rested and energetic, youre more likely in a better mood and have the will and energy to pay attention to what you eat and plan your workouts. Thats the positive cycle: Exercising leads to better sleep, which leads to better mood and eating right, and all this translates into energy to exercise more.
It has been shown that those that are physically active are more likely to make food choices that support their training and health. Sound nutrition positively impacts both our mood and supports improved quality of sleep and you wake up the next day for the positive cycle to continue.
Exercise As A Stressor
The above discussion should impress upon the clinician and researcher that exercise is itself a mental and physical stressor . In short, the stress of exercise may in some circumstances interact with psychological stress to dampen PA behavior. Indeed, exercise might by typified as a self-inflicted stressor, often intentionally undertaken with a goal of attaining health and fitness. While such experiences are generally considered adaptive, not all outcomes are positive in nature. From a physical standpoint, for instance, there is always risk of injury , which is magnified under conditions of stress and may result in missed exercise participation. Exercise undertaken in unaccustomed volumes can elevate glucocorticoids and stunt physical processes, such as neurogenesis . Ultimately, at very high levels exercise may result in deleterious outcomes, such as unexplained underperformance syndrome. This outcome may be exacerbated by the experience of mental stressors and, likewise, may result in additional sensations of stress . Indeed, increased exercise over a period of days or weeks can contribute to negative shifts in ones mood and increased perceived stress . A recent study found that poor muscular recovery was associated with self reports of chronic stress . As sensations related to muscle damage likely result in impaired PA , it is possible that stress may affect exercise behavior by magnifying unpleasant sensations associated with exercise.
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The Effects Of Psychological Stress On Pa/exercise: State Of The Literature
The search yielded a total of 168 papers interested in the impact of stress on PA. Five studies were published in the 1980s, 37 in the 1990s, 86 in the 2000s, and 40 from 2010 to July 2012 . The first evidence in the scientific literature of the link between mental stress and PA was reported in the early 1980s . Research at this time addressed the impact of stress on a host of health-promoting and -degrading behaviors, including alcohol use, smoking, dietary practices, and PA , in particular in relation to their role as risk factors for cardiovascular disease. This early work was epidemiological in nature, typically cross-sectional, employing very large sample sizes . Furthermore, the population of focus frequently was middle-aged adults in occupational settings .
Yearly distribution of publications examining the association of stress and physical activity/exercise from 1984 to 2012
What Are The Benefits Of Exercise
Aerobic exercise is very important for our mind, just as it is for your cardiovascular health. Initially, particularly for beginners, people associate exercise with high physical demand that is undesirable and unpleasant. However, exercise gets more manageable, and believe it or not more fun!
Regular exercise has many positive Impacts on your body, from increasing strength and stamina, to boosting your metabolism. Furthermore, exercise can also promote relaxation and calm – which clinical studies have shown can reduce stress and even depression. This has been verified in many clinical trials that have successfully been used to reduce stress and anxiety, particularly among athletes.
So, one important message to understand is that exercise is not only good for our muscles and joints, but it has huge psychological benefits that we can all benefit from, especially those with busy lifestyles who claim to be too tired or dont have enough time. We can see that even mild to moderate exercise, in these cases, is advantageous.
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Exercise Is A Moving Meditation
Sitting still isnt the only way to practice and experience the benefits of meditation. Any kind of physical activity can be a moving meditation.
Meditation is simply paying attention to whats happening in the here and now, specifically within your body and mind, says personal trainer Jacque Crockford, CSCS, senior product manager for the American Council on Exercise. So if you like running and you focus on your breath while running or you pay attention to your foot hitting the ground, youre meditating!
Same goes for being in the zone while weight lifting, swimming, or, yes, practicing yoga, Howes adds.
If you want to try guided meditation, a meditation program like Unstress makes meditation easy and accessible to everyone.
What Types Of Exercise Help With Stress
There are many ways to meet your weekly exercise targets. What type of physical activity should you choose?
You dont need to be a marathon runner or elite athlete to experience stress relief from exercise. Almost any kind of exercise can be helpful.
For example, consider trying moderate aerobic exercises such as:
When it comes to muscle-strengthening exercises, consider trying weight lifting or activities with resistance bands.
Even something as simple as gardening or choosing to take the stairs rather than the elevator can give you an emotional lift.
Any type of exercise can increase your fitness and decrease your stress. However, its important to choose an activity that you enjoy rather than dread. If you dont like the water, dont choose swimming as your activity. If the thought of running makes you anxious, training for a 5K race wont help relieve your stress. Try a variety of activities until you find some you enjoy. When youre having fun, youll be more likely to stick with your workout routine.
Working out with someone else can also add to the stress-busting benefits of workout. Sharing it with family members of friends can make exercise feel more like fun and less like work.
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How To Combat These Barriers
The group exercises encouraging workout partners is an excellent idea to provide a support network.
People who report stress because of work or family obligations might enjoy the solitude of exercising alone.
Using a variety of exercises like dancing, yoga, tai-chi, zumba, cycling, or any favorite exergames that are enjoyable can be introduced in the exercise plan to maximize adherence.
If you feel you are too busy to exercise, whatever you do, moving more will help you to combat stress better. Ditch the car or bike and walk or cycle to your office. Even concentrating on moving your bodies for 10 to 20 minutes will help.
So get moving and forget all the stress! The door to well-being is in front of you, just get exercising and open the door to a happy stress-free life.
Exercise And Ptsd And Trauma
Evidence suggests that by really focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise, you can actually help your nervous system become unstuck and begin to move out of the immobilization stress response that characterizes PTSD or trauma. Instead of allowing your mind to wander, pay close attention to the physical sensations in your joints and muscles, even your insides as your body moves. Exercises that involve cross movement and that engage both arms and legssuch as walking , running, swimming, weight training, or dancingare some of your best choices.
Outdoor activities like hiking, sailing, mountain biking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and skiing have also been shown to reduce the symptoms of PTSD.
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Reaping The Mental Health Benefits Of Exercise Is Easier Than You Think
You dont need to devote hours out of your busy day to train at the gym, sweat buckets, or run mile after monotonous mile to reap all the physical and mental health benefits of exercise. Just 30-minutes of moderate exercise five times a week is enough. And even that can be broken down into two 15-minute or even three 10-minute exercise sessions if thats easier.
Evidence That Stress May Increase Pa
Speaking to the point of positive influences of stress, 29 studies found that stress predicts an increase in PA behavior , ten of which were prospective . Other studies found trends in this direction . Lutz et al. found that this was only the case for habituated exercisers. Brown et al. found that some life events were associated with increased PA, including distressing harassment, beginning a new close personal relationship, retirement, changing work conditions, major personal achievement, death of a spouse/partner, and income reduction. Seigel et al. reports that in a random sample of young Swedish women, 22.0 % were likely to increase PA, 60.1 % were likely to be unaffected, and only about 16.5 % of respondents were likely to decrease PA with the experience of stress.
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Why Does Exercise Reduce Stress How Much Do You Need
Its clear that exercise is beneficial for mental health. Whats not clear is how it works. according to the Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Health letter.
Photo by Luis Quintero on Unsplash
In one study, researchers reported that clinically depressed adults who participated in regular exercise for three months had an improvement in symptoms similar to what might have been achieved with antidepressant drugs. Other studies have found that higher levels of physical activity are associated with fewer symptoms of depression in children as well as improvement in symptoms of adults with PTSD, panic, and other anxiety disorders.
Possible explanations are that vigorous exercise can increase levels of endorphins, which are known to provide a sense of well-being and increased resistance to pain. Elite marathoners may experience a feeling of euphoria referred to as the runners high and are often so insensitive to pain that they continue to run on broken bones that would normally bring them to an immediate halt. However, the old adage no pain, no gain no longer seems to be valid since many stress-reduction rewards can be achieved by walking for 20-30 minutes several times a week or other much milder physical activities that promote a sense of well being. The support provided by others in group exercise activities as well as an improved sense of selfesteem associated with physical activity can also have powerful stress reduction effects.
How Does The Body React To Stress
When your body encounters a stressor , the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine are produced by the sympathetic nervous system and endocrine glands. This prepares the body for fight or flight response to cope with the stressor. Cortisol production is increased if the stressor is perceived to be more of a threat than a challenge which causes energy production and suppression of immune function. The heart rate and blood pressure increases along with mental alertness and tension. Also, it can have deleterious effects contributing to diseases such as atherosclerosis, depression, and obesity.
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How Physical Activity Can Help Reduce Stress
Physical activities, such as jogging, workout routines, dancing, and bicycling are good for your body and for your mind. Almost any form of exercise, from low intensity activities like yoga to high intensity activities like a Tabata class can act as a stress reliever, no matter your fitness level. Here’s how it works:
Listen To Soothing Music
Listening to music can have a very relaxing effect on the body.
Slow-paced instrumental music can induce the relaxation response by helping lower blood pressure and heart rate as well as stress hormones.
Some types of classical, Celtic, Native American and Indian music can be particularly soothing, but simply listening to the music you enjoy is effective too .
Nature sounds can also be very calming. This is why theyre often incorporated into relaxation and meditation music.
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Exercise Can Help You Sleep Better
Its no surprise that working out may lead to a better nights rest. There are a few reasons for this. First, exercise can tire you out physically and mentally, Crockford says.
Second, exercise has been shown to reduce levels of cortisol and increase levels of feel-good serotonin. This combination can help to improve sleep , she says.
While everyones experience with exercise and sleep differs, better sleep can lead to less stress.
Downward Spiral = No Sleep No Energy No Exercise
When youre tired, you struggle with feelings of lethargy and a decreased mental state. Due to being tired, you dont have the energy to exercise and youre more inclined to make bad food choices: think afternoon slump and reaching for the sugar or riding the caffeine train.
Poor food choices and lack of physical activity then affect your quality of sleep and the cycle continues.
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How Does Exercise Reduce Anxiety And Stress
In her book, The Joy of Movement, Dr. Kelly McGonical, PhD, provides fascinating research regarding movement, exercise, and how it relates to anxiety and stress. She writes, in humans, exercising three times a week for six weeks increases neural connections among areas of the brain that calm anxiety. Regular physical activity also modifies the default state of the nervous system so that it becomes more balanced and less prone to fight, flight, or fright.
Exercising also provides other beneficial feelings. I tell my clients that when we are done with a session, I want them to feel equal parts fatigued, accomplished, and energized. Yes, exercise will often make you tired. However, knowing you completed your workout for the day should also make you feel proud and accomplished for what you have done, and gets you ready for what is to come.
To receive the full impact of a stress-reducing workout, try to complete at least twenty minutes of whatever movement you choose to do. Seriously, choose anything.
There is no particular pace or distance that qualifies you to receive the benefits. All you need to do is find something that is moderately difficult and persist in completing it for at least twenty minutes. After twenty minutes, your body releases endorphins that give us feelings of exhilaration, reduced stress, and/or euphoria. You can get your own runners high without running!
How Exercise Promotes Positive Well
Exercise can also be used to enhance well-being in people who already feel mentally healthy. Increased physical activity has been found to enhance mood, improve energy levels, and promote quality sleep.
There are several reasons why physical activity can be good for psychological well-being:
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Four Ways Exercise Can Relieve Exam Stress
Your exam’s in a week, but so far all you’ve managed is to sit in the library stressing out for six hours re-reading the same paragraph over and over again. Your energy levels are so low even the three coffees you’ve gulped down aren’t cutting it anymore. Feeling helpless? Exercise could be the answer!
Read the top four ways exercise has been proven to effectively help improve focus, memory and energy levels whilst also helping to clear your head and boost endorphins .
1. Exercise relieves stress
The bad news? Stress slows down the brains ability to process information, making it more difficult for us to concentrate and focus, which in turn can greatly impact your exam performance. The good news? There is a cure! Exercise cranks up the bodys production of serotonin and dopamine, the feel-good brain chemicals which helps create a happier and healthier mood. Even a quick 20 minute session can radically change your mental and physical state, especially if you have been sitting in the library all day.
2. Exercise improves memory retention
Fight Or Flight Response
When youre stressed, your body is in a state known as fight or flight. It prepares itself to literally fight for its life or run to safety. The process involves the bodys stress response system, a beautifully tuned and finely evolved system that includes every organ in the body.
The race for survival starts the moment your brain senses or perceives a threat. At that moment, the hypothalamus triggers the pituitary glandlocated deep in the base of your old reptilian brainto send out an emergency signal. That signal is received by the adrenal gland, situated above the kidneys.
Located in the inner part of the adrenal gland, the adrenal medulla releases a unique blend of hormones into the bloodstream. Together, theyre the equivalent of a warning bell ringing in every organ in the body. They include:
From there, the message is simple: Get ready to fight for your life.
In tandem, blood starts to move away from the center of the body to the limbs, getting your legs ready to to run or your arms ready to punch. Additionally, this state of stress or arousal affects the digestive system, as there are cells in the gut that are sensitive to stress hormones. This perhaps explains why people who experience chronic stress often have digestive problems.
The amazing thing is that this all happens even before youre fully aware of the danger.
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