Stress and physical activity

We all have stress in our lives and not all of it is necessarily bad. Stress is a normal part of life. You can experience stress from your work or home environment, your body, your friends and even your thoughts.

By definition stress is the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. The body reacts to these changes with physical, mental and environmental responses.

We are designed to experience stress and react to the things that happen in our life that cause these stressors. Stress isn’t always a negative thing but can quickly become negative when a person faces continuous challenges without relief or relaxation between these episodes.

This is how people become overworked, and stress related tension builds. Often people don’t deal with this effectively and it can lead to physical symptoms such as headaches, upset stomach, high blood pressure, chest pain, and problem sleeping.

We all know too much negative stress is bad for us but we often are ‘too busy’ to deal with it! Unfortunately a lot of people turn to things like cigarettes, alcohol, food or drugs to help relax and reduce stress. These forms of instant gratification are not good for your body and are definitely not a healthy, long term coping strategy.

Approximately 75-90 per cent of all doctor’s office visits in the United States are for stress-related ailments and complaints. Stress can often contribute to health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma, arthritis, depression and anxiety.

With the current global financial crisis, people are more than ever dealing with high levels of stress feeling the physical and psychological affects.

When we feel down, we usually turn to things that make us feel good such as food, alcohol, sleep or drugs. Instead of reaching for chocolate when you are stressed, why not try getting physical. One effective, healthy way to reduce stress is physical activity!

We all know exercise is good for us but did you know that almost any form of exercise can decrease the production of stress hormones? A regular exercise routine can not only help prevent chronic diseases, build muscle and endurance, it can also help you manage stress.

Exercise helps pump up the production of endorphins in your body – your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters. After a game of tennis, volleyball or a run you feel great for a reason! Participating in regular physical activity can even increase your self confidence and often help if you suffer from mild depression and anxiety.

So how do you get started?

If you suffer from heart disease or are at high risk for a heart attack or stroke, consult your doctor and get the go ahead to begin. Start off slow and keep it simple. If you haven’t exercised in two years, don’t expect to run six miles on your first go. If you do something you enjoy or used to enjoy at a time of the day that is good for you, you are more likely to stick with it.

So if you love playing squash, grab a friend and play squash; if you love hitting the gym, get back into a regular routine. Activities such as yoga and Pilates can also help you relax by forcing you to concentrate on what your body is doing (instead of what is stressing you out) while helping you work on core strength, stability and flexibility.

Every day we find time to eat, brush our teeth, take a shower and watch TV so surely finding half an hour of our day to get physical can’t be too difficult! Make physical activity a priority in your life and feel good, live longer – stress free!

Deanna Smith is an Exercise Physiologist and Pilates Instructor at Energy and can be contacted at [email protected] or 946 6006