Stress is physiological – exercise can help!

Stress. It seems like for most of us, it is just a part of daily life. In fact, we’re so used to being stressed that we may not even notice how stressed we actually are. We’re often puzzled and alarmed by seemingly inexpiable stiff muscles, headaches, digestive issues, constant colds, insomnia, fatigue, or chest pain, all of which can be symptoms of stress(1). This is because even though we sometimes think of stress as just a “feeling”, in reality, stress is a set of physiological conditions which we evolved with to protect us against threats from predators. When we perceive a threat, the brain’s hypothalamus sends out nerve and hormonal signals to the adrenal glands, which release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. While useful for emergency situations, overactive stress responses can have serious chronic health consequences, and our modern lives are filled with perceived threats. Even though most of our threats today are not emergencies, unless we are conscious of how we react to them, our body still produces the same surges of hormones(2). This is not good news.
What is good news, however, is that exercise positively alters many of the physiological conditions associated with stress. There are numerous studies that tout the ability of physical activity to reduce stress levels, yet when people are stressed out, exercise seems to be one of the first things they stop doing. In surveys conducted by the American Psychological Association, the majority of adults who said they exercise or walk to help manage stress said that the technique was very effective or extremely effective. However, that same survey found that 39% of adults said they have skipped exercise or physical activity when they were feeling stressed(3).

We need to shift the way we think about stress, and how we choose to go about lowering it. Pay attention to your body and acknowledge the physical indicators that your stress levels may be too high. When you’re stress is high, don’t stop doing the things that keep you healthy, but instead, commit to prioritizing them, especially exercising. Don’t accept stress as the norm. According to new research, stress doesn’t only affect the person directly experiencing it. Stress is actually “contagious” (4). Therefore, when you lower your stress levels, you not only positively impact your own life, but everyone around you, setting off a chain reaction that can help everyone to be healthier, happier, and more productive.

1. https://www.stress.org/stress-effects/
2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037
3. http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/exercise.aspx
4. https://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2018/02/26/stress-may-not-only-affect-the-brains-of-the-stressed-suggests-new-study/#2b17d4ea640c

About the Author: 

Katrina received her Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology and is a CPT through the American College of Sports Medicine. Katrina worked as a personal trainer for several years while putting herself through college. In addition to her 16 years experience in the health club and fitness industry, Katrina has competed in several sports including basketball, track & field, softball, and soccer at the collegiate level.

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