The crowded commute, emails, deadlines, office politics, long hours… all equal stress. Unfortunately, stress is an inevitable part of life. We often associate stress purely with mental health, but did you know that it has a direct impact on the rest of your body too? Our mind and body are intricately linked. The mind can make the body sick. So, it stands to reason that the opposite can happen – we can use our body to beat stress through exercise.
The physical health benefits of exercise – improving your fitness, toning your body, boosting your immunity – have long been established. However, exercise has often been overlooked as a powerful remedy to mental fitness. Exercise can beat stress, by helping you relax, improving decision making, enhancing brain function, lifting your mood and boosting your self-esteem. Let’s now look at each of these in turn.
Exercise has the unique ability to both exhilarate and relax you. It can help you relax by both chemical and behavioural means. Chemically, regular exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenalin, as well as increasing the amounts of ‘feel good’ hormones (endorphins, serotonin). Behaviourally, sports and exercise offer an opportunity to escape stress through distraction. Whether this be gaining some solitude and ‘me-time’, or participating in a team sport.
When your body is busy, your mind can be distracted from the stressors in your life, allowing you to relax. The physical manifestation of stress in your body can occur with tense muscles. Almost any exercise will help beat stress, but rhythmic and repetitive movements are useful to help with relieving muscle tension and improving relaxation.
Do – Try some mind-body workouts such as yoga, or rhythmic exercises like swimming or cycling and focus on getting through each movement smoothly.
Regular exercise can improve your ability to make consistent and focused decisions, alleviating worry associated with stressful situations. Many studies have shown that exercise can improve your cognitive function, particularly your self-discipline and decision making.
When you make one good decision about your health you are more likely to make more favourable decisions about your diet and exercise. This is a big reason why at Active8me we promote exercising first thing in the morning. It sets your day up for positive decisions, not only around your health choices but also around how you respond to stressful situations throughout your workday.
Do – Set your alarm NOW to exercise first thing in the morning.
Exercise increases the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain, making it a ripe environment for new brain cell growth. A study in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews journal found that physical exercise triggers the process of neuroplasticity, thereby enhancing your capacity to respond to new demands with behavioural adaptations. This makes exercise a great solution to kick starting a re-wire of your brain. How do you currently deal with stress? Is it reaching for unhealthy comfort food or cigarettes? Biting your nails? Falling into a heap on the couch? You can beat stress by building new habits or replacing unhealthy ones by using the power of exercise to make this more achievable.
Do – Build a habit of regular exercise and schedule it into your week, just as you would a doctor’s appointment or a meeting with a client.
The ‘runner’s high’ euphoria that is experienced during and post exercise (not just running) is a real thing! Physical activity is natures happy drug. It can increase the release of ‘feel good’ brain chemicals such as endorphins and serotonin which in turn relieve feelings of stress. Endorphins act as a pain reliever and mood enhancer. Serotonin is partly responsible for feeling happy, restful sleep and increases with regular exercise. A positive mood will help you beat stress and make you feel better!
Do – When you feel the stress creeping in during the day, consider scheduling a lunch time HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workout to get your heart rate pumping, your metabolism on a roll and that endorphin rush all in a quick workout. You’ll return to work feeling lighter in body and mood.
Self-esteem is the opinion you have of yourself. Healthy self-esteem is an integral element in your ability to cope with stress. Research published in The Scientific World Journal found that young women who were in stressful situations had a significant improvement in self-esteem with increased aerobic activity. Looking good is fine to have as a goal, but without feeling good about yourself, what use is that? Exercising regularly will improve your self-confidence and self-esteem plus alleviate your stress. That’s a win-win in our books. On top of all that you’ll establish a great positive cycle of mental and physical improvement.
Do – Exercise with friends. Support is a critical factor in maintaining a weight loss regime of good nutrition and regular exercise, so join some friends for some stress busting exercise to double the benefits.
We understand that stress comes with your busy lifestyle. It’s hard to commit to transforming your body and improving your health when you are feeling good, let alone stressed. However, if you are equipped to better deal with stress you will find reaching your personal health goals more achievable. And the best thing – exercise is a scientifically proven method to beat stress. So, you can improve not only how you look, but how you feel at the same time. Boom!
If you don’t know where to start, download the Active8me FREE 21 Day trial for a range of convenient workouts that can be done anywhere, anytime!
Remember the 5 ways exercise can beat stress NOW:
- Relax to beat stress – Try yoga or rhythmic exercises
- Improve your decision making to beat stress – Do a workout first thing in the morning
- Enhance your brain function to beat stress – Make exercise a regular, scheduled habit
- Lift your mood to beat stress – Do a lunch time HIIT workout
- Boost your self-esteem to beat stress – Exercise with friends