We all get overwhelmed by a bad day, nagging worry, and rumination over the future. You’re aware that exercise does wonders for your body – but how much do you know about its effectiveness against anxiety, depression, and pain?
Irrespective of how you exercise, you’ll find stress-reduction benefits. The key is consistency, rather than prioritizing intense or long workouts.
How does physical activity affect the brain and its functioning?
Even a small amount of exercise promotes the production of a multitude of hormones and neurotransmitters related to mood elevation, mind and body relaxation, happiness, pleasure, and pain reduction. The effects last far longer than the exercise itself, for hours or even days.
Endorphins, a type of hormone-neurotransmitter that improves mood, is often mentioned on the topic of the mental benefits of exercise. It helps you to forget your bad day, nagging worry, and rumination over the future. It also reduces physical pain.
Other hormones and neurotransmitters boosted with exercise move you from a fight-or-flight response into a state of relaxation. Physical activity reduces the chronic stress hormone cortisol, helping the body to regulate emotions and function when you're facing a threatening or stressful event. All the vital functions i.e., digestion, breathing, and immunity, get better through physical activity of any kind.
Exercise for sleep
Higher-intensity physical activities like running, HIIT, and heavy resistance training will fatigue the body to promote sound sleep. Intense workouts also make good distractions. It is essential to have proper form when performing high intensity activity – work with a trainer, don't become a statistic!
Lighter intensity workouts, or any kind of movement, will also help your sleep. Many people find that stretching, yoga, and light walking make good activity before bedtime. Even five minutes will help.
How much stress is beneficial for us?
Keep in mind, not all stress is harmful. We all experience stress in day-to-day life to some degree. The word “eustress” means good stress – stress that helps you rise to the challenge you’re about to face. It’s your body’s way of gearing-up, improving your thinking speed, and heightening awareness. This could look like the first-date jitters, nervousness on the way to a job interview, goosebumps while watching a scary movie, or anticipation of public speaking. Exercise itself is a form of eustress – we challenge our bodies to reap the rewards of improved health and self-confidence.
It’s important for us to have eustress in our lives. But it becomes harmful stress or “distress,” when the stress we experience is chronic, unrelenting, and overwhelming. It starts affecting our jobs, relations, and physical and mental health.
To compound the issue, we often soothe and distract ourselves in ways that exacerbate our problems down the road. Smoking, stress eating, bingeing, keeping late hours, overdrinking, and other bad habits take a toll on our health. We may see ourselves losing control and feel helpless – it’s a vicious cycle and a challenge to get out of.
If your stress is overwhelming, there are many options for professional help in the areas of mental and physical wellbeing. Everyone is different and unique; everyone experiences life in different ways. There is no cookie-cutter solution for that works for everyone. Medical professionals and therapists create detailed and comprehensive solution individually for stress management. They will often recommend exercise and movement as part of your plan. While you wait for the appointment, try a walk around the block or gym visit. If you're unsure whether or not you have symptoms, here is a great screening tool for the more common conditions.
How much physical activity is required for effective stress release?
Even a brief session of physical activity provides a great way to take a time-out from your stressors. It will promote blood flood to your brain. Go the long way to the water cooler, or take an extra lap around the supermarket as you shop. If you're an absolute beginner, start with that.
If you've currently sedentary, ten to 20 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a couple times a week is a great goal in your stress-reduction and fitness efforts. You can take a walk or do gentle yoga – studies showed that 30-90 mins of sessions 3 days a week act as excellent stress relievers.
Many other types of training and activities of your personal liking or trainer’s recommendation can help you cope up with stress and anxiety. You can change up the intensity or environment.
Try a few types of exercise and stick to the ones that you find fun and motivating.
Exercise is an effective treatment for the reduction of stress, whether it's acute or chronic, episodic or continuous. It's also highly cost-effective and accessible. Remember, consistency is the key!