In a year like 2020, I think it can go without saying that we are all familiar with stress in some way. The number of people who experience stress on a daily basis only seems to be getting higher, and as a result, their health is even more compromised. That is why stress management is such a crucial part of living a wholly healthy life (along with factors like exercise, nutrition, hydration, sleep, social support, stretching, and rest - all of which we are covering in this current blog series). So today we are breaking down how exactly stress affects our bodies, and how exercise, specifically, can help.
First things first, it’s important to know that at its core, stress is not fully a bad thing. Our bodies have been designed to utilize stress in emergency situations for quick responses. By releasing stress hormones (i.e. cortisol and adrenaline) the body is triggered to respond in a variety of ways, such as increasing your heart and breathing rate to get a deeper intake of oxygen; constricting the blood vessels to send more oxygen to the muscles for more strength to take action; producing more blood sugar to give you more energy to respond; and tensing up your muscles to prevent injury .
Stress becomes a concern, though, when it does not dissipate. If we continuously feel stress on a day to day basis, or if we are experiencing stress for long periods of time (a.k.a. chronic stress), it starts to negatively affect our bodies, and puts our health at risk. An article on everydayhealth.com entitled “The United States of Stress 2019” explains it well:
When stress doesn’t let up and is paired with the feeling that we have little to no control over the circumstances that are creating it, that’s called chronic stress. Over and over again, the research points to one key fact: Prolonged or unremitting stress exacts a stunningly toxic toll on the body, brain, mind, and soul. Its ongoing assault wears us down, measurably aging — or “weathering” — our insides, for some of us much more than others."
So before we get into why exercise and stress management go hand in hand, let’s chat first about how exactly this kind of negative stress plays out in our bodies.
EFFECTS OF STRESS
Stress certainly affects us mentally and emotionally, but it also does a lot more to us physically than we might realize. Here are a handful of ways that chronic stress can manifest itself:
It certainly doesn’t help that the worry or discomfort that any of these physical symptoms may raise in us can put us on a cycle of creating even more stress. That is ultimately why chronic stress can be so concerning. And it is why finding healthy ways to manage stress is so incredibly important. There are a variety of approaches to stress relief, and the most successful tactics for each person vary, but a major one that we are going to focus on today is exercise.
HOW EXERCISE HELPS
The interesting thing about exercise is that it essentially imitates the effects of stress on your body, and so it helps your body work through them in an effective way. And considering the many connections the brain has with the body, the better you can make your body feel, the better your mind will feel. Here are some tangible ways that exercise can do that:
EXERCISE AS STRESS MANAGEMENT
Like we said, there are so many ways that you can practice self care and work to manage the stress in your life, but because of the benefits listed above, and because we’re about the kind of work that’s worth it around here, here are some tips for stress management that solely revolve around incorporating exercise more into your weekly routine.
The bad news is, stress is sometimes inevitable. Add in a worldwide pandemic and a divisive election season and it might feel downright unavoidable. But the good news is, there are so many ways that you can work to combat and overcome it. Exercise is just one of them. If that’s a route you are wanting to try to help you relieve your own stress, reach out to us and we’d love to chat about ways we can help you on your fitness journey. And always remember: YOU’RE WORTH IT.
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Written by Kelly Pruim