On those days when you feel like you “just can’t take it anymore,” exercise can be your solution to stress relief.

When you are under stress your body goes through a fight or flight response. This is a physical reaction that causes stress hormones to release, blood sugar to rise, digestion to slow down, senses to rise, muscles to tense, and heart rate and blood pressure to increase. As your body prepares for this process of battling or fleeing, the hypothalamus signals the secretion of adrenaline providing you with a burst of energy, speed, and strength to ward off danger. This is an inborn trait that stems back to our animal instincts to fight for survival. Today’s stressors may be different as we have evolved (traffic jams, work deadlines, arguments, robberies, etc.), but our bodies still go through this process whether it’s physical or mental stress. Since this process is so physical, what better way to manage it than to exercise? Take that adrenaline rush to the gym for an awesome workout. You will feel so much better when you’re done (physically and mentally)!

Exercise can serve as an outlet to relieve frustrations and negative emotions. Have you ever heard of the expression “I’m going for a walk to clear my mind”? Well, it works! A good cardiovascular workout can leave you with a sense of accomplishment, a better mindset, confidence, and freedom from anxieties. For those of you who haven’t tried it, it’s really an amazing tool! Exercise decreases stress hormones (cortisol = belly fat) and increases the “feel good” hormones (endorphins = “runner’s high”). The release of endorphins is described as a sense of euphoria or a “second wind”. Because endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers, many people get relief from muscle tension and body aches as well. Not everyone experiences the same pleasures from endorphin release but one of the main universal benefits is an enhanced immune system.

A little stress is fine, however, prolonged stress may suppress your immune system and wreak havoc on your health. Chronic stress can lead to accelerated aging, accidents, viral infections ulcers, heart attacks and cancer. High stress levels can lead to over-eating/under-eating, hyperactivity, lethargy, depression, insomnia, mania, high or low blood pressure. Too much stress is detrimental to your well-being.

Exercise is the best medication for stress reduction. Some popular forms of physical activity for stress relief are walking, running, martial arts, aerobics, Yoga, Tai Chi, Pilates, water aerobics, dancing, weight training, stretching, and deep breathing. Try to get at least 30-minutes of exercise most days of the week (4-6 for best results). If you lack motivation to get started, work with a personal trainer or team up with your spouse, friend, or co-worker. Choose someone who can help keep you accountable and provide you with a good support system.

Combine a mental exercise with your physical activity and you’ll enhance your results. Examples include meditation, biofeedback, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, visualization and humor. By combining both types of exercise you’ll improve your attitude and ward-off the negative affects of stress.

Diet influences stress levels as well. Too much sugar, caffeine or alcohol manipulates your mood and can cause irritability, poor concentration, depression, anxiety and insomnia. High levels of fats and salt can put a strain on your cardiovascular system. Eat a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables, drink plenty of water, and get enough rest.

I know…the last thing you want to think about when you’re stressed is working-out. But, trust me, it’s the number one thing you can do to manage stress! You have the power to take control and make positive changes in your life. Just give it a try. The attitude change you’ll experience will help you face your battles with a better perspective and conquer stressful situations. Exercise might become your new healthy addiction!

Strive for at least 30-minutes of physical activity most days of the week.
Combine both mental and physical exercises to achieve the best results.
Surround yourself with supportive people.
Eat a healthy diet, stay well hydrated and get enough rest.
If exercise isn’t relieving your symptoms, seek professional medical advice.

Author's Bio: 

Wendy Stoll is a certified personal trainer with over 19 years of experience specializing in exercise program design for women. She travels to your home/office to make exercise as convenient as possible. Wendy can be reached at (517) 327-1992, wstoll@comcast.net, www.wendystoll.com.