The physical benefits of exercise are widely known, and studies in more recent years have also shown the benefits in exercise maintaining mental fitness and reducing stress.
Exercise helps reduce fatigue, improve concentration, alertness and enhances cognitive function – but there are few things to consider when using exercise to manage stress.
Our body can’t differentiate between different stresses, so whether it’s the hundreds of emails, the argument with our partner, the fast-food dinners or constant late nights, it’s all stress so we need to ensure that exercise isn’t contributing to the stress overload on our body.
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Choosing the right exercise intensity and duration in your daily routine can help to reduce stress. Edwina Griffin, a Health and High Performance expert shares five ways exercise can help you reduce stress:
1. Shifts In Brain Chemistry
Exercise can be a fantastic way to shift your brain chemistry when you’re feeling emotionally down. Physical activity stimulates the release of brain chemicals dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, which play an important part in regulating our mood. Serotonin boosts your mood an overall sense of well-being and can also improve your appetite and sleep cycles which can be affected by depression.
‘Runners High’ is another benefit from exercise – a result of endorphins which are one of the many neurotransmitters released when you exercise. Endorphins also shift your mood and help relieve pain and stress.
2. Choose Exercise Type
Having a regular exercise regime helps to reduce stress by both increasing both mental and physical strength and fitness long term. Another factor to consider when stressed and exercising is the levels of adrenalin and cortisol present as a result of the current stress levels. Exercise elevates adrenalin and cortisol so when someone is highly stressed, it is important to consider the duration of exercise and the choice of movement as very high levels of cortisol is catabolic and adrenal fatigue can also be a risk. If you are very tired and stressed, choose a slightly shorter workout or reduce the intensity of your workout.
It’s a good idea to ensure an adequate cool down or meditation at the end of a workout to help bring the cortisol and adrenalin levels back down, particularly if you are exercising at night. Another option is to choose yoga or a slower movement when you are highly stressed. Regular exercise can help to reduce stress when overloaded, just be flexible with what exercise you do and adjust the intensity so you don’t over-train and burnout.
3. Exercise Outside In Nature
Exercising outside in nature has the added benefits of sunshine. Just twenty minutes of sunshine stimulates serotonin production which increases the brain’s release of the hormone serotonin. Serotonin is associated with boosting your mood and helping you feel calm and focused.
4. See Exercise As A Meditation
Using exercise as a point of focus has the benefit of taking someone out of their thoughts which may be linked to the stress. When your body is busy, your mind can be distracted from the day to day worries. Choosing an exercise which is repetitive in motion exercise and sport also provides an opportunity to get away from it all with some solitude or to enjoy connecting and socialising with other people.
5. Better Health & Sleep
Regular exercise improves your overall well-being, increases your energy and stamina, helps control appetite and improves sleep – all of which contributes to reducing stress levels. Exercise also helps to maintain a healthy weight, or to drop the kilos if you’re overweight, both through calories burnt in a workout and through improving how your body uses insulin and controls sugar levels; you not only become healthier in the body, you also feel better about yourself and how you look.
Sleep is important to maintain hormonal balance and appetite and overall levels of stress on the body. Getting enough sleep will not only stabilise appetite-controlling Grehlin levels (that make you hungry) and Leptin levels (that make you feel full), it also enables adrenalin and cortisol levels to drop back down allowing the body to recover overnight.