Most people know of the importance of exercise as a means of weight loss, strength gains, and increased endurance, but exercise can play a major role in the reduction of stress. Along with just stress relief, exercise can help improve mental health, emotion and mood.
When you exercise, your body produces substances called endorphins (source: Journal of ST). Endorphins are formed within the body to help relieve pain and induce a feeling of well-being and relaxation. Endorphins have a similar chemical structure to morphine. Release of these endorphins can make you fall asleep faster, and may help in the reduction of high blood pressure.
When a stressful situation arises, the body undergoes some 1500 biochemical reactions. This is referred to as the “fight or flight” response. In prehistoric times, stress may have come by means of the threat of being eaten by something very large! The chemical changes in the body produced that “pumped up”, adrenaline rush feeling, preparing the body to fight the beast or run like heck! This was and is the means by which the built up byproducts of the chemical changes are released.
Although traffic on the way to work, or knowing the in-laws are coming next week, hardly compare to the possibility of becoming lunch, the body still goes through the chemical changes in response to the stress. If a “fight or flight” action is not taken, the byproducts continue to circulate and can cause illness. Exercise is a perfect way to expel the problem.
Changing the body’s chemical composition is not the only way that exercise can help alleviate stress, however. Stress can be caused by the expression or repression of anger. Exercise offers a target in which one may direct their anger. Try hitting a racquetball, golf ball, or punching bag. Go to a gym and lift some weights. Often times, “getting it out” can make some of that anger go away.
Some forms of exercise have meditative similarities. Steady-state exercise (running long distances, swimming at a slow pace), may alter one’s state of consciousness as the deep breathing patterns maintained over a long period of time are similar to the breathing techniques used in meditation. Some runners experience a “high” feeling during or after a run.
Exercise can also enhance one’s feelings of self-esteem. By participating in bouts of exercise, one tends to feel better knowing they are doing something for their health.
Setting and overcoming goals can be a great tool in enhancing self-esteem. And don’t forget about improved body image. Perhaps the greatest self-esteem boost comes from fitting into a smaller size or seeing muscles where there once was flab!
During stressful times, muscles contract. During exercise, muscles do work, releasing stored energy and allowing the muscles to return back to their resting state. This also happens with massage.
Sometimes too little in one’s life can be stressful. It is natural for humans to seek out stimulation and excitement. Exercise provides a social opportunity, which can be of some stress relief. Bored with your daily routine? Run with a friend; join in on a pick-up basketball or volleyball game. HAVE FUN!
There are some times that exercise itself can be stressful. If you are a competitive person, you may not want to engage in competitive exercise or sports as a means of relieving stress. If you are playing or competing against someone, you may lose! If you are trying to beat a personal best, you may not succeed! Keep this in mind if stress relief is a goal.
When choosing your exercise, make sure that you pick something that you enjoy doing. If you don’t like to run, DON’T RUN! Try different exercises; talk to a Fitness Specialist. Exercise is more than treadmills and weight machines. Find out what you like to do, and do it!