Relieving Stress with Exercise
Exercise and Stress
Regular exercise reduces the amount of stress hormones in the body, resulting in a slower heart rate, relaxed blood vessels, and lower blood pressure. Increased relaxation after exercise shows on your face with reduced muscle tension.
1. Exercise Boosts Brainpower
Not only does exercise improve your body, it helps your mental function, says certified trainer David Atkinson.
"Exercise increases energy levels and increases serotonin in the brain, which leads to improved mental clarity," says Atkinson, director of program development for Cooper Ventures, a division of the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas.
All that makes for a more productive day.
"It is clear that those who are active and who exercise are much more productive at work," says Todd A. Astorino, assistant professor of kinesiology at California State University-San Marcos.
Improved productivity not only makes you a better worker, it makes things better for everyone in the workplace. Companies with less wasted work hours and less sick time end up with lower health care costs -- and an improved bottom line, Astorino says.
2. Movement Melts Away Stress
As much as it may stress you out just to think about exercising, once you actually start working out, you'll experience less stress in every part of your life.
"Exercise produces a relaxation response that serves as a positive distraction," says Cedric Bryant, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. He says it also helps elevate your mood and keep depression at bay.
You're not the only person who will benefit from more happiness and less stress in your life. When you're less stressed, you're less irritable, Atkinson says -- and that could improve relationships with your partner, kids, and co-workers.
3. Exercise Gives You Energy
You might be surprised at how, say, popping in a workout tape for 30 minutes in the morning can change your whole day. When endorphins are released into your bloodstream during exercise, says Astorino, "you feel much more energized the rest of the day."
And when you improve your strength and stamina, it's easier to accomplish everyday tasks like carrying groceries and climbing stairs. This also helps you feel more energetic over the course of the day.
A common excuse among Atkinson's clients is that they're too tired to exercise, he says. While exercise may make you feel more tired at first, he says, that won't last long.
The physical tiredness you feel after working out isn't the same as everyday fatigue, he says. Besides, once your body adjusts to exercise, you'll have more energy than ever.
4. It's Not That Hard to Find Time for Fitness
The key, says Atkinson, is to use your time more wisely. Think about killing two birds with one stone.
Take your kids to the park or ride bikes together, and you're getting physical activity while enjoying family time, he says. Beyond that, go for a hike, take the kids swimming, or play hide-and-seek, tag, softball, or horseshoes in the backyard.
At work, he says, schedule a meeting on the jogging track or on the golf course.
Also, forget the idea that you have to trudge to the gym and spend an hour or more doing a formal workout. Instead, you can work short spurts of physical activity into your day.
"Everyone has 20 minutes," Atkinson says. "Everyone has 10 minutes to jump rope, and sometimes that's better than 20 minutes of walking or running."
Indeed, squeezing in two or three bouts of 15 or 20 minutes of activity is just as effective as doing it all at once, says Astorino. Vacuuming the house in the morning, riding bikes in the park with the kids in the afternoon, then taking a brisk walk in the evening can add up to an active day.
Recent U.S. government guidelines say that to lose weight and keep it weight off, you should accumulate at least 60 minutes of exercise a day, says Astorino. But half an hour a day is all you need to reap the health and disease-fighting benefits of exercise.
5. Fitness Can Help Build Relationships
Think of what exercising with a partner can do for a relationship, whether it's with a spouse, a sibling, or a friend you used to go to lunch with once a week.
Not only that, says Astorino, but exercise is always more fun when there's someone to do it with. So plan to walk with your spouse after dinner every night. Meet your sister or that friend for tennis or an aerobics class instead of lunch.
Besides, Astorino says, people who have exercise partners stay with their programs and reach their goals more often than those who try to go it alone.
"For long-term weight loss, you need to have social support," Astorino says.
6. Exercise Helps Ward Off Disease
Research has shown that exercise can slow or help prevent heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis (bone loss), and loss of muscle mass, says Astorino.
It also helps ease some aspects of the aging process.
"Because exercise strengthens the muscles and joints, it is going to reduce your odds of having some of those aches and pains and problems most adults have, mostly because of the inactive lives they lead," Bryant says.
Provided you don't overdo it, he says, exercise can even boost immune function -- so you spend less time down with a cold or flu.
"There isn't a major health problem where exercise cannot have a positive effect," says Byrant.
7. Fitness Pumps Up Your Heart
Not only does exercise help fight disease, says Bryant, it creates a stronger heart -- the most important muscle in the body. That helps makes exercise -- and the activities of daily life -- feel easier.
"Your heart and cardiovascular system will function more effectively," says Bryant. "The heart will build up less plaque. It will become a more efficient pump."
And "when the heart becomes stronger, it pumps more blood per beat, so at rest, the heart rate is lower," says Astorino. "It's not going to have to beat as fast" to expend the same amount of effort.
Within only a couple days after you start exercising, Astorino says, "the body readily adapts to the stimulus it's getting and it becomes easier. You will feel less fatigue. It will not take as much effort when it comes to breathing. You shouldn't have as much pain or soreness."
8. Exercise Lets You Eat More
Pound for pound, muscle burns more calories at rest than body fat. So the more muscle you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate. And, of course, you also burn calories while you're actually exercising.
All this means that "cheating" with a cookie once in a while isn't going to take you back 10 steps. "Can you eat anything? No," says Atkinson. "But you can afford to enjoy some of the things you really like when you exercise regularly. You can better get away with those things in moderation than you can when you're not working out."
9. Exercise Boosts Performance
After a few weeks of consistent exercise, you may feel your clothes fitting differently and see that your muscle tone has improved, Atkinson says.
You may also notice your newly pumped-up muscles in other ways, especially if you're a recreational golfer or tennis player, or like a friendly game of pick-up basketball, says Atkinson. Exercising consistently will strengthen your muscles, increase flexibility, and improve your overall performance.
"Your muscles will work much more efficiently and you'll gain a greater sense of endurance," says Bryant. In addition, he says, your reaction time and balance will improve.
10. Weight Loss Is Not the Most Important Goal
Weight loss is the reason many people exercise in the first place. But it's certainly not the sole benefit of an exercise program.
Bryant says the long-term goal of weight loss is sold too heavily to people starting fitness programs, and that can be discouraging. People have trouble sticking with something if they don't see results quickly.
"Really, they should think about the level of functioning in the activities of daily living," says Bryant. "That can serve as the motivation to keep them coming back for more."
So whatever weight loss goal you have when starting a fitness program, don't make it your only goal. Strive to feel better, to have more energy, to be less stressed. Notice the small things that exercise does for you quickly, rather than getting hung up on the narrow goal of the number on a scale.
"With a goal of losing weight and enhancing health, exercise has to become a part of a person's life, not an afterthought," Astorino says.
Managing Stress with Nutrition
Healthy eating plays a crucial role in your ability to deal with times of extra stress. Carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals are all important for energy, mental concentration, and emotional stability.
Stress may weaken your immune system and increase your body's need for certain nutrients. A balanced diet will help you stay focused, alert, energetic, and healthy during times of stress. However, if you live off of fast food or frequently skip meals, you are more likely to perform poorly or get sick during stressful times.
A daily multivitamin/mineral supplement (recommended for most college students) can be helpful, but it will not replace the role that whole foods play in maintaining a healthy body. Whole foods contain many substances, such as phytochemicals and fiber, which boost the immune system and maintain health.
Any discussion about eating and stress must include caffeine and sugar. Many people use high sugar foods to keep their energy up and caffeine to keep going when they need rest. Too much caffeine will contribute to poor quality sleep and add to the negative effects of stress on the body. Sugar will satisfy you in the short term, leaves you with less energy and more hungry after an hour or two. Whole foods will provide you with energy that will last for several hours.
Definition of Stress
Catecholamine hormones, such as adrenaline or noradrenaline, facilitate immediate physical reactions associated with a preparation for violent muscular action. These include the following: Acceleration of heart and lung action, paling or flushing, or alternating between both, inhibition of stomach and upper-intestinal action to the point where digestion slows down or stops, the general effect on the sphincters of the body, constriction of blood vessels in many parts of the body, liberation of nutrients (particularly fat and glucose) for muscular action, dilation of blood vessels for muscles, inhibition of the lacrimal gland (responsible for tear production) and salivation, dilation of pupil (mydriasis), relaxation of bladder, inhibition of erection, auditory exclusion (loss of hearing), tunnel vision (loss of peripheral vision), disinhibition of spinal reflexes, and Shaking
Stress can cause or influence the course of many medical conditions including psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety. Medical problems can include poor healing, irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, poorly controlled diabetes and many other conditions. Stress management is recognized as an effective treatment modality to include pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic components.
Stress can hit you when you least expect it—before a test, after an accident, or during conflict in a relationship. While everyone experiences stress at times, a prolonged bout of it can affect your health and ability to cope with life. That’s why social support and self-care are important. They can help you see your problems in perspective…and the stressful feelings ease up.Sometimes stress can be good. For instance, it can help you develop skills needed to manage potentially threatening situations in life. However, stress can be harmful when it is severe enough to make you feel overwhelmed and out of control.Strong emotions like fear, sadness, or other symptoms of depression are normal, as long as they are temporary and don’t interfere with daily activities. If these emotions last too long or cause other problems, it’s a different story.
Do you know anyone who isn't at times stressed out these days? The pace of modern life makes stress management a necessary skill for everyone. Many people juggle multiple responsibilities, work, home life, caregiving and relationships. Learning to identify problems and implement solutions is the key to successful stress reduction.
The first step in successful stress relief is deciding to make stress management an ongoing goal, and to monitor your stress level.
Once you start monitoring your stress level, the next step is identifying your stress triggers. When or under what situations do you experience the most stress? Some causes of stress are easy to identify, such as job pressures, relationship problems or financial difficulties. But daily hassles and demands, such as commuting, arranging child care or being overcommitted at work, also can contribute to your stress level.
Positive events also can be stressful. If you got married, started a new job and bought a new house in the same year, you could have a high stress level. While negative events in general are more stressful, be sure to also assess positive changes in your life.
Once you've identified your stress triggers, you can start thinking about strategies for dealing with them. Identifying what aspect of the situation you can control is a good starting point.
For example, if you have a difficult time falling asleep because you're stressed out, the solution may be as easy as turning off the TV when the evening news is too distressing. Other times, such as high demands at work or when a loved one is ill, you may only be able to change how you react to the situation.
And don't feel like you have to figure it out all on your own. Seek help and support from family and friends. You may want to ask them what stress-relief techniques have worked well for them.
And many people benefit from daily practice of stress-reduction techniques, such as deep breathing, massage, tai chi or yoga. Many people manage stress through practicing mindfulness in meditation or being in nature.
And remember to maintain a healthy lifestyle to help manage stress — eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and get enough sleep. Having a healthy lifestyle will help you manage periods of high stress.
Stress won't disappear from your life. And stress management isn't an overnight cure. But with ongoing practice and incorporation of resiliency into your lifestyle, you can learn to manage your stress level and increase your ability to cope with life's challenges.
Reducing Stress with Meditation
Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress
Meditation can wipe away the day's stress, bringing with it inner peace. See how you can easily learn to practice meditation whenever you need it most.By Mayo Clinic Staff
If stress has you anxious, tense and worried, consider trying meditation. Spending even a few minutes in meditation can restore your calm and inner peace.
Anyone can practice meditation. It's simple and inexpensive, and it doesn't require any special equipment.
And you can practice meditation wherever you are — whether you're out for a walk, riding the bus, waiting at the doctor's office or even in the middle of a difficult business meeting.
Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years. Meditation originally was meant to help deepen understanding of the sacred and mystical forces of life. These days, meditation is commonly used for relaxation and stress reduction.
Meditation is considered a type of mind-body complementary medicine. Meditation produces a deep state of relaxation and a tranquil mind.
During meditation, you focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing stress. This process may result in enhanced physical and emotional well-being.
And these benefits don't end when your meditation session ends. Meditation can help carry you more calmly through your day and may improve certain medical conditions.
Meditation and emotional well-being
When you meditate, you clear away the information overload that builds up every day and contributes to your stress.
The emotional benefits of meditation can include:
- Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations
- Building skills to manage your stress
- Increasing self-awareness
- Focusing on the present
- Reducing negative emotions
Meditation and illness
Meditation might also be useful if you have a medical condition, especially one that may be worsened by stress.
While a growing body of scientific research supports the health benefits of meditation, some researchers believe it's not yet possible to draw conclusions about the possible benefits of meditation.
With that in mind, some research suggests that meditation may help people manage symptoms of conditions such as:
- Anxiety disorders
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Sleep problems
Be sure to talk to your health care provider about the pros and cons of using meditation if you have any of these conditions or other health problems. In some cases, meditation can worsen symptoms associated with certain mental and physical health conditions.
Meditation isn't a replacement for traditional medical treatment. But it may be a useful addition to your other treatment.
Meditation is an umbrella term for the many ways to a relaxed state of being. There are many types of meditation and relaxation techniques that have meditation components. All share the same goal of achieving inner peace.
Ways to meditate can include:
Guided meditation. Sometimes called guided imagery or visualization, with this method of meditation you form mental images of places or situations you find relaxing.
You try to use as many senses as possible, such as smells, sights, sounds and textures. You may be led through this process by a guide or teacher.
- Mantra meditation. In this type of meditation, you silently repeat a calming word, thought or phrase to prevent distracting thoughts.
Mindfulness meditation. This type of meditation is based on being mindful, or having an increased awareness and acceptance of living in the present moment.
In mindfulness meditation, you broaden your conscious awareness. You focus on what you experience during meditation, such as the flow of your breath. You can observe your thoughts and emotions, but let them pass without judgment.
- Qi gong. This practice generally combines meditation, relaxation, physical movement and breathing exercises to restore and maintain balance. Qi gong (CHEE-gung) is part of traditional Chinese medicine.
- Tai chi. This is a form of gentle Chinese martial arts. In tai chi (TIE-CHEE), you perform a self-paced series of postures or movements in a slow, graceful manner while practicing deep breathing.
- Transcendental meditation. Transcendental meditation is a simple, natural technique. In transcendental meditation, you silently repeat a personally assigned mantra, such as a word, sound or phrase, in a specific way. This form of meditation allows your body to settle into a state of profound rest and relaxation and your mind to achieve a state of inner peace, without needing to use concentration or effort.
- Yoga. You perform a series of postures and controlled breathing exercises to promote a more flexible body and a calm mind. As you move through poses that require balance and concentration, you're encouraged to focus less on your busy day and more on the moment.