How Exercise Can Help With Stress
23 April, 2015 | In: Training
April is Stress Awareness Month, so let's look at exactly how and why exercise can help to lower stress levels.
Stress affects all of us at some point in life, but for many people stress is a serious illness which can affect work, relationships and even physical health.
Did you know that 39% of all work-related illnesses in 2013-2014 were linked to stress, depression or anxiety? And that 11.3 million working days were lost to stress-related illnesses in the same year? (According to latest figures from the HSE's Labour Force Survey)
Although health professionals (particularly nurses), teaching and education professionals and those working in social care report the highest rates of work-related stress. It's something which can affect any one of us, with stress coming not just from work but from financial pressure, relationships, emotional and mental health and many other factors.
The fitness industry has the opportunity to help plenty of people manage and minimise stress, through Personal Training, education and advice, or simply leading by example with a healthy lifestyle.
Exercise has been proven time and time again to lower levels of anxiety, stress and depression. It literally affects the physical and hormonal symptoms of stress, and can also lower perceived stress.
How does it work?
Exercise and activity tackles stress by raising the heart rate, which can alter the way the brain is affected by stressful events. Ever noticed how you find it more difficult to remember simple things when you're stressed? When a person is chronically stressed over a significant period of time, the brain and memory are affected.
Exercise offsets this damaging process by encouraging the body to produce brain hormones like norepinephrine which boost the mood, improve mental clarity and even make it easier for us to take in new information. Exercise really can make us smarter!
And exercise helps the body cope with stress, too. When we respond to any kind of stress, the body goes into that recognisable "flight, fight or freeze" state. This series of physiological responses sends signals via the central and sympathetic nervous systems, to the cardiovascular system, the kidney and bladder, and the muscles. So the more regularly we exercise, particularly into adulthood, the better our strong and healthy bodies will be able to cope with the effects of stress.
So what kind of exercise is best during times of stress?
High intensity exercise may actually be counter-productive, because it produces high levels of stress hormones like adrenalin. And over-training, can place the body under even more stress (despite our best intentions). So it's probably best to stick to gentler exercise which you really enjoy: a bike ride, a fast outdoor walk, dancing, a run with your friends, or group exercise classes. The combination of fresh air, getting out of the house, socialising, moving your body and a gentle jolt of cortisol will all help you cope with stress that little bit better.